Overnight shipping industry cuts waste

Reusable packaging offers both environmental and business benefits; companies can do more

provided by Environmental Defense Fund

he overnight shipping industry which uses over one billion shipping envelopes and boxes per year could cut its contribution to waste and pollution by more than half simply by meeting the industry's current best practices for packaging, according to a study by the Alliance for Environmental Innovation. The report applauds major shipping companies that have introduced such innovations as reusable packaging, higher post-consumer recycled content, and unbleached paper. But it also found that much more can be done to further reduce solid waste, energy use, and air and water pollution.

The report, "Preferred Packaging: Accelerating Environmental Leadership in the Overnight Shipping Industry," examines the environmental impact of the packaging supplied to customers by the five leading overnight shippers Airborne Express, DHL, Federal Express, United Parcel Service (UPS) and the United States Postal Service (USPS).

The Alliance study found that shipping companies are making environmental progress in a number of areas, which together comprise the industry's current best packaging practices. For example: UPS broke new ground by introducing the industry's first two-use reusable shipping envelope, which is being tested. The US Postal Service provides a shipping envelope with 80 percent post-consumer recycled content. Also, Airborne Express supplies its customers with a box that has 82 percent post-consumer recycled fiber content and uses no bleached paper.

"What these companies are doing illustrates that there are very real opportunities for win-win environmental- and business-enhancing packaging improvements," said Ralph Earle, Director of the Alliance for Environmental Innovation. "Innovative companies will seize those opportunities. Reusable packaging is a clear winner for both the environment and the bottom line, yet a reusable shipping box is not currently available from any overnight shipping company."

The potential to reduce environmental impacts of the industry's packaging is enormous: Switching from using 100 percent virgin (non-recycled) bleached paperboard envelopes to envelopes made from 80% post- consumer recycled content would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent, effluent flow by 81 percent, and solid waste by 60 percent.

"This report clearly indicates that while some advances have been made by individual companies in reducing both waste and pollution, there are huge opportunities to further lighten the industry's impact on the environment while simultaneously advancing traditional business objectives," noted Joshua Reichert, Environmental Director of The Pew Charitable Trusts. "Because the overnight shipping industry is a particularly visible consumer of paper material in the United States, steps taken by these companies to improve their environmental performance will also send an important signal to other industries that conserving resources also makes good business sense."

"The upcoming holiday season offers individuals and corporations an excellent opportunity to consider the environment in deciding which overnight shipper to use," said Elizabeth Sturcken, Alliance policy analyst and author of the report. "Impacts on our environment can now be considered along with price and service when choosing a shipper."

The Alliance for Environmental Innovation (the Alliance) is a joint initiative of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Alliance works cooperatively with private businesses to reduce waste and build environmental considerations into business decisions. By bringing the expertise and perspective of environmental scientists and economists together with the business skills of major corporations, the Alliance creates lasting solutions that make environmental and business sense.

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