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Has your parcel been excessively packaged?


Good things come in small parcels, so why do some companies deliver their goods in excessive packaging?

It’s hard not to feel a little rush of excitement when the postman or a courier hands you an unexpectedly big parcel to unwrap.

That excitement can quickly change not just to disappointment but full-on disgust when you realise that huge package is actually half-empty.

Nowadays, more and more of us are shopping online. And we’re also becoming increasingly conscious of the waste we produce.

A few months ago, I ordered a couple of tiny batteries from Amazon for a set of weighing scales. I was shocked to find them delivered in a box that could have fitted dozens of the things.

Similarly, look at this photo of a cosmetic concealer ordered from make-up brand Benefit. The volume of packaging far surpasses the size of the actual product.


Environmental costs

While it’s important to make sure products are protected from damage, sometimes they come so ridiculously overpackaged and covered in plastic that it’s shameful.

According to government statistics, the UK produced 11.5 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2016. Some 71% of that was either recycled or recovered, but that still leaves an awful lot that wasn’t.

And it’s not just the packaging itself that’s the issue. Bigger boxes take up more room on delivery vans and that leads to more delivery vans on our roads. In turn, that means more fuel burned and more emissions polluting our atmosphere.

Have you had a delivery that came in excess packaging? Do you have any photos of ridiculously oversized packaging that you could share with us in the comments below? Are you consciously trying to reduce your packaging waste? If so, what are your top tips and tricks?


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Ann Swindale says:
18 March 2018

Perhaps some companies only but their boxes in a limited range of sizes to reduce costs and storage problems. It must be very difficult when sending out thousands of items a day to package each one appropriately, conveyor belt of identical boxes, throw in the goods and fill up with polystyrene or inflated plastic bags is much easier. Not supporting excess packaging just thinking from the sender’s point of view.

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Someone still doesn’t like it Duncan. 🙁 The trouble with packaging is in reusing it. We used to manufacture fairly large items for local authorities and their contractors. The packaging was necessarily robust – cartons and fittings in tri-wall cardboard that added significant cost. Try as we might we could never find a good way to get these returned so they could be reused.

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I’ll mark you up. Duncan. I’m feeling positive today.

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I’d already done the same, Duncan. Perhaps the ‘thumbs’ should show who voted posts down. I look at a forum where this is done.

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Maybe readers were not happy with you having a go at delivery companies, especially if that was their job. You might not have been keen if someone had made a general criticism of BT engineers when some of them do their best.

We should expect our goods to be handled with care and it is up to the retailer to ensure that this happens and to compensate the customer on the (hopefully) rare occasion that it does not. I don’t know why but I have never had a problem with goods delivered by Hermes and Yodel. I had a parcel delivered by Hermes two days ago.

I see someone has marked one of my posts down today.

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Nonetheless, you criticised the delivery industry and that might have alienated those working in it. That’s just a guess. Yes, it would be better if everyone took the trouble to explain why they disagreed with a comment.

Albert Taylor says:
19 March 2018

I have just bought a walking stick online. It arrived on time in a box some five inches deep and layed diagonally across the box which was approx three feet square. It was packed in paper which half filled a recycling bin in my block of flats. Thank God it was not in that gigantic bubble wrap!

I had radiators delivered at the weekend and they were underpackaged in my opinion. One had a big hole in the top of the box, where you could see that the radiator had a chip in the paint. Thankfully the damage doesn’t really notice. Had it not been for the fact that it was freezing at the weekend and we needed our radiators working, I may have sent it back. I appreciate that it might be hard to damage a big piece of metal, but it was only a thin cardboard box and a plastic sheet that protected the radiators in transit.

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I haven’t thought this through (yet) but suppose all “hard” packaging – say cartons/boxes as opposed to bags – had to be collected by the sender at their expense (via the same delivery courier say). They might then think hard about re-usable packaging and excessive size. If they were also charged for disposing of waste packaging the industry might focus on better ways and materials to protect goods, and to provide more sustainable solutions.

Many years ago I bought a cooker and on arrival there was a dent on one side. The retailer was happy to take it back but estimated it would take six weeks for a new one and suggested I accept a discounted price, which I did on the basis that the dent would not be seen.

It’s not much fun being without radiators or a cooker.

This is how some milk cartons were sent:

Nicely packed and no chance of damage but………

Each carton is individually wrapped in over a metre of bubble wrap and I order 24 cartons at a time.

I am unsure whether they are manufacturer packed in 6s 8s or 12s, (I think they are packs of 6) but they have their own original packaging for protection. Removing the original packaging and wrapping each separately is slightly ludicrous.

I have a similar gripe with supermarket deliveries as they are removed from packaging and chucked in carrier bags so they arrive quite dented and sometimes leaking.

When products have their own packaging, why don’t retailers make them available in their pack size? They would save on excess packing materials, wasting original packing materials and refunds for damaged products.

Perhaps we could promote good practice. I received two packs of vacuum cleaner bags from an eBay trader. These were already sealed in plastic bags, so all the supplier had done was to wrap them in brown paper. This passed the Hermes test and meant little waste.

The reality of modern delivery systems is that goods are subjected to much more wear and tear in the depots and hubs than used to be the case. Mechanical handling has rightly replaced back-breaking manual effort and a tendency for humans to chuck things around but it has introduced its own range of problems. Stuff now goes around carousels, is conveyed on elevators and automatically sorted into bins and cages, and gets tumbled and dropped into containers on its route through the depot. And the human element has not been eliminated altogether because the driver needs to load the van and sort the contents in order of delivery. To survive all this, good packaging is essential but not always provided. Companies presumably learn from returns experience how much packaging is required needed and the mass of an object tends to determine the robustness of the packaging required. A radiator should have thick corner protectors as it will otherwise burst through any flimsy wrapping.

Another consideration is pilferage – large packaging is sometimes used to make it more difficult to conceal small items or to reveal the contents. It also stops small items from slipping through gaps in the conveyor lines or between other goods in the van.

I ordered an expensive, and rather heavy, book a few months ago and it was enclosed in the standard form of cardboard packaging with a a form of crumple zone all round the book. Nevertheless, this was still not adequate because during its journey from the supplier to me it must have had a few collisions since the outside corners on the front and back covers were deformed and some of the pages were creased as well. I did not notice this until some time after I had received it as the book’s jacket was unaffected, and since the damage was not critical I took no action. The mass of the book was out of all proportion to the protective properties of the packaging and, given the book’s price, I feel that a human would have been likely to have made a better decision on how to pack it.

Sarah says:
8 May 2018

I’ve just had an online discussion with John Lewis about exactly this topic. We collected, via click and collect at our local Waitrose, three photo frames which were in two medium sized boxes (they could easily have fitted in one together) and there was a lot of plastic bubble wrap around them. I recognise that the frames and glass need some protection, but I would really like companies to start thinking about using less plastic and using materials which consumers can easily recycle at home. I contacted John Lewis and the less than helpful response was ‘shop in store and don’t buy online’. Hardly helpful when we are nowhere near a John Lewis shop. This isn’t the first time we’ve thought that JL’s packaging was excessive.

Recently received a hand-tied bouquet of flowers via Interflora (ie arrived tied in a bunch in water). They were beautiful but unfortunately the experience was marred by the 3 large sheets of Interflora branded plastic wrapping which cannot be reused for anything. Some plastic is necessary to hold the water but this could have been in a smaller bag or just one sheet with tissue paper as would have been used in the past. I also suspect the ribbon used is not easily recyclable either.

Geoff says:
4 July 2018

Bought earrings online as a present for my wife. Came on a card, in a bag, in bubblewrap, in another bag and finally in a large box.