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A Triple-Win: Amazon’s “Frustration-Free” Packaging
Adam Stein, 11 Nov 08

Smarter boxes eliminate waste, cut costs, and reduce wrap rage.

A few weeks ago, we kicked around the question of whether online shopping is better or worse for the environment than the traditional method. Recently Amazon unveiled a new program that demonstrates another of the efficiency advantages available to large retailers:

The Frustration-Free Package (on the left) is recyclable and comes without excess packaging materials such as hard plastic clamshell casings, plastic bindings, and wire ties. It’s designed to be opened without the use of a box cutter or knife and will protect your product just as well as traditional packaging (on the right). Products with Frustration-Free Packaging can frequently be shipped in their own boxes, without an additional shipping box.

Amazon is working with manufacturers to eliminate those irritating acrylic plastic cases and instead package products in boxes that can take a mailing label directly. The result for Amazon will be lower handling and packaging costs. The result for customers will be a more pleasing product experience. And the result for the environment will be less packaging waste. (Amazon has a demo video of the new packaging at their Gallery of Wrap Rage.)

Innovations like this are made possible by Amazon’s scale, which gives the company leverage with suppliers. While browsing Amazon’s environmental web site, I was reminded of another advantage of scale: less inventory waste. Something like 35% of the books in a traditional bookstore end up remaindered — returned to the manufacturer, or recycled, or just thrown away. Large, centralized retailers can significantly reduce this waste through better inventory management.

A further benefit of online shopping: the increasing conversion of real-world goods to digital goods. I’ve downloaded quite a few books and albums from Amazon. The venerable Christian Science Monitor recently became the first newspaper to convert fully from a print to an online publication. While we’re still a long way off from a true digital economy, it’s possible to at least glimpse the shape of things to come.

Image credit:

Adam Stein is a co-founder of TerraPass. He writes on issues related to carbon, climate change, policy, and conservation.
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I think it's great that Amazon is taking a stand and doing something very positive for the environment. I'm curious how people will react to this change, as people (kids in particular) enjoy having that box to open on birthdays, Christmas.

It's worth noting that while Amazon is a huge company, and their efforts are lauded here, there are other companies who are also making a very positive impact on the environment. In the field of shipping and moving boxes, there's also Great company, helping the environment and saving people some money at the same time. I bought a moving kit from them, and it was great. It came with all the paper, markers and (most importantly) boxes I needed for the big move. Took all the guesswork out of it, and I am still just ecstatic about how it worked out. I've been recommending them to everyone I know. They even make a donation of their profits to TreePeople! And the best part, shipping to my home was FREE! No trying to cram the boxes into my car or trying to take time off of work to get them. I placed my order and a couple days later, UPS delivered my order. Definitely worth checking out, both for those who want to help the environment as well as those who just want to save some money.

Posted by: Bob on 11 Nov 08

You're kidding me right? As far as excess packaging goes, it really causes me stress when it is on food - because I NEED food. This stress is one reason I try to eat mostly food that I or my neighbors grow. Excess packaging on junk that no one NEEDS doesn't stress me out nearly as much as the contents of the package.

What was that old saying - you can put lipstick on a fisher-price plastic toy, but its still a fisher-price plastic toy.

Posted by: Tom on 11 Nov 08

From reading this article, I'm confused. Do you think it is better to buy a book from amazon or to support my local book store and buy from them?

Posted by: Sarah on 14 Nov 08



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