Creating the efficient and sustainable product delivery systems that will support bright green retail will require a major overhaul of one element that often gets overlooked: packaging.
Although individual product packaging – the boxes, bottles and more that add (temporary) value to your goods and catch your eye from store shelves -- often gets the bulk of attention from the green crowd, there's a huge amount of packaging that most of us never see: the materials that are stuffed between, wrapped around and stacked beneath shipments of products on their way from factory to store. The endless disposable stream of wooden pallets, cardboard boxes, packing peanuts, plastic wrap and more is not only a huge source of landfill waste; it's also a large cost for manufacturers.
One option for reducing waste is simply using shipping materials that can be easily reused and recycled. Replacing wooden pallets and cardboard boxes with packaging made from sturdy plastic, for example, could offer significant environmental, economic and social advantages. Plastic pallets and boxes can withstand heavy use to last much longer than conventional packaging; companies can recycle them into new containers again and again when damaged; and manufacturers can mold them ergonomically in standard sizes and shapes, which helps minimize injury to the employees who handle them.
Of course, in order to reap the benefits, companies must adjust their standard shipping procedures, since reusable containers must be reclaimed, shipped back to the company that owns them, washed, stacked and transported back to the point where they will be re-filled with goods. The Reusable Packaging Association, based in Arlington, Virgina, has conducted tests to see how RFID (radio frequency identification) technologies could one day make it easy for companies to track and maintain their supply of reusable shipping materials.
Image source: "Reduce Supply Chain Cost With Reusable Packaging" on TriplePundit.com
GROWN natural packaging (no plastics or synthetics)
My understanding is that in Germany many pallets are already tracked like this, using bar-codes, and each time one is re-used, the owner (who made the capital investment originally) is credited a small amount automatically. I think I saw this in one of Amory Lovins' talks, either that or the Greenpeace report on Extended Producer Responsibility