This project is the combination of theoretical and practical research from a live project conducted as a part of an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) live project. It explores how circular economy principles can disrupt traditional industry for the better; a case of capturing value through waste paper boxes.
[rebox.eco] makes new boxes from old boxes helping brands send ecommerce deliveries more sustainably by capturing value in used materials, minimising resource extraction and reducing waste. Businesses are struggling to find the packaging they need and resorting to less than ideal solutions as the market sees rising demand and limited supply of paper. At the same time, a nation like the UK, cannot recycle all its paper waste and over half is exported which often leads to poor disposal. [rebox.eco] is an operational innovation that combines these factors to capture and add value to what is seen as waste.
Using a circular economy mindset, it's possible to convert strong material from used, large corrugated logistics boxes into smaller ecommerce boxes. This process keeps the core material in use for as long as possible, saving precious resources such as water, carbon, energy and trees.
A thorough concept development process was followed with real world insights from consumers and businesses that showed positivity around reusing material, product purchase intent unchanged and a strong affinity to the sustainability benefits. Therefore rebutting any concerns that brand owners may have to introducing the concept or reused packaging.
Project activity has proved feasibility, firstly by digitally produced prototypes and then low-volume manual production. The intentional next stage would involve semi-automatic machinery capable of larger volumes whilst scaling up formal operations and accelerating external partnerships to raise awareness with synergistic brands."
[rebox.eco] makes new boxes from old boxes. Capturing value in used materials & reducing waste for more sustainable ecommerce packages.
[rebox.eco] will positively impact the environment by retaining value in paper packaging materials for longer. The circular concept relieves capacity and resource usage in two directions. When an old box is reused in this way, the original box does not require recycling, there is no complete value loss through poor disposal and the converted box saves the need to create a traditional box. This completely removes the need for resource extraction or intensive processing: Virgin paper is no longer needed therefore minimising forestry depletion nor recycled paper, that is typically inefficient due to quality reduction with every cycle.Therefore, directly converting an old box into a new box takes significantly less energy than recycling an old box and draws on less of the natural ecosystem than creating a new box from beginning.
Conservative estimates suggest that the holistic saving across 10,000 [rebox.eco] boxes would equate to 5 trees, 500 Kg of Co2e, 21,000 litres of water and 4,000 Kilowatt Hours of energy. The [rebox.eco] process is a 'cold' low energy intensity process that does not draw on excess resources. At the end of the box's second life it can continue on its original path within typical infrastructure.
Current industry conforms to a linear, 'take, make and dispose' attitude to consumption and [rebox.eco] wants to break that mould for ecommerce packaging boxes. This initiative will highlight benefits of material reuse and practically deliver circular value before legacy ways such as natural resource depletion and landfill become physically and ethically unsustainable.
Research shows that when the circularity of a product is accentuated and not hidden, the benefit is amplified and consumers can understand the simplicity of reuse through overt communication. [rebox.eco] wants to advocate for this consumer phenomenon through the brands that are sending parcels, allowing them to be proud and support such sustainable initiatives.
[rebox.eco] will also disrupt supply chains with a highly localised solution to manage waste. A retailer may generate large corrugated paper box waste as a result of its operation and also has demand for small corrugated paper boxes to fulfil ecommerce orders. For example, a bicycle shop that receives large boxes of assembled bicycles and also sends out smaller parcels of accessories or parts. This will set a circular economy precedent with locally connected supply and demand.
A core principle of [rebox.eco] is to recognise the value of paper waste and convert this for second use domestically rather than shipping waste to foreign countries that are less capable of dealing with it. Processing facilities abroad can be poorly managed relying on cheap labour, implementing dangerous processes without relevant health and safety procedures and unethical practices such as burning, that has a direct toxic effect to workers or landfilling that drives a long term ecosystem damage. [rebox.eco] stands against these detrimental practices and would hope to reduce the burden on foreign societies exploited at the behest of linear companies in developed nations.
[rebox.eco] will apply a triple bottom line approach that applies equal focus on profit to be financially sustainable, the planet to be environmentally responsible and also people, to be socially responsible.
There are traders that collect and resell boxes for reuse today but nobody is currently taking the radical approach of further converting used corrugated boxes into consumer-facing packaging because companies are too focussed on the linear economy. The aspiration is not to displace traditional industry. Instead, [rebox.eco] is complementary and will disrupt in parallel to existing players, offering a choice to eco-conscious customers willing to act and positively communicate about going circular.
Intention is to partner with synergistic brands that already prioritise material reuse and circularity, share the message using tangible environmental metrics compared to an incumbent solution. For example, a beer company that brews beer from surplus bread can bolster their environmental stance and talk about the reduced footprint of multipack boxes that make use of paper waste, when using [rebox.eco]. For a generic portfolio of packaging available to small business owners, a simple tagline "this box used to be another box" is masked over any redundant logistic information to communicate the simple ambition of material reuse. Further information or custom brand messaging can be applied to signal the positive impact that [rebox.eco] packaging has to a brand's responsible footprint.
[rebox.eco] originated from my curiosity as a packaging professional and passion for sustainability. Explored through an MBA live project that involved problem discovery, consumer testing and feasibility scoping.
Small business interviews established that corrugated paper boxes are the common choice for delivery packaging although supply chain availability is a genuine concern. Owners are directly involved in the selection of packaging as it is important to their brand and intrinsic to the product. The sustainability attributes also play a key role in consumer perceptions.
Early prototypes demonstrated technical viability and a small batch of used boxes was converted into new boxes as a trial. A/B testing methodology was applied to online shoppers that received physical packages and provided feedback. Majority of respondents rated the packaging as excellent in appearance and functionality. They would purchase a product with packaging that reuses material whilst many had a better opinion of packaging once it was known to reuse material. Qualitative improvements have been incorporated into the latest product iteration. Now is the opportunity to launch and expand [rebox.eco] from this strong foundational state.
[rebox.eco] circular solution sits within the exponential growth ecommerce packaging market. By 2030, the UK portion alone will be worth £1.2billion of which 90% is paper boxes similar to that of [rebox.eco]. Even a small portion of this could have a huge tangible environmental benefit by untapping the circularity potential within an industry dominated by linear economy solutions. [rebox.eco] will work alongside established players by intercepting the standard waste routes and extending the life cycle through its competitive advantage.
[rebox.eco] will apply an agile material sourcing strategy and implement an innovative proprietary operation within a uniquely scalable micro-factory format - this is best deployed regionally to serve markets with a typically bulky work-in-progress component. It is also possible to outsource parts of the process for mass production, to accelerate output in the short/mid term to expand the audience. Due to the use of redundant waste and innovative conversion technology, [rebox.eco] actually generates capacity in the packaging market. This helps to meet future demand growth from synergy brands and small independent ecommerce business brands that are looking for sustainable options as well as flexibility and availability.
As a packaging and sustainability professional for over 10 years, I've seen the best and worst environmental solutions. I know that traditional thinking will not help therefore, since now [rebox.eco] has been championed by me as a solo academic. The intention is to expand this university project beyond its current status and not just technical feasibility or business fluency. [rebox.eco] will piece together a community of people and businesses from the circular economy horizon. The aspiration is to work with external partners not only as the synergistic brands that will champion reused material packaging but also elevate circularity as a viable business model showing that it can lead to become a profitable strategy whilst also having a tangibly positive environmental effect.