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Is the future of packaging reusable?

Reusable Boox boxes are often lighter and less expensive than cardboard, CEO says

(Photo: Boox)

Reusable packaging company Boox aims to be part of a greater movement to make shipping more circular and sustainable.

The Petaluma, California-based company provides its reusable plastic Boox Boxes and nylon or polyester Baags as a service to companies that want an option to reduce shipping-related waste.

Leading up to FreightWaves’ The Future of Supply Chain event in Northwest Arkansas Monday and Tuesday, FreightWaves asked Matt Semmelhack, CEO and co-founder of Boox, about the future of packaging.

When asked if the future of packaging will be reusable, he responded, “We are certainly betting on it. … I think it’s a matter of time.

“The future is this moment when you suddenly stop receiving cardboard boxes because this works better. And it’s possible, but it’s going to take time to get there from a consumer behavior point of view,” Semmelhack said.

A few things to consider with reusable packaging include:


  • Waste.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Cost.
  • Consumer behavior.
  • Customer loyalty.

Packaging waste versus emissions

Many reusable packaging solutions are heavier than their single-use cardboard or plastic counterparts, which may increase emissions for transportation. This is a major argument against reusable packaging for shipping.

(Photo:Boox)

It’s hard to make a mailer bag lighter, cheaper and sturdier than those made of plastic, but the world is getting littered with plastic. Boox’s Baags are heavier than plastic mailers, so their associated emissions for transport are higher. However, they could be used “hundreds of times, easily,” which could cut down on plastic waste, Semmelhack said.

Boox’s boxes have taken away that trade-off. A life-cycle analysis done by a third party found that for the same sized box, Boox’s are 44% lighter than typical cardboard ones, Semmelhack said. That would result in lower transportation-related emissions.

Including the return trip, the impact of using a Boox box 10 times is 70% lower than using 10 cardboard boxes, according to the analysis.

But reusing shipping boxes and bags relies largely on the actions of consumers. For it to be cost-effective and environmentally sustainable, consumers are responsible for returning their boxes and bags at one of Boox’s 5,000 to 6,000 partner drop-off locations.

Read: Pack, ship, reuse: How Boox plans to develop circular DTC shipping

Consumer behavior, cost and loyalty

“You need to create a way for consumers to be able to participate in the service. It has to be convenient, it has to be cost-effective for everyone involved, and it can’t be too far outside of what you do every day,” Semmelhack said.

He said the Boox boxes could be reused and refurbished upward of 12 times, and the bags could be reused hundreds of times. But it would require consumers to return them, which can be a challenge. 

(Photo: Boox)

Boox’s overall return rate is estimated to be between 20% and 30%. For some brands, it’s higher than 65% or 75%, depending on how the brand educates its customers.

The return rate is “very clearly lined up” with how much brands take time to educate their customers about their reasons for switching and how to return the boxes or bags. 

As companies aim for sustainability, Semmelhack said, “suggesting that doing the sustainable thing is going to cost you money is not acceptable. Ultimately, it’s not going to allow for systemic change.”

He added that some companies have slim margins, strict budgets or shareholders who would not allow for a switch to more sustainable packaging if it costs more.

The Boox website says it costs 40 cents to $1.40 per shipment, depending on the dimensions. 

Semmelhack said that Boox boxes are often less expensive than cardboard, about the same or up to 3% to 5% more costly. “In many cases the Boox boxes are not only paying for themselves, but they’re generating revenue for our clients via retention and loyalty.”

Shipping in reusable containers can create higher retention rates and brand loyalty. Semmelhack said Boox sometimes gets calls about which brands it works with, and those consumers will then purchase from those brands instead of competitors to avoid the packaging waste.

Caleb Nelson, co-founder of supply chain technology and data company Sifted, told FreightWaves he expects the cost for more sustainable packaging solutions such as reusables to decrease as more consumers demand it.

“The need to be sustainable five years ago wasn’t what it is today, and part of that is being driven by consumers demanding it,” Nelson said.

Potential for circular economy through recommerce

Boox works with beauty brands such as REN Clean Skincare and Saie and has done pilot projects with Lululemon and Revolve.

Boox also ships products for Boyish Jeans. Boyish also works with Treet, which runs a recommerce platform directly on the Boyish website. Consumers could receive a pair of jeans from Boyish in a Boox box and send used articles of clothing back to the company or directly to another consumer in that same reusable box.

Read: Q&A with resale expert: The future of recommerce

Semmelhack said it could make the circular economy of reusable packaging even more sustainable and affordable if consumers got a Boox Baag or box with new items in it and used that same container to send used articles of clothing back through recommerce.

(Photo: Boox)

“All of the infrastructure is in place. It’s really just about consumer behavior change at this point. We’ve demonstrated that we can do it affordably. We’ve demonstrated that it makes consumers happy. We’ve demonstrated that brands want this,” Semmelhack said.

Boox now operates in the U.S. and the United Kingdom and has several shapes, sizes and colors of reusable shipping boxes available.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.