Excess book packaging

Filed in Blog by on July 15, 2008 21 Comments
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book delivery excess packaging

This week my lovely order from a well known, UK, online bookstore arrived. I’ve always favoured this company because they are so quick with their delivery, things arrive in great condition, even the second hand stuff, and their customer service is excellent.

I’ve favoured them for several years, but this was the first time I’d had an order arrive since doing our zero waste challenge.

So, now my eyes are open to any packaging I am going to be responsible for getting rid of whereas before I was just happy to receive things the following day.

Just take a look at this little lot. Six books, all individually wrapped and packed. The front of each envelope has one of those plastic windows for the address details and statement, which means I ended up with six pieces of paper, each with the details of just one book on them.


I do tend to hang on to jiffy bags for re-use, but I know for most people, they are ripped open and thrown in the bin.

I contacted the company to ask them if they had thought about this. I pointed out that they would be able to save money (paper, ink, time and overall packaging weight) by posting things out in bulk, as well as help the environment.

The reply was based solely on efficiency, as you can see from the response I received:

“We find it more efficient to dispatch items separately. Since we receive items from a number of different suppliers, who will invariably deliver items at different times of the day, and sometime, on different days entirely, we find it more efficient to dispatch items as soon as they arrive, as opposed to delaying an order whilst we wait for an order to arrive in its entirety.”

So, ten out of ten for efficiency and delivery times, but a big thumbs down for the environment. All of these packages arrived on the same day, so there is clearly room for improvement……..

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced anything similar with other companies? Are there any companies you know of that are particularly good with minimal packaging?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (21)

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  1. Hi Mrs G – that is a shocking amount of waste. It really makes you wonder how many orders they dispatch in a year and how much of that packaging goes into landfill. I’m very lucky that I live near to town and get my books from a national chain, which offers loyalty points and even extra points if you use your own bag, so I can enjoy waste-free book shopping.
    This online book supplier just highlights how “convenience thinking” works. Good on you for getting in touch.

  2. Ruth says:

    You could always switch to Amazon. They pack in cardboard, and you can opt for them to hang on to your whole order until they have everything.

  3. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Ruth,
    Yes, I do use Amazon on occasions too. Like you say, they pack in cardboard and will hold onto things, so it’s more environmentally friendly.
    There are so many swings and roundabouts though – even though I have taken full advantage of Amazon at times, I kind of see them as the ‘supermarket’ who are pushing smaller, independent book stores out of business. The company I use are more local to me and I like to support locally wherever I can. I also admit, that buying these books through this company worked out to be cheaper to buying through Amazon. And getting the cheapest in something still drives me from time to time. We’ve found this with the entire zero waste challenge – there are times where you have to literally put your money where your mouth is and pay a premium to get a better product in less packaging.

    Your local bookshop sounds great, Mrs A and the loyalty scheme is clearly working well. Most of the books I buy are second hand because that feels better on my conscience too.

    My goodness; when you think about it, we do live in a convenient world, don’t we?

    Thanks to both of you for your thoughts; it’s certainly made me rethink things!

  4. russell says:

    I was about to suggest Amazon as well but now Mrs A’s comment has just got me thinking. I am about to buy a few books, my immediate reaction is to use Amazon. There is no reason why I cannot walk to our local bookshop that can order the books if they don’t have them. No doubt less packaging/transportation as they can be delivered in bulk their the rest of their stock etc. Hmm, we do live in a world of convenience and I am always pleasantly surprised when I find new areas I can change in my life.
    Great entry, thank you. And well done for challenging them.

  5. I save those and re-use them for shipping books/cds when I sell them on half.com. I haven’t had to buy a single package to ship my items so far, and I’ve sold a fair amount. I don’t know what the recipients of my items do with the packages, but I hope they re-use them.

  6. Mr. Green says:

    Clearly these books were all packed and posted at the same time, so their rationale for separate packaging is weak at best. They simply have not thought about a better way to do things. On another note, I sometimes get 2 letters from our bank on the same day, from different departments. Same problem, no co-ordination or awareness of what this means to the environment.

  7. Poppy says:

    The packages mostly look as though they would fit through the average letter box and this may have been part of the unwritten reason for the way they were packaged. Postage costs go up quite drastically with bigger packages.

    Or do I just have a suspicious mind??

  8. Mr. Green says:

    Good point Poppy! If the package goes through the slot, it’s cheaper. It’s tempting to take the books to the PO and test this out to see if en-bulk would have cost more.

  9. Jane says:

    It’s a combination of the weight and cost and making them fit through the letter box so that you don’t have to make a trip to the local sorting office to collect them.

    Another great site for selling books (and ensuring a token amount goes to the Woodland Trust) is Greenmetropolis. I’ve reused lots of packaging and resold lots of books on the site. I’ve yet to buy one that’s come in brand new packaging (other than the odd one in brown paper, which is fair enough).

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Russell,

    Good to see you again and I’m glad this has given you chance to stop and re-evaluate how you do things too. That’s what I love about a website that has a community feel to it; we all have so much of value to share and learn. Let us know how you get on with your next local bookshop trip πŸ™‚

    Hi Kirsten,

    This is what we do as well. And I like to think that at least some of them get re-used by one of the recipients!

    Hi Poppy,

    You make a good point – one which I hadn’t thought of at all. Of course, it’s all bringing back memories now of waiting in the Post Office queue and trying each parcel to see if they fit through the ‘large packet’ mock letterbox πŸ˜€

    I think you might be on to something about a way in which this particular company are saving money on postage. Hmmmmmmm

    Hi Jane,

    Another good point! Gosh, this is turning into a real saga of twists and turns isn’t it?! It’s weird with a blog, you pop a post up and you never know how much interest and comment it’s going to generate.

    I like Green Metropolis too. I had a bit of a lucky find on there the other week. I ordered a book and had completely forgotten that I had over two pounds in credit, so my lovely book cost me about 80p. I was very pleased with that!

    I’m pleased that most of your goodies from Green Metropolis have come in pre-used packaging; that’s really good news and encouraging that others are thinking along the same lines.

  11. Kris says:

    I haven’t done Ebay selling for quite a few years now, but have been saving padded envelopes since before then as it’s always seemed criminal to throw them away. At Christmas I do get quite a lot more as I shop mostly online with lots of price comparing. So far they are corralled a foot deep in an old desk upstairs and filling a large carrier downstairs ‘ready for use’ (which means my address has been taken off but I haven’t got round to gluing on the fairtrade recycled new address sheets yet).
    I did accept that the numbers were getting very silly and above any need of mine, but didn’t have any success offering them on Freecycle, unfortunately. So I’m still geared up should I need to send a lot of mail!
    I think it’s a good plan to think about which companies use individual envelopes and which put together a less wasteful package to factor in, and shall try to do that. But sadly Amazon are going backwards in a way – last Christmas I found numerous items were split off to ‘Amazon eu’ and those came singly in jiffy bags.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    Morning Kris,
    It’s a shame you couldn’t share some of your jiffy bags and packaging on Freecycle. I have limited myself to one shelf of use packaging, but that is now very full and I doubt there is room for any more.
    Perhaps I’ll just have to list some things up and start selling again to use them up πŸ˜‰ Although listing on eBay is not my favourite past time; it seems to take so long, for such little payback.
    You know, now you mentioned it, I seem to remember having the same thing happen to me on Amazon. Some things came from Guernsey, all in separate parcels. It’s such a big corporation, I guess they’re all over the world.
    This week I had a delivery from Neals Yard – it was in a cardboard box, all the goodies were in glass containers and the items weren’t wrapped in bubble wrap; they were protected by that stuff that looks like polystyrene sausages; the ones you can compost or disappear into nothing when they get wet.
    Thumbs up to Neals yard πŸ™‚
    Do let us know if you find any companies that are particularly good with their packaging policies.

  13. I have had the opposite problem with amazon.com. Their packaging is completely inadequate, so much so that I frequently have to return books that arrived damaged (and this is with international shipping). It must surely be *less* wasteful to package books well so that they arrive undamaged, than to package them poorly so that multiple attempts have to be made at shipping a book before it arrives in an acceptable condition. The waste in damaged books, unnecessary packaging and repeat shipping must far outweigh that of good, individual book packaging.

    In short, please be content, and don’t try to encourage a company that is doing well here to skimp. Cutting down on packaging too much does not save resources.

    Incidentally, which online bookshop are you using? I’d like an alternative to amazon, given the problems I have had.

  14. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Daniel,
    Welcome to the site – it’s always great to see a new face and thank you for leaving a comment about your experiences.

    You are right that the packaging needs to be adequate to ensure goods arrive in good condition; otherwise this becomes counter productive. And it’s a shame you have suffered so much loss and waste due to inadequate packing yourself.

    My main gripe was that every book was sent to me in an individual envelope all on the same day! One large jiffy bag or box would have sufficed which would have saved on resources.

    The company I was referring to was the Book Depository Let me know how you find them if you decide to give them a try.

  15. Hi,

    Yes, you’re right, sending them all separately perhaps wasn’t ideal (although even if they were sent together, wrapping each book individually within a package is a good idea to avoid damaged corners and the like — books can move around and damage each other in transit, as I know from my amazon.com experiences).

    With regard to the Book Depository, thanks for that information. As it happens, I am already a customer. My recent (single book) order arrived in a cardboard box (not in a jiffy bag, I’d guess due to the size of the book), which was just big enough for the book it contained. The book arrived undamaged (yay!), although I suspect that was more due to chance than to really good packaging! I shall probably try them again in the future and see what happens.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Morning Daniel, I’m pleased that ordering through the Book Depository resulted in a successful delivery of your books. That’s good news and means there is no waste.

    I was thinking back last night and yes, I have received damaged goods from Amazon – the odd crumple or bash to the corner of a book (I even had one that was clearly damp at some point in its life!) but I didn’t allow this to affect my enjoyment of the purchase.

    As long as I can read the book, I’m not that worried. Let’s hope you don’t have any more damaged books to deal with.

  17. Hi Mrs Green,

    Throwaway raises its head again. The damage your and Daniel’s books suffered can be placed squarely on the discardable packs used. This minimal design is used in hope over expectation.

    In a future sustainable system, these packs will have greater value as they will be designed for reuse. More expensive but better value for money.

  18. Hello again,

    For a paperback, the odd scrape perhaps doesn’t matter. Most of the books I order though are quite expensive, and are reference books that I hope will last my lifetime, and even be useful for someone else after I am no longer around πŸ™‚

    John Costigane’s comment is interesting — we re-use a big portion of the packaging that we receive when we send things out for our business, so there isn’t *that* much waste. Of course, this only works when the packaging is of sufficiently good quality to be reusable, which is exactly John’s point. Really high quality packaging can be reused again and again. Poor quality packaging sometimes doesn’t even last the first trip.

  19. Hi Daniel,

    Zero Waste will rely on sustainable packaging, since waste, and from that production, will be mimimal. It requires a change from Throwaway to Minimisation.

    Have you a view on Zero Waste?

  20. Hi John,

    Truly reusable packaging, with the aim of zero waste would be great. But I wonder how practical it is in every instance. For example, each different sized book needs its own sized package (ideally!). Perhaps one could manage a range of sizes with an adaptable packaging mechanism, but there is still a problem in principle. Now, suppose I receive a book packaged with fully-reusable packaging. What am I to do with that packaging (let’s say I’m just an ordinary recipient, and I don’t send many parcels myself)? Now, of course, one could envisage collection schemes and the like, and perhaps even packaging that could be used for a variety of different objects, but all of that would cost money, and consume resources itself (fuel and the like).

    So, I think Zero Waste is a great target at which to aim, but one needs to look at the economic and environmental implications over the whole cycle when considering how to implement such a goal. My suspicion is that we will never be able to get to a truly *zero* waste situation (unless we all stop buying things online), but that we can do a lot better than at present.

    For the short term, I’d just like my books to arrive undamaged πŸ™‚

  21. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for your view on Zero Waste.

    New packaging is currently under development, and systems to use it will develop as well.

    As consumers we are part of the Chain of Waste System. Taking up the Zero Waste challenge is breaking the chain. In itself, this only creates sustainable amounts of rubbish for the consumer.

    The pressure on other stages will increase and ideally each stage of the old chain will be transformed into a new part of a sustainable cycle. This will take time but the end is certain.

    As for books tiday, feedback is always helpful in a system. If this fails look for alternatives.

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