Packaging costs and supply chain inefficiencies are increasing, driven by all those shipments that consumers want faster, in perfect condition and with easy-to-recycle protection, a new report by DHL shipping and logistics says.

More packages contain delicate or sensitive products, come with single items and travel farther as global markets expand. Oh, and business customers demand lean or zero-inventory supply chains. That’s all simple to pull off, right?

Logistics experts and packaging specialists must collaborate to meet these demands, DHL says.

“Companies want their branded packaging to present them in a positive light, but consumers are frustrated if this packaging is hard to use and difficult to recycle,” according to the report titled “Rethinking Packaging.”

All sectors are undertaking that kind of rethinking to shift to greener logistics operations. DHL says new materials and optimization and handling tools will boost efficiency. It predicts IoT technologies used with individual parcels will make packaging “smarter,” changing the supply chain.

Companies “are increasingly asking packaging to work harder on their behalf,” the report says. The e-commerce supply chain has much higher requirements for product protection, with packages handled 20 times more frequently from distribution center to customers’ homes versus transport on a pallet to a store.

The logistics industry will have a key role in:

  • Optimization: New software, such as DHL’s OptiCarton, calculates the best ratio of items to completely fill shipments.
  • Automation: Automated unloading, end-of-line packing and labeling, and collaborative robots help with seasonal surges.
  • Sustainable and reusable materials: DHL customers surveyed say introducing sustainable packaging is their No. 1 near-future packaging priority. Research on green alternatives is ramping up, and companies are tackling closed-loop recycling challenges.
  • Smart packaging: Smart labels or tags and last-mile protection measures give real-time updates.

And things will just keep changing. Logistics providers are on their fourth or fifth generation of drone delivery projects and are exploring unmanned vehicles, DHL notes. Packaging will need to evolve for “unattended delivery formats” that can be left outside exposed to weather and potential theft.  

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