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Cardboard Chaos: The Increase in Package Deliveries

Cardboard Chaos: The Increase in Package Deliveries

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By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt, PMP, CLTD
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University

This year, the 4th of July falls on a Saturday. And while this holiday conjures up a multitude of emotions and celebrations, I’m looking at my growing pile of cardboard boxes. I’m also wondering, “Will trash day shift if the holiday falls on the weekend? Will the cardboard chaos of breaking down boxes and hauling the organized remains to the curb shift to a future date thanks to our nation’s Independence Day this year?”

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The global pandemic continues to affect the world and especially the United States. In just one week, over half of the 50 states reported increases in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. U.S. deaths have currently surpassed 122,000.

While I am doing my part to ensure that I am social distancing, I’m going out a lot less and spending more time at home. I’m also doing a great deal of internet shopping.

External Entertainment Has Been Replaced by Package Deliveries

External entertainment has been replaced by the delight of a package at my door placed there by the only person who ventures off the sidewalk nowadays, the delivery person. “Gone in 60 Seconds” is not just a movie; it’s the new reality as package deliveries dominate neighborhood activities. Delivery drivers have it down to a science; they can drop off a package, take a scan to verify delivery and return to a running vehicle in less than a minute.

With two-day shipping becoming a reality for retailers trying to stay competitive, products are delivered faster than ever before. I can open packages and recall to my delight that I ordered it just two days earlier. From takeout to groceries to household products, just about anything you purchased in a brick-and-mortar store can now be delivered and most likely in some form of a cardboard box or container.

History of Cardboard Boxes Packaging and Shipping

Cardboard boxes are by far the most common way to ship non-perishable items. According to Cardboard Balers, “Cardboard is one of the most frequently used materials in the modern world and has been for over a century. In the commercial world, most retail and wholesale items have some kind of cardboard packaging. Around 80% of all products sold in the United States are packaged in cardboard.”

The United States has witnessed a shift in packaging and shipping to companies and businesses to individual households. Cardboard Balers estimates that “approximately 100 billion corrugated boxes are used per year in the United States, amounting to around 167 per person. The average American uses around seven trees per year in paper and cardboard.”

More Package Deliveries Means More Packages and a Higher Rate of Production for Cardboard

While the change may be seamless to the average consumer, more packages means a higher rate of production for cardboard, as larger industrial-size packages are being replaced by smaller, one-item cardboard boxes. Ultimately, this produces more waste. Cardboard Balers says, “Cardboard and paper make up around 41% of solid waste streams and an average household can throw away as much as 13,000 separate pieces of cardboard every year. Most of this is packaging on foods and retail items.”

With the expansion of e-commerce over the past 10 years, shipping by cardboard has seen a steady, recession-proof increase. “Parcel shipping is a booming business. In total, there were 87 billion parcels shipped worldwide in 2018, according to Pitney Bowes. This constitutes a 104 percent increase compared to 2014. The United States is the biggest market by parcel spend ($119 billion of $317 billion).”

Most U.S. companies use a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to deliver their products, resulting in a booming parcel delivery industry. According to Statista, “in the U.S., the courier service industry is dominated by FedEx, DHL, United Parcel Service and USA Couriers. In 2020, the North American Courier, Express and Parcel (CEP) market revenue is estimated to be to around $111 billion and is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of five percent in the period of 2015 to 2025.” With growth, also comes challenges, particularly how to recycle on-time use of cardboard boxes.

Recycling Is Crucial; Repurposing Is Challenging

Single-use food and beverage containers comprise 40% of the revenue for the cardboard industry. Open your refrigerator and you’ll agree. There’s a handful of recyclable items around the home that can provide a second use for their cardboard boxes, such as for containers, impromptu file cabinets, and compost for outdoor gardens.

However, it’s challenging to repurpose a cardboard container that smells of chicken nuggets, especially for outdoor projects. The smell may attract some unwanted animals and pests.

Recycling efforts need to keep pace with the increase in individual consumerism. Packages are becoming lighter and thus use fewer materials to ship. Air packets are now used as an environmentally friendly replacement for Styrofoam. In 1993, a program known as US Paper Recovery saved more than 90 million cubic yards of landfill space by recovering paper and cardboard that had been thrown away.

Statista reports that “recycling just one ton of cardboard will save 46 gallons of oil, 4000kW of electricity, 6.6 million BTU’s of energy, 9 cubic yards of landfill space, 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water. These incredible statistics demonstrate the power of recycling and how, if every citizen does their part, we can save a lot of natural resources.”

The packaging industry seems resilient and recession-proof when it comes to using cardboard for packaging and shipping. Even during the global pandemic, which has forced many businesses to close in the interest of public safety, online sales and package deliveries are increasing. This has offset the potential losses by shifting consumerism from companies to households.

The economic horizon points to continued increases in package deliveries and packaging using cardboard boxes. That means in the short term that trash day will continue to be a very important day, because trash day equates to recycle day to address the ever-growing pile of cardboard boxes.

You’ll be relieved to know that if your trash day is the same as a holiday, pickup is usually the next business day. Having an extra day to do your part and recycle is another reason this year to celebrate both the cardboard chaos and the 4th of July.

About the Author

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has 20 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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