This year, consumers will spend over $1.5 trillion buying things online, more than five times more than they did a decade ago. As e-commerce sales continues to grow—and companies like Google try to convince us to ship even things we're buying locally—the number of boxes and packages used for shipping is also exploding.
UK-based designer Yu-Chang Chou hopes to help stem the flow of single-use packages through a new design that can be reused 200 times. His Repack bags have two parts—an outer layer made from recycled plastic bottles, and an inner cushion made from a material that is usually used in protective sportswear. Once the package arrives, it can be folded and tossed in a nearby mailbox to return to the post office for someone else to buy and use.
"My wife likes to shop online a lot, so whenever I go home I see cardboard and bubble wrap," Chou says. "I noticed that most of the boxes are in good condition and can be reused, but consumers don’t use boxes that often. So even though they are still usable, for consumers, they’re useless. Most people will just throw them away and feel guilty."
After a visit to Germany, where he saw a bottle deposit program in action, Chou was inspired to create a similar system for shipping. Consumers would pay a small deposit for the Repack package, which they would get back as soon as the post office received it. Royal Mail post boxes on street corners, which are used less and less often for letters, could get new use as collection bins for the packages.
"It's a little bit like a bike-share program," Chou explains. "The Barclays bike program in London has racks everywhere, so bicycles are always available. In the same way, post offices are everywhere. Instead of the effort of sending the package back to the original retailer, the package can be reused locally."
The packages are designed to come in three basic sizes that cover the most common things people tend to buy online—clothing, books, and small electronics. Because of the size, they can make shipping more efficient, and since they can be reused so many times, they're also cheaper.
For now, the design is just a concept. Chou created it for his graduate show at the Royal College of Art. But he's hoping that the Royal Mail might take notice and move forward with the idea.