Reusable bags for e-commerce on trend: The case studies of Tchibo and no-boxx

Image Source: Tchibo

English start-up no-boxx has launched a reusable (and trackable) shipping bag for online and offline retail in the UK. Tchibo (Germany), on the other hand, is now testing its own reusable shipping solution for the second time, also in the form of a bag. The fact that established D2C companies as well as start-ups are looking at the trend shows a key factor in the packaging sector. This is because the demand for reusable solutions in e-commerce is continuously increasing. The proposal for the new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation will also continue to build pressure in this area. Both no-boxx and Tchibo want to score points with their solutions for reducing disposable packaging waste and regarding over-packaging or the transported empty volume. Open questions arise above all in the area of the return- and recycling scheme of reusable packaging.

UK-based start-up no-boxx says it is on a mission to eliminate the need for disposable packaging. Instead, it aims to use reusable packaging solutions.

With 900 stores and more than 24,200 retail depots as well as national online stores, Tchibo is an established player. However, start-up and big player are dealing with one and the same question: how an effective alternative packaging solution can not only be offered in e-commerce, but also returned via stationary retail.


The reusable bag from No-boxx.

  • The reusable bag is made of rPET.
  • It is offered in three sizes to avoid over-packaging or empty volume due to inappropriate packaging sizes.
  • According to no-boxx, the bag can be used more than 20 times.
  • CO2 savings are said to amount to 87 percent even with the second use.
  • Damaged reusable bags are fully recycled and used to produce new reusable bags, according to the startup.
  • The switch from disposable to reusable packaging is also expected to reduce waste.


The tracking aspect

  • In the No-Boxx case, the lifecycle of the reusable solution can be tracked via codes and a dedicated web application.
  • Consumers and retailers track the status of their delivery or return via the code.
  • In addition, no-boxx promises to visualize the positive environmental impact of reusable packaging compared to the single-use alternative.


Sticking point: returns

  • No-boxx asks users to return their packaging to the online or stationary retailer after each delivery.
  • To this end, it has entered into a partnership with the parcel station operator “InPost Lockers.” Consumers can return their reusable bags there 24/7 and document the return by scanning a QR code.


Return at Tchibo

  • Tchibo is currently testing 26,000 reusable bags with 80% recycled plastic that can be recycled again at the end of their service life.
  • Customers are being selected at random. Thus, the switch to the reusable solution is free of charge and deposit-free.
  • Tchibo had already tested the sustainable shipping option for the first time in 2020 as part of the praxpack funding project from the Environment Ministry for Education and Research together with Otto and the Avocadostore.
  • This was followed in 2022 by another test run in Austria with dm, Thalia, and INTERSPORT, among others. During this phase, initial experience was gathered on stores as a return location.
  • But how does the reusable bag get back to Tchibo? The empty bag can be returned to the Tchibo stores or folded and dropped in the mailbox. If customers have a return, it can be handed in as usual at a post office.


Basically, the question remains how strong the “call to action” is in the end. Experience shows that it is difficult to recover relevant quantities of reusable packaging without a deposit. According to Tchibo, however, the return rate was already “excellent” in 2020, and amounted to 81 percent. This gives reason to hope for a lasting success of the model.

Last but not least, Tchibo’s established logistics and partner network will play a crucial part in its success in terms of returns, a plus for established players as opposed to start-ups, which first have to build up the relevant network.


The CO2-crux of return schemes

The CO2 balance remains a question mark with regard to the return of reusable bags, whether through the InPost Locker principle of No-Boxx or the multichannel model of Tschibo. Yet this aspect is also crucial for reusable. A real statement on the CO2 balance cannot be made without knowing the energy source used in the transport vehicles and the kilometers driven for the return and redistribution after cleaning.


More reusable

However, the solution is heading in the right direction – at least as far as the objectives of the regulators are concerned. Anyone who takes a look at the EU Commission’s proposal for the new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation will quickly see that reusable packaging has been chosen by politicians as the ideal way to achieve greater sustainability.

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