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Transportation and Logistics

How to put 80 million tons of waste - back into circulation

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, delivery waste, including packaging, accounted for over 80 million tons of municipal solid waste — almost 30% of all garbage — in 2017. And only about half of that is recycled.

As deliveries have become more convenient and ubiquitous, the amount of waste generated has increased, and that’s creating problems for cities long before those empty packages even reach the dumps. E-commerce deliveries clog-up sidewalks and mailrooms, and improperly cleaned or sorted food containers can make other garbage unrecyclable.

Who’s responsible?

With regards to most sustainability practices, the onus lies with the producer rather than the consumer. It is the producer’s responsibility to source sustainably, manufacture cleanly, operate carbon-neutrally, and so on. But delivery is consumer-driven, making it one of the cases where all of us must take the initiative. It requires a cultural change.

This type of large-scale change is possible, at least when it comes to recycling. While some of us may treat garbage removal as a passive act (tossing everything in one or two bins and letting someone else sort things out), other countries are taking a more active approach. In Taiwan, for example, residents are required to sort their recyclables and compost into 13 different types or face a fine. But that’s not all — they then have to hand-deliver their sorted trash to the garbage truck, which only accepts trash bags that citizens are required to purchase from the government.

This is intensive, but it’s achieved remarkable results. Taiwan went from recycling virtually none of its trash to becoming a world leader in about 25 years. And as countries like China cut back on buying the trash of other countries, the world might have to follow Taiwan’s lead. Fortunately, there’s a solution that doesn’t require consumers to be as actively involved.



Receive, Retrieve, Refill

What if, instead of learning how to recycle our waste, we didn’t create it in the first place? And what if that also didn’t require us to just stop buying whatever we wanted online? It’s possible, and already being put into practice, in the form of a circular economy.

Circular economies revolve around reuse: whatever resources go into the making of a product must be repurposed anywhere else in the economy except to the landfill.

Companies like Loop are already kicking circular deliveries off, with brands like Unilever and Proctor & Gamble creating new types of environmentally-friendly containers. After paying a one-time fee for the reusable packages, Loop delivers them. When they’re empty, customers simply schedule a pick-up for refill and redelivery.

DeliverZero brings the same idea to food delivery, with subscribers receiving food in containers that they can return to a participating restaurant or with the delivery person the next time they order.

But how does this translate to one-off purchases? While it’s harder to eliminate packaging in that area, it’s still very possible to reduce it. One option is a modified P.O. box, where you would rent a reusable container from an online retailer like Amazon. Whenever you place an order, your local fulfillment center would place it into your box and deliver only as much as that box can carry. After shipment, it would be your responsibility to leave the emptied box out for collection so that it returns back to the fulfillment center to await your next order.

Circular supply side

In addition to consumers taking on the extra responsibility of keeping track of their reusable containers, stores and couriers will have to adjust their supply chains in order to accommodate the circular economy. On the most basic levels, it means making sure that fleets are capable of pick-up from decentralized locations as well as drop-off, and that warehouses are able to store and track boxes that belong to specific people rather than those that are labelled upon receipt.

HERE’s solutions can help find the most efficient new strategies for making those changes from the start of the supply chain to the end - and back to the start again.

Sure, this extra effort sounds like more work, but it’s not as inconvenient as having to deal with the mountains of trash.

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