How much cardboard and other materials are used every day in shipping packages around the country and around the world? How much of that it reused or recycled, versus what’s just chucked in a landfill? I don’t know the answers to those questions but if I did I imagine it would make me a sad panda.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we did to postage what we have done to shopping bags? Replace one-use containers with more durable, reusable ones. They’d be more expensive than what we use now, but that expense would be spread out over multiple uses rather than just tearing the box off and chucking it on an ever-growing pile of trash. I imagine that if there were standards of size, shape, and weight it would even make it easier for the postal system to deal with packages, compared to having to deal with all manner of shapes and sizes now.
Ok, so there are some obvious difficulties here, and I’m sure a whole host of non-obvious ones. There’s the initial outlay, the solution to which is to grin and bear it. More damning is the problem that people on the receiving end would not necessarily be motivated to do anything but discard the newer packaging just as they do now, so there would need to be some sort of incentive system. That’s doubly so because most people only ever receive parcels and never send them, so there’s no natural way for the packaging to get back out into the system. You’d have to go to the post office to drop it off, or have it collected. Reimbursement for returned parcels, like they used to do with glass soda bottles? Who knows.
Problems aside, I think it’s at least worth thinking about this problem now that people are much more concerned than before about waste, and now that a lot of commerce is taking place on the Web so there are more parcels being delivered now than ever before.