Asket has nipped its packaging footprint in the bud, slashing both the amount of waste and greenhouse-gas emissions it produces. Now, the Swedish men’s wear brand wants to help others to do the same.
The flood of packaging ushered by the rise of e-commerce has been breathtaking in its magnitude. An October 2020 study by shipping specialist Pitney Bowles found that the world’s parcel volume surpassed 100 billion in 2019. With the pandemic pumping the accelerator on online shopping—the U.S. Postal Service flagged a 60 percent increase in parcel volume across the country last April alone—the number is poised to more than double to 220 billion to 262 billion by 2026.
For the past year, Asket (no relation to Arket, a company owned by H&M) has embarked on a mission to overhaul its packaging, the details of which it published in a white paper on its website. It reduced the thickness of its cardboard, merged its welcome and return-instructions cards and replaced some of its smaller boxes with lighter-weight paper mailers. Instead of bags made from low-density polyethylene, a.k.a. polybags, Asket opted for glassine bags made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper. Doing all that helped the brand cut its emissions by 47 percent, it said.
When Asket originally hit the scene as a digital-first brand in 2015, packaging served as an important, physical touchpoint. It spared no expense, splurging on luxe cardboard boxes, debossed welcome cards and matte-white polybags for an “Apple-esque feeling,” August Bard-Bringéus, Asket’s co-founder, told Sourcing Journal. “Our customers loved it. For years, our packaging was rated higher even than our garments in our annual satisfaction surveys.”
But the global waste problem, coupled with the looming climate crisis, proved hard to ignore for Asket, which has made sustainability and supply-chain traceability key components of its brand ethos.
“Even if our packaging was well-considered in terms of space efficiency and using one polybag from factory to customer [without repackaging], we were starting to feel uneasy about our contribution to packaging waste,” Bard-Bringéus said. “Even if everything was recyclable, that didn’t guarantee our polybags were actually being recycled. So we set out to develop a solution in the way of minimal-impact packaging.”
Trialing different solutions was a process beset by complex decisions and numerous tradeoffs. Before settling on glassine for its garment bags, for instance, Asket had toyed with compostable and water-soluble bioplastics. But the compostable versions required industrial composting facilities, which are not widely available, and the water-soluble ones didn’t hold up in its warehouse. Though developing lower-impact packaging with a viable end-of-life resolution was the goal, Asket also had to ensure that all the changes worked operationally and made financial sense, Bard-Bringéus said.
Other changes are forthcoming. Once its existing stock of hangtags and box stickers is depleted, Asket will be tackling those items next. And with its shipping labels, it’s in discussions with its warehouse and delivery service providers for eco-friendlier alternatives.
One thing Asket has learned through this process is that while recycling makes sense in theory, at present even recyclable materials end up in the landfill in practice. Indeed, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that less than 14 percent of the nearly 86 million tons of plastic packaging produced worldwide is recycled every year.
What the industry needs is a way to make recycling easier and more accessible to consumers, Bard-Bringéus said. Or a kind of plastic tax that would fund better recycling infrastructure.
“There needs to be bigger investment in infrastructure that supports effective recycling and circular solutions,” he said. “A plastic tax could accelerate this shift.”