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Product designers rethink ‘the Last Mile of e-commerce Delivery’

Across Europe, e-commerce is now growing at 7% per year, creating a relentless demand for packaging. Finding practical, sustainable packaging solutions to keep pace is going to take leadership, new partnerships, and new thinking. That’s why our Recycling Division challenged some of the UK’s brightest Product Design students at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Last Mile of Delivery, or, First Mile of Recycling?

We are recognised around the world for innovation and the quality of our packaging – it takes just two weeks for paper and cardboard fibre to move around our operations before being used as a box once more.

Because of this quick turnaround, we’re always seeking more of the quality recycled materials our business needs - and the cardboard from e-commerce packaging fits the bill perfectly. The journey from transport hub to doorstep is already an area of innovation and growth for our Packaging Division where we are Redefining Packaging for a Changing World.

Now, because recycled packaging, especially corrugated cardboard, is so valuable to our closed-loop recycling model, we’re exploring innovative new systems and processes to make the Last Mile of Delivery also the First Mile of Recycling.

24hrs to help keep more recycled cardboard in the supply chain

To explore new collection opportunities and encourage fresh thinking, our Recycling Division set out to engage with the next generation of product designers. Situated just eight miles from our headquarters in Caerphilly, and with a world-renowned Product Design course, Cardiff Met was the perfect partner.

A 24hr ‘live challenge’ format was created to inspire collaborative and creative thinking. The students were divided into 12 groups, briefed by Mat Prosser, Head of Strategic Business Development and Transformation for Europe, and Tom Campbell-White, European Strategic Development Director, then given time to ask questions.

The challenge was simple: “Turn the Last Mile of Delivery for e-commerce into the First Mile of Recycling.” with a strong emphasis on keeping packaging segregated from other household waste. As part of the brief, students were asked to consider the role of technology, social media, supply chain, and partnerships. Since innovations such as drones and robots are already being trialled in Last Mile Delivery, we asked the students to be equally imaginative with their proposals, but also realistic too.

24hrs later, Mat Prosser, Tom Campbell-White, and Jamie Pagan – a former graduate of the Product Design course and marketeer at DS Smith – joined Dr. Clara Watkins and Richard Morris from Cardiff Met to form a judging panel.

Inspiring solutions

We set a brief to keep corrugated cardboard packaging in the supply cycle for longer. It was a great opportunity to engage with bright minds at a world-class University, and bring new ideas into our business. It’s been really inspiring.

Tom Campbell-White

From drawing board to management board

From the initial 12 groups, a shortlist of four was drawn up, with the successful students asked to make further developments to their proposals. Following a second presentation, one overall winner will be chosen to present their idea to our Senior Management Team. The winning team will see their concept put into Research & Development and a trial – with a real chance it will become another part of our closed-loop recycling model.

Engaging with students across Europe

We were challenged to find innovative ways to return the packaging from e-commerce deliveries back to DS Smith to be recycled, and the system could start again. We got to see how the industry works and the real-world problems DS Smith is trying to solve.

Amber Davies
one of the competing design students

DS Smith Recycling currently operates in 16 countries across Europe and after the success of our initiative with Cardiff Met, we’re putting plans in place to roll-out our engagement with other Universities in key regions across the continent.  

By driving innovation in recycling and thinking differently, we already keep over six million tonnes of recyclables out of landfill and incineration and in the supply cycle every year.

We are constantly looking for new ways to close the loop by redefining packaging. Through inspiring the next generation of product designers, we can work together towards a circular economy and a more sustainable future.