‘Air-commerce’ – 85 million m3 of air is shipped to UK homes each year

Oversized packaging generating 86,071 tonnes of excess CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to nearly 5 million online delivery journeys.

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New research from DS Smith reveals that 85 million m3 of air is being shipped to UK homes each year due to unnecessary packaging – equivalent to more than 34,000 Olympic swimming pools.

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As the price of raw materials increases across industries, oversized boxes containing excess material are causing nearly 5 million unnecessary delivery journeys, leading to 86,071 tonnes of potentially avoidable CO2 being released into the atmosphere each year.

DS Smith’s research has found that cardboard boxes that do not fit their contents unnecessarily transport this excess air on lorries and into consumer homes, as well as needlessly deploying:  

  • 169,291 tonnes of extra cardboard – at a cost of £39.4 million
  • 480 million m2 of plastic tape – approximately the size of West Yorkshire
  • 80 million m3 of filler – enough to fill the O2 arena 36 times over

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In addition to the environmental impacts of oversized boxes, there is a knock-on negative effect on brand perception. When faced with a box with too much packaging, 46 per cent of consumers say it has made them feel frustrated with the retail brand.

Setting out their expectations, consumers say they would like to receive packaging made from alternative renewable sources (41 per cent), packaging that tightly fits oddly shaped items (34 per cent) and packaging that is waterproof (30 per cent) in the future.

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167 million packages are sent each month through online shopping, and the research found that while 90% of businesses that sell goods online admit to using packaging that is not closely sized to the product, more than half are focused on its recyclability (54%) and over a third on the reusability (34%) of packaging.


Consumers want less packaging. Raw materials are more expensive than ever, and the benefits for the environment are significant, so now is the time to design the air out of online shopping.

Stefano Rossi
DS Smith Packaging CEO

Stefano continues: “Wasted materials are not an accident, waste happens because of choices made at the design stage. The role of design in protecting our planet just can’t be over-estimated – we need to adopt a circular approach, designing out waste to keep materials in use for as long as possible. Through our partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation we have already trained 700 DS Smith designers to use circular design principles, who are working on more than 2,000 live ‘circular’ projects. Our hope is that circular principles will become the norm for all design, everywhere, and that ‘air-commerce’ quickly becomes a thing of the past.”

Market research conducted by OnePoll:

  • Consumer research: 2,000 UK adults who have shopped online in the past six months. Conducted between 17th June and 23rd June 2022
  • Business research: 250 UK adults who are responsible for packaging, shipping and logistics as part of their role at a company that sells online goods. Conducted between 17th June and 29th June 2022