Intelligent Reusable Package: The Box That Never Stops Delivering

Alexander Cotte CEO of Livingpackets

Alexander Cotte wants to change the world of mail order with an intelligent reusable package, which he says can be reused up to 1,000 times.

The founder and head of technology at German–French start-up Livingpackets has set himself and his young company a truly ambitious goal, namely to put 1.5 billion “smart boxes” into circulation and replacing 100 billion disposable boxes within ten years. “We want to make shipping more efficient and sustainable,” he says. His brainchild, a black and green pack-age made of foamed polypropylene, has an Internet connection that al-lows customers to track the shipment via app. The time seems ripe. Mail order companies have declared war on plastic and packaging waste. In Germany, grocers such as Rewe and Edeka have recently decided to pack vegetables in edible sleeves instead of foil. The software giant SAP has banned plastic from its offices and events. The sporting goods manufacturer Adidas recently introduced its first recyclable sneakers. By comparison, the mail order business is lagging far behind. Large online distributors such as Amazon, Otto, or Zalando still mostly use disposable cardboard packages. Every German receives around 24 parcels on average per year, according to a study by the management consultancy McKinsey. Most of them are likely to end up in the household waste.

We want to make shipping more efficient and more sustainable.
Alexander Cotte, CEO, Livingpackets


Intelligent Reusable Package: Packaging as a Service

Livingpackets wants to stand out from the competition with a few high-tech features. Cotte’s black and green package boasts built-in sensors and a camera that provides additional information on the state of the parcel’s contents, as well a digital display that shows the ad-dress the package is destined for. Additional packaging waste such as adhesive tape and filling material is made superfluous by a net braced to the bottom of the parcel and a resealable lock. Cotte maintains that the cost per shipment can be reduced to between two to three euros per use plus postage. The pack-ages are not sold, but rather rented out for a fee. He calls this business model “Packaging as a Service”. A test run at the French online shop C-Discount has shown that the packing processes are up to 30 percent faster because the steps involving adhesive tape and filling material are eliminated. In addition, the company is in talks with Swiss Post in Germany, France, and Switzerland about possible partnerships.

Smart People: Intelligent Reusable Package - The Box That Never Stops Delivering

Packaging as a Service: Livingpackets’ black and green package boasts built-in sensors and a camera that provides additional information on the state of the parcel’s contents, as well as a digital dis-play that shows the address the package is destined for.

Livingpackets is planning to enter the German market by the end of 2020, but reusable packages have not yet become established in the country, because a big question re-mains: How does the package get back to its owner? The mail order business is traditionally not a circular economy. On the contrary: dealers and customers generally try to avoid returns as far as possible because they are time-consuming and ex-pensive and because transport also impacts on the Carbon balance. For the reusable model of Livingpackets to work, a comprehensive network of return points will be necessary. According to Cotte, the recipients should either take the empty boxes to the parcel shop, give them to the parcel carrier, or send them back themselves. Forging the necessary partnerships for this is likely to be a mammoth task. If it takes this hurdle, the start-up still has to prove that it can actually persuade the end customer to make the journey to the parcel shop. But Cotte is optimistic: “Over the next ten years, the mail order scene will worry less about finding capital and taxes than about the climate,” he believes. The box may be just what they need.

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