It's a lot more than just a box, it's packaging as a service.
According to LivingPackets, the people behind THE BOX, more than 700 million trees are cut each year to make the boxes used in e-commerce. 8 million tons of plastic, from tape to bubble wrap to foam, are used once and thrown away. 260 grams of CO2 are emitted for every box.
And what a marvellous box it is; there's an integrated holding system, a sort of net inside so you don't need the packing peanuts or bubble wrap. It's got sensors that measure temperature, humidity and shocks. It's got GPS tracking. It has a serious locking mechanism that only authorized people can open or alarms go off and alerts get pinged. It has a built-in scale. It's got an e-ink label so no paper label is needed. It even has a camera so that you can see inside the box. And of course, all this information is stored in a logistics blockchain.
When sending a packet, you need to find or buy an appropriately sized cardboard, fill it with bubble wrap, print a label, tape everything, bring it to the post office, stand in line, pay high fees, and finally hope it will be delivered without any damage. With THE BOX, you just need 1 smartphone and 1 minute. And returning items is even easier!
It even comes with a weird business model called Sharing Angel, a sort of Kickstarter where you don't get a product but a share of the profits. "We are reserving 50% of our future profits to pay you back 5 times of what you have contributed to help us produce our BOX."
Packaging as a service makes so much sense for everyone; the vendor of the product doesn't have to spend any more than they did with regular disposable packaging, the shipper gets a stronger box, the customer doesn't have all that garbage to deal with. And of course, the owners of the box get income from it forever.
It's not without issues; it is a fixed size, about two shoe-boxes, so it won't handle everything. My biggest questions were about what happens to the box after it is delivered; there appear to be a couple of options:
We want THE BOX to circulate and be reused a 1,000 times before it needs refurbishment. So we designed a lot of ways to enable circulation.
- If you receive a shipment that you want to return (partially), you just have to push the button on THE BOX to arrange the return to the sender.
- If you have an empty unit of THE BOX, you can always use it for your own shipment.
- If you have THE BOX at home, you can return it to a Guardian nearby and get a reward for it. He will then give it to the next person in need for packaging.
- You can always give an empty unit to a neighbour or a friend so he can use it.
- We can use THE BOX to target people at their homes to send goods to recycling, resale or refurbishment or donate them to NGO's.
- We work on cooperating with logistics providers to let them collect unused units of THE BOX when they deliver shipments to bring them back into circulation.
This seems to be the biggest problem; e-commerce is all about convenience, and nothing is more convenient than just throwing stuff out. That's the whole point of our Convenience Industrial Complex that encourages us to waste cardboard and plastic. It will be interesting to see if it catches on; I hope it does, because as they say in their mission statements, "We believe that sharing is the key to building a better future."
More at LivingPackets.