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Leonid Bershidsky

Why We’re Choking on Amazon Cardboard

Do e-commerce companies have to ship small objects in huge boxes? Really?

There’s a lot of cardboard out there.

There’s a lot of cardboard out there.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

In the courtyard of my apartment building in Berlin, one of the eight containers for various kinds of garbage (Germans are fanatical about trash separation), the blue one, is for paper and cardboard. It’s emptied every Wednesday and it’s always chock-full by Thursday. My wife and I have taken to watching the container and running to it after the weekly pickup with our pile of cardboard from Amazon and other online stores; that’s mostly what our neighbors cram into the blue bin, too.

This is a sign of the times. Smithers Pira, a company that studies packaging, paper and print-industry supply chains, estimates that globally, e-commerce companies use $20 billion worth of corrugated materials per year and predicts that the market for e-commerce packaging will expand at an annual rate of 14.3 percent through 2022. That dwarfs the predicted 2.9 percent yearly growth rate for the packaging industry as a whole.