The 3 Cs: Innovations in packaging design

We've all experienced problems with product packaging at some point. Fancy boxes you can’t recycle, large boxes for a small product and everyone’s least favorite scenario – mountains of foam. This leads to waste management issues for customers. At Dell, we are committed to developing innovative solutions to help solve these packaging problems with the ultimate goal of helping customers reduce their packaging waste. We turned this commitment into our 3Cs packaging strategy that focuses on the cube (size and shape), the content (material choice) and the curb (recyclability).

Cube: Right-sizing the package

The shape and size of a package is critically important to its lifetime environmental impact. Wasted space inside of packaging is just that – wasted.

And the extra packaging reduces the number of products per pallet and thereby increases the costs associated with moving products.
3Cs Packaging
Our packaging engineers are constantly developing new configurations to reduce the amount of material we need for packaging while also decreasing the box size – allowing us to fit more boxes on a pallet for shipment. In addition to the environmental and financial benefits, these new configurations can significantly help reduce deployment time and minimize storage needs.

Content: Using the right materials

The material packaging is made from matters. We consider the whole lifecycle of the packaging material in our design process to find the materials that will best protect your product while minimizing environmental impact. We also choose the materials that make the most sense for each region — using what’s locally available, cuts the packaging’s carbon footprint and can even generate local jobs.

Our team has a history of innovating with creative materials and approaches. In 2009, we were the first to use packaging made from bamboo. The lightweight, rapidly renewable grass that grows near our manufacturing facilities (but far from the bamboo Pandas eat) is an excellent substitute for petroleum-derived foams for some shipments.

Looking to nature for inspiration led us to mushroom packaging in 2011. These cushions are grown – not made – by adding common agricultural waste products (like cottonseed hulls) to a mixture of mycelium in a mold. While as strong and protective as foam, these mushroom cushions have a much smaller footprint and they’re also compostable (but not very tasty). The cushions protect some of our heavier shipments in North America.

These successes have led to other packaging innovations, including most recently our use of ocean-bound plastics. By using this waste material, we keep it out of the oceans and in the economy where it can have another life.

To cut waste further, we use many common recycled-content materials for many of our other cushioning materials. Specifics vary by world region and product shipped, but include thermal-form high-density polyethylene (HDPE) made using recycled-content plastics derived from recycled milk jugs and detergent bottles. Additional, we use molded paper pulp, made from recycled paper, with some of our desktops. Both help return commonly recycled materials back to use again.

Currently, more than 95 percent of packaging (by weight) is made from sustainably sourced materials.

Curb: Make packaging easily recyclable
Bamboo cushioning inserts When your new products arrive, your focus should not be on searching for ways to store or dispose of packaging and old products.

We offer multiple options for recycling products at your home or business, and 95 percent of our packaging (by weight) is recyclable or compostable in typical municipal recycling or composting programs.
This commitment to making sure packaging can be recycled or composted is part of our circular design approach. We also have various special programs where packaging materials can get reused in reverse logistics. Our parts services teams reuse boxes on average 7 times before they are recycled (so please excuse the worn look if you receive one) and a pilot packaging reuse credits initiative in partnership with logistics carriers sees materials returned after unboxing and rewards customers for packaging that can be refurbished and reused.

To learn more about specific types of packaging we use, see our guide to recycling common packaging materials.