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With a global market size hovering near $1 trillion, packaging is a vital component to the logistics industry. Continued growth of e-commerce and growing calls for more sustainability have pushed for creative and cost-efficient solutions, with focus on recyclability, reusability, compostability, and biodegradability. Innovation and technology will lead the way to better packaging of tomorrow.

Key Developments & Implications

Packaging is fundamental to the logistics industry as it makes products safer and easier to handle and protects them during storage, transport, and delivery. A 2019 DHL survey revealed that packaging is moving up corporate agendas across all sectors, with 9 out of 10 customers expecting the relevance of packaging for their business to rise in the near future.

Today, there are signs that existing packaging systems have become outdated as e-commerce expands as a major retail channel and as consumers and regulators push to improve packaging’s environmental footprint. Just as how centuries of innovation and refinement have produced today’s packaging systems, research and new technology will shape and transform the packaging of tomorrow.

  • Packaging material has had a significant impact to the environment, with packaging representing up to a quarter of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced since mass production began. Thus, there has been an intense focus to make packaging and the logistics industry more sustainable (see Sustainable Logistics). In fact, a 2019 survey by DHL Trend Research identified that the introduction of sustainable packaging materials is the number one near-future packaging priority amongst customers.

    Several companies have already made their first learnings and are actively working on their execution to fight plastic packaging by focusing on recyclability, reusability, compostability, and biodegradability of the packaging material around their products. As more companies begin using sustainable goods, logistics players need to make adjustments accordingly, implementing sustainable packaging practices when possible, but also evaluating current operations to ensure new types of packaging are able to be processed (conveyor belts, scanners, etc.) and are delivered without damage to its recipients.

  • Closed-loop logistics models using durable, multi-trip packaging assets provide a more long-term alternative to short-lived plastic. This approach is widely used already in logistics flows between manufacturing plants, and with e-commerce return rates averaging 30% and the fast fashion sector reaching as high as 60%, players are now exploring opportunities to bring it to the consumer space. However, building an economically viable reusable packaging system remains challenging in every industry. Different customers adopting standardized packaging design may be a solution, allowing them to share the same packaging pool, reduce costs, and simplify inspection, cleaning, and repair.

  • Intelligence and automation will soon support packaging decisions and handling throughout the entire life-cycle of a packaging system from the design stage, through warehouse pick-and-pack, and to final disposal. Trade-offs between product protection requirements, usability, and resource consumption will be optimized in an automated manner.

    Additionally, the rise of Internet of Things (IoT) devices further enable companies to monitor, understand, and respond to the real-world conditions experienced by a growing number of products in transit and storage, helping them determine more efficient packaging based on data.

    Finally, automation itself will also have its own effects on packaging. A 2020 survey from the Reusable Packaging Association found that 81% of almost 200 manufacturers and poolers expect automation to increase demand for reusable packaging, which can fulfill automation’s reliance on standardized containers and pallets. This reflects a growing partnership in the logistics industry between companies that provide automation and those that product sustainable packaging.

Rethinking Packaging

Download the full trend report to learn more about the trends accelerating the need to rethink packaging today, and the new materials, new technologies and new business models that will help companies to address their current and future packaging challenges.

Questions answered in this report

  • What trends are driving changes in packaging?
  • How are industries and their packaging needs evolving?
  • How will packaging innovations shape the future of the logistics industry?

Talk to an Expert

Michel Heck

Innovation Manager, Trend Research
DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation

Michel is a passionate Innovation Manager and creative problem solver. In his role, Michel is shaping the overall innovation agenda at DHL through developing industry trend reports and identifying, piloting and commercializing state-of-the art technology solutions for the logistics industry and its customers. Within the Trend Research team, Michel’s work focuses on future application areas of drone technologies within logistics operations and the introduction of upcoming packaging innovations to the business.

Michel joined Deutsche Post DHL Group in 2017 and worked for the global innovation team at the Innovation Centers in Germany and Singapore. Michel studied in France and Germany and holds a Masters degree with a focus on Technology & Innovation Management.

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