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Speaker Interview - Stephen Harrod

Ahead of his presentation at this September's E-PACK Europe conference in Vienna we spoke to Stephen Harrod, renowned packaging industry expert and Smithers consultant.

He provided us with a sneak peek of his presentation, plus exclusive insights into why sustainability is such an important topic to discuss along with the main challenges and opportunities faced by this industry.

Stephen, your presentation will discuss 'the future of sustainable e-commerce packaging', what can the delegates of our event expect to hear? 

There are four main topics that my session of sustainable e-commerce packaging will look at:

  • The growth of the e-commerce market growth is slower that we have seen for the last few years but continues to be robust
  • There is an ongoing struggle to strike the right balance between ecological sustainability and product protection when it comes to sustainability in the e-commerce industry
  • Returning of items via e-commerce channels and the the reverse logistics needed in the market that do not affect traditional retail channels
  • Separation and deconstruction - this critical component of e-commerce packaging design is often left off the checklist but is a key element of the perceived sustainability of the packaging, determining the ease of recycling

Why is sustainability so important to this industry and its future?

For e-commerce, it is the sheer volume and visibility of the residual packaging that the consumer is faced with that makes the sustainability element so important.

In traditional high street retailing, the high-volume of secondary packaging related to products that are sold is out of sight from the consumer, in the back room or warehouse. However, with e-commerce this packaging is delivered to the consumer for them to deal with, hence the need to minimise the volume involved (reduce excess packaging) whilst at the same time providing adequate protection for the product being delivered (striking the balance between sustainability and product protection).

What are the main challenges when it comes to e-commerce packaging? What are some of the biggest opportunities?


  • Reducing over-packaging
  • Transit damage
  • Reducing and protecting returns – cost of returns? E.g., one damaged delivery requires three further orders of the same value to break even
  • EU legislation to reduce excess space in packs (PPWD)
  • Fresh/chilled food delivery
  • Security and tamper-proofing with numerous touchpoints on the way to the doorstep


  • Fit-to-size boxes to reduce excess space
  • Development of stronger fibre-based packs to reduce damage
  • Kerbside recyclability
  • Recyclable insulated packs – e.g., Mondi BcoolBox
  • All-paper cushioned mailers.

Born in the UK, educated in Rhodesia and South Africa, Stephen spent 11 years building a market research company in South Africa, focussed on the paper and packaging industry. He left this business and spent six years in the paper industry with Mondi and JAC Labels before relocating to England. Following a spell as a freelance marketing consultant, he has been authoring reports for Smithers since 2006, with a focus on paper and packaging markets.

Recently Stephen has recently author titles such as “The Future of Global Corrugated Packaging to 2027” and “The Future of Moulded Pulp Packaging to 2025”. He has contributed to a magnitude of Smithers reports on the packaging and paper markets, whilst also building extensive databases on the global paper and packaging markets.