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Return to sender: Hipli’s reusable packs promote circularity in e-commerce

Pascale Ruchon
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Return to sender: Hipli’s reusable packs promote circularity in e-commerce

French start-up Hipli’s solution is a flexible, lightweight shipping package that can be returned via post to its maker rather than being thrown away. This new approach to logistics, launched mid-2020 as e-commerce sales took off in light of the health crisis, currently targets fashion. Solutions are also in the pipeline for other markets, including beauty.

Reusable shipping packages are one solution to slow the volume of packaging brought on by the consistent growth in e-commerce sales. French startup Hipli’s approach differs as it doesn’t sell the shipping packs — they belong to the company throughout their lifecycle — but a service that includes transport and logistics. The end-consumer posts the pre-paid package back to Hipli after use, it is cleaned in the company’s workshop in Le Havre, and it goes back into circulation.

Developed with several partners including the French postal service, the shipping pack is made of non-woven PP (manufactured by Plast-Up in the Auvergne region) equipped with a zipper closure that makes it easy to use and speeds up order preparation. The empty pack is folded into a built-in (or rather sewn on) letter-sized pouch — a design concept based on the idea of rain jackets that fit into their attached pouch. The consumer simply drops the pouch into a mailbox and it is sent back to Hipli.

Given the pack’s lifespan (about 100 uses), Hipli chose to use plastic as it is resistant, lightweight, and waterproof—qualities notably absent from more eco-friendly materials including natural fabrics, bio-sourced plastics, and even recycled plastics, which some Hipli products do include in small percentages.

The company carried out lifecycle analysis, the results of which are available on its website, with EVEA, comparing its solution to three single-use packs (cardboard box, kraft paper envelope, and PE pouch). “Hipli has a lower environmental impact than cardboard from the second use, and its carbon footprint is 88% lower over a total of 100 cycles,” notes Léa Got, co-founder of Hipli with Anne-Sophie Raoult. 

Counting on the consumer for reuse

According to the company’s policy, a brand—the majority of Hipli’s clients are in the ready-to-wear sector—can offer their consumer the reusable pack option for free or for a fee, but they cannot oblige them to select Hipli’s solution. This stipulation is included in the company’s general terms and conditions as it wants customers to be free to choose a shipping option from among several possibilities.

“The viability of the system depends on the end-consumer,” affirms Got. “Consumers choose our solution 88% of the time when offered free of charge and 56% when it costs €1. On average 89% of packs are returned to our workshop; some consumers keep the package for personal use.”

In a bid to expand beyond fashion, in June Hipli plans to launch another type of pack suitable for fragile products, such as cosmetics and fragrances.

 

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