In a patent filing, Amazon outlined an innovative way to repurpose packaging by making it very easy for the recipient of an online order to reuse the package it came in to mail another item – without having to weigh the box or print a new shipping label.
The shopper could collapse the box until ready to use it. When they have something to mail – the same item or a different item – they could use the box to send it “using the already affixed shipping label that was utilized by the carrier in the transport of the package to the first destination.”
“A carrier may then be assigned to retrieve the repurposed package from a source location (e.g., the first user’s home) and route the repurposed package to a materials handling facility, discussed below.
“At the materials handling facility, the identifier is detected, and a second label is printed and affixed to the repurposed package that identifies the second destination as the destination for the repurposed package.
“The repurposed package may then be routed through any carrier shipping channels and delivered to the second destination.”
The packaging may feature an identifier in the form of bar code, but not necessarily. According to the patent filing, “In some implementations, the unique identifiers may not be distinguishable by human vision. For example, an image, such as unique identifier 162-2, may include embedded information, such as watermark that is detectable by scanning or image processing a representation of the package.”
Amazon also envisions that the identifier could be part of the package itself rather than on the shipping label. And the package could be made of a durable material that would allow it to withstand multiple shipments between users – “plastic, fiberglass, chipboard, laminated cardboard, etc.”
It provides an example of a package “formed of a plastic material that includes hinged lids to enable/prohibit access to items contained within the package.”
Referring to an image in the filing, Amazon wrote, “Utilizing a package similar to the one illustrated in FIG. 1E eliminates the need for any shipping labels, stickers or other identifiers to be included on or in the package, because the package itself is uniquely identifiable. Likewise, because the package is made of a durable material, it will withstand multiple shipments and increase the stability of stacked packages, for example during transport by a carrier vehicle.”
The system envisioned in the patent has the potential to save on packaging in the long run, and it’s also interesting to imagine the kind of data such a system would enable companies to gather about the flow of packages to, from, and among their users.