OfficeMax brings reusable boxes to business customers

In a move that promises to reduce delivery packaging and create less work for businesses, OfficeMax has launched a shipping box reuse program called "Boomerang Box."

Participating businesses will receive shipments from Officemax as usual, but instead of breaking down and recycling delivery boxes, they'll hold onto them, and then OfficeMax will pick the boxes up at the next delivery and reuse them. Or, if the boxes are too worn out, they'll get recycled.

Although the free program, which rolls out nationwide later this year, is limited to OfficeMax's business customers, the company estimates that it could reduce box use by 80 percent. And OfficeMax is not the only office supply chain pushing to reduce delivery packaging: A related program by competitor Office Depot that eliminates boxes in favor of paper bags is now used by just shy of 100 percent of customers.

Boomerang boxes, which contain 50 percent post-consumer recycled content, first showed up in the Pacific Northwest, where four companies have been testing them out. "The boomerang box was piloted in Seattle because the city has a very large number of customers that demand a reusable shipping carton solution," said OfficeMax public relations manager Nicole Miller.

The program could stumble if customers don't have enough space to keep the reusable delivery boxes until they can be picked up again or mechanisms to ensure they don't accidentally get recycled.

"Participating in our Boomerang Box ... requires the customer to save and return the boxes for continued participation," said Miller. "We anticipate this active program engagement to be the biggest challenge for customers."

While saving businesses the work of breaking down and tossing boxes, the program is also likely to save costs at OfficeMax by slicing the number of boxes it needs.

Competitor Office Depot, meanwhile, has taken a different route to achieving sustainable deliveries. It runs a program called Greener Shipping that eliminates cardboard delivery boxes in favor of bags.

The program started in 2010, but at that time focused on giving rebates to customers who increased their average order size and reduced frequent deliveries, thus reducing shipping-related emissions and packaging. 

Now, participating businesses choose to receive deliveries in bags that are moved around in reusable plastic tote boxes. "It's less of a hassle for the customer," said Office Depot communications manager Rebecca Rakitin, ticking off the benefits of the program, "We don't use air pillows, customers don't have to throw anything out, and they can reuse the paper bags."

The bag program was piloted in 2010 in the Pacific Northwest, where 96 percent of Office Depot's business customers use it. The program went nationwide in 2011 and now some 98 percent of customers utilize it.