Apple’s 2008 Environmental Practices: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Apple’s 2008 Environmental Practices: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back 1

imageOne of the only surprises at this year’s iPod unveiling was that Apple CEO Steve Jobs took a few minutes to discuss the environmental progress of the iPod family, specifically calling out changes to the iPod nano and touch that showed the company’s commitment to greener, recycled products. Checklists were placed in slides and then on Apple’s web site, showing how the new iPods had eliminated certain types of environmentally unfriendly materials, and included others that were recyclable. These were feel good moments, brought on by pressure from groups such as Greenpeace, which had previously called out Apple for “iPoison and iWaste” in a highly publicized media campaign.

While the iPod devices were easy targets, Greenpeace specifically noted that it wasn’t targeting Apple for something else—packaging reduction—perhaps because Apple seemed to be on top of this issue a few years ago. iPod nano and shuffle boxes were some of the most impressively compact we’d ever seen for consumer electronics products, and managed to be distinctive even after dropping the origami-style cardboard packaging that made their predecessors so fun to unpack. Plus, if you ordered any iPod direct from Apple circa 2005 or 2006, you’d be shocked at the small, custom-made cardboard mailer it arrived in. The company wasn’t just shrinking its iPods and packages—it was shrinking the shipping boxes the packages came in, too.


This year, despite whatever improvements the iPods themselves have made, Apple has gone backwards in shipping boxes. True, the new iPod nano packages were just as large as they needed to be to hold the taller, brightly colored devices inside. But when we ordered nine new iPods, this is how they arrived—all in the same delivery, at the same moment: in nine separate FedEx boxes. Each of the “FedEx Medium” boxes was large enough to hold all of the iPods we’d ordered.



Normally, we’d write this off, but the mountain of cardboard and plastic around our offices continues to grow, and we’re now at the point where we have six separate recycling containers out every week just to deal with all the stuff that’s coming in. Adding nine separate FedEx boxes to that pile rather than one will probably push us to a seventh container this week. Multiply our experience times the millions of iPods Apple will be shipping this year and you’ll have some idea of just how much cardboard will be wasted if this keeps up.

From our standpoint, the best way to avoid recycling is to avoid wasting cardboard and other packing materials in the first place. Apple does a great job with the device boxes, but their shipping boxes—and the boxes used by its partners—aren’t quite as thoughtful. Last year, AT&T’s shipment of huge, boxed paper bills to iPhone users was considered wasteful (and frankly, moronic) enough that the company stopped line-itemizing and printing every piece of data from its cellular network to regurgitate to customers. This year, with fuel prices at all-time highs, reducing cardboard and paper waste from iPod, iPhone, and accessory packaging and repackaging should be a priority—it’ll save money on boxes and shipping, help the environment, and spare users the need to dispose of the dozens of unnecessary plastic bags, cardboard box inserts, and other parts that add no value to their purchases.



For our part, we’ll continue to point out when companies do a good job—like Tunewear, with its new bag-like eco-packaging—of reducing packaging clutter. There’s no single standard of perfection in product packaging or shipping, but we definitely appreciate it when companies find smart ways to cut down on waste. Readers, what do you think?

  1. The package my 2G iPod Touch came in was very small, not a large FedEx box like you show. I wonder if the Nanos are shipping differently, or if you simply received them in a different way. I ordered mine from Apple on Saturday and it came to me yesterday from FedEx in a box I could almost put in my pocket.

  2. The 2G touch came in a brown box shown on top of the FedEx Mediums — still a lot larger in volume than the actual touch package, which is impressively thin and small.

  3. I believe the buyer should take some responsibility in this issue as well. Knowing that an item ordered online will be shipped in a shipping package that is usually 20 – 40 % larger than the actual item packaging, should make the buyer think “would it be better for the environment for me to take a bus, bike or walk to a local store to buy this item to help reduce the waste that I will have to dispose of when the package arrives”.

    What I am trying to say is, yes, Apple is at fault here but, the buyer should take some responsibility in their actions as well. Buying a product, knowing that they will have to be shipped and know that the shipping packaging will have to be disposed of should make the buyer think before they purchase.

  4. I concur with ron s. The environmentally conscious consumer should weigh the enviro-cost vs. convenience factors. Does it cost less environmentally to jump in the car and drive to a retail store to purchase something or buy it online and deal with the shipping and packaging? To take this to the logical level of detail, should we consider how much it costs environmentally for the shipper to transport the package as well? One could drive oneself into a padded cell doing this for everything. 🙂

    Maybe we could instruct the shipper to combine all items in as few packages as possible. As the article said, all of the iPods could have fit in only one Fedex box.

    Oh well.

  5. Really? Man made global warming is an absolute myth, with no proof whatsoever and you are so worried about it that you’d to go a store and pay more so that less cardboard is recycled? Wow…

    I for one couldn’t care less how big the boxes apple ships are. I hope they keep this size just to annoy the crazies who want to “save the world” from an imaginary problem. 😉

  6. I totally agree with Ron S. A bunch of hypocrites are so engrossed with their sense of high morals that they would rather receive packaging and then scream than merely take a public transport to a store…

  7. You can’t see the world, You’re Kidding Right Ron?? Haven’t you been watching tv and how our president actually believes in global warming now? Maybe we won’t see the end of the world but at the rate we’re going it’s going to come sooner than it should. Cut down on the packaging, Apple! It makes you wonder what the packaging is like to large retailers like Costco, Best Buy, Fry’s, etc.

  8. Did you order 9 Nanos in ONE ORDER of 9 Individual orders????????? Can you / did you state – only ship when order is complete.

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