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By Taylor Bell
Whether it's getting convenient next-day deliveries or checking out an entire store's inventory from the comfort of your home, online shopping has become a popular and dominant force. In fact, retail e-commerce sales are expected to hit more than $6.5 trillion by 2023, according to a Statista report. This increasingly massive online sales industry brings with it great convenience but also a challenge in the form of sustainable practices. With all these packages traveling across the globe, how do we prevent needless waste? It's a question USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy student Jim Welty believes he has the answer to.
As convenient as online shopping might be, it's delivery system has logistical and environmental costs. About 165 billion packages are shipped throughout the U.S. annually, as reported by Fast Company.  And the amount of cardboard used for those deliveries would roughly equate to 1 billion trees.  Moreover, many of these boxes have limited trackability and are single-use.
Online retailer Amazon, which is projected to account for 50 percent of all U.S. e-commerce by 2021,  produces a large amount of corrugated boxes in order to ship its millions of products.  But often, these boxes don't make it to the recycle bin after they've been used. In many cases, customers toss the boxes, keep the boxes stored at home, or just leave them on the curb.
According to a BuzzFeed News report, a waste management company reported a 20 percent increase in the amount of cardboard it collected from the streets over the last decade.  Welty hopes to change this pattern of waste with a new idea for a shipping container, called the Infinity Box.
Infinity Box is a collapsible delivery box that can be reused multiple times. How exactly? After customers receive their goods, they scan the Infinity Box, and place it outside where it is then picked up and prepped for its next delivery.
"We have 70 billion of these boxes moving around the planet at any moment, and they're all single-use," Welty said. "We look under our beds and in our garages and in our closets, and we see these boxes that are still hanging around from the time we ordered something online. Even though being able to order things online is super convenient and we all love it, it sort of prods at the conscience a bit that we have this waste problem."
According to Welty, the cost of a reusable box that can be cycled 100 or more times "falls in line with the cost of a single-use corrugated box."
Not only is the Infinity Box cutting back on waste, but it also helps customers better track their purchases. The Infinity Box will be equipped with technology that allows you to track your order from the moment it's shipped, to the moment it arrives at your front door. So, you no longer have to worry about getting home in time to sign for your package. Instead, you'll get real-time updates of where your delivery is and track it as you would your Uber driver.
In addition, you'll be able to check the status of perishable and fragile items via temperature monitoring and various sensors in the box. This is especially useful for businesses that carry luxury and perishable items, which is who Welty and his team want to target first.
The idea for the Infinity Box came to life at the Academy. In the midst of his classes, Welty met his three co-founders: Donielle Sulllivan, Del Necessary and Steven Schwartz. From there, the team of four pursued the idea of a sustainable delivery box.
This isn't Welty's first time working in business. The Academy master’s student started his own company at the age of 19, which led him to eventually climb to a director position at a tech company in Irvine, California. Still, Welty felt he was "missing something" in his business education, so he restarted his career and came to the Academy to develop a new product. Fast forward to today and Infinity Box stands to reinvent shipping packages for online retailers everywhere, creating a system that is more efficient, customer-friendly and most importantly, sustainable.
"I've worked on a number of business concepts before joining [the Academy], it always felt like some perspective or concept or key insight was missing. I'm getting it now -- how exciting it is to feel like you've got this inside information that really unlocks an idea that allows it to breathe and grow. I get that from working with phenomenal people around me every day." Welty said.
Recently, Welty and his co-founders presented their idea at the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase, where they walked away with two prizes and financial awards, including: Best Business Concept Award ($10K) and the Brooks Kushman Patentability Award ($15K). For Welty and his team, this is the first step that allows them to make the Infinity Box a reality.
Currently, the team is working on refining their prototype and reaching out to potential customers. The team is also participating in the Startup World Cup 2020, an annual competition in Silicon Valley which offers emerging innovators the chance to win one million dollars in investment.