The Amazon Hangover Cure: Handling the Packaging Monster, Sustainably


We’re online shopping more than ever and, unfortunately, that means bringing unwanted waste into our homes in the form of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and other packing supplies. (A problem that gets especially frustrating when I discover the refrigerator-sized box on my porch actually just contains the single pack of face wipes I ordered). It’s almost like an Amazon hangover—a night of fun and frivolous (or not so frivolous) spending turns into a dreadful morning where you have to live with your living room box monster until you’re ready to become Box Cutter Betty and tear everything down.

Tip: If you ever get a too-big box for a tiny Amazon shipment, Amazon supports a packaging feedback program. Let them know if your things were wastefully packed, and they’ll use the data to better inform their packaging.

We can’t help with the motivation to get up and beat your box hangover, but we can help you figure out where everything should go, with the most sustainable methods in mind.

Cardboard Boxes

The very best thing you can do with a new cardboard box is re-use it. Over and over again. Have a closet that needs organizing? A junk drawer to make dividers for? Feeling up to make your own cat scratcher? Your Amazon hangover haul is a great opportunity to finally make it happen.

On the other hand, if you need the boxes out of your house, turn to your local recycling program. If you have curbside pickup, your Amazon boxes can go in the bin with any other paper products. Flatten the boxes, both to make them easier to carry and easier to process, but no need to worry about removing tape or labels — most recycling centers have systems for separating those materials.

If you’re going for extra credit and want your box to be recycled and do more good, you should also know about Amazon’s Give Back Box program. When you get a delivery, you can turn around and fill the empty box with clothes or other household goods you no longer need, then print a free label online and have the box shipped off to be donated to charity.

Bubble Wrap and Air Cushions

Again, the best thing to do with plastic air cushions and bubble wrap is to re-use them, if you can. But plastic cushioning can be recycled, although probably not by your local program. Instead, cut them down, squeeze the air out, and set them aside for your next trip to the grocery store — you can drop them into recycling bins meant for plastic grocery bags.

If your local grocer doesn’t have a plastic bag recycling bin, you can ship deflated bubble wrap and sealed air packaging back to the manufacturer, Sealed Air, to be processed for recycling (there are local addresses for the company on this page). Be mindful, though, and try and collect as much as you can — pack the box super tight — to make your recycling miles really count.

Other Ways Online Shopping Affects the Environment

Even if you can manage to recycle every bit of packaging that makes it to your door, the process of getting it to your door has far-reaching implications — think of all the emissions of the trucks and vans that it took to reach you, plus the vehicles and machinery involved in transporting and processing your recycled boxes. There’s a great article on the New York Times that goes into great detail on the environmental impact of e-commerce. Worth a read if you’re trying to be an eco-conscious shopper this season.

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