There’s a problem out there that you may not stop to consider. The packaging materials you get are often trashed unnecessarily. You might know to recycle cardboard, but have you ever stopped to think about how you’re supposed to recycle it? You probably are not aware that plastic envelopes, bubble wrap, and bags are all recyclable. In districts where curbside recycling only allows for the recycling of #1 or #2 plastics, the rest gets trashed. That trash takes decades upon decades to break down in landfills.
For years, online retail has grown to new levels. Between 2017 and 2018, Forbes reports there was a 16% increase. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased online shopping to incredible new levels as consumers turned to online ordering to get supplies when stores were forced to temporarily shut their doors. ACI Worldwide reports that online purchases increased by 74% in March 2020. All of those online orders led to an influx of boxes and shipping materials being recycled and trashed by households.
Orders from Amazon are packaged to prevent damage, but all of that extra packaging can seem hard to recycle. Most people trash the foam, air pillows, and plastic packaging. There’s a better way. It’s better to recycle the packaging, and it’s easier to do than you might think.
A Quick Breakdown of Recyclable Materials
Cardboard and paper are two of the easiest materials to recycle. Plain brown cardboard is also compostable. Paper and cardboard that are coated with a glossy finish or are colored should be recycled rather than composted due to the dyes.
Plastics tend to be the item that trips people up when it comes to recycling. Take a look at the different types of plastics.
- #1 (Polyethylene Terephthalate or PET) – This is one of the easiest plastics to recycle and is often used to make containers and bottles that contain things like cleaners and nut butters. It’s unlikely you’ll come across a recycling center that will not accept PET. You do need to wash food containers out before recycling them.
- #2 (High-Density Polyethylene or HDPE) – As the other of the easiest plastics to recycle, HDPE is often used to make shampoo bottles and milk jugs. Rinse them before recycling.
- #3 (Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC) – You probably think of PVC as being used to make piping or shower curtains. It’s Not easy to recycle due to the additives that go into the creation. When possible, repurpose old PVC.
- #4 (Low-Density Polyethylene or LDPE) – Plastic grocery bags and plastic films are usually made from LDPE. It’s not something that districts willingly recycle, but How2Recycle has programs in each state that help recycle plastic bags and plastic film. Find your nearest location by visiting PlasticFilmRecycling.org.
- #5 (Polypropylene or PP) – PP is the plastic that’s used to make items like straws, deli containers, and baby bottles. It’s also not commonly recycled. Repurposing is one way to keep these items from the trash.
- #6 (Polystyrene or PS) – Some recycling centers may accept PS, but it’s not common due to the cost of recycling the materials. Styrofoam, foam packing peanuts, and CD cases are among the items made from PS. Reusing is the best way to keep them out of the trash.
- #7 (Mixed) – Mixed plastics are often used to make plastic cutlery, baby bottles, reusable water bottles, and lids. It’s hard to recycle #7 as it’s a mix of plastics. Repurposing is the best way to keep them from the trash.
Shipping materials that come from Amazon are often cardboard, paper, and/or #4 plastic. You may get foam peanuts from marketplace sellers, but many retailers are switching to biodegradable packing peanuts that dissolve in water. These packing peanuts are made from nontoxic sources like cornstarch. When you’re done with them, toss them into your compost or put them outside and let them dissolve in the rain.
Packaging From Amazon.com Orders
Look for the How2Recycle label on Amazon packaging. This program was designed to help consumers know how to recycle the items they receive. With variations in recycling practices from one state to the next, you can rely on How2Recycle to help. You can also rely on Recycle Nation for additional assistance. Enter your ZIP code and type of material and submit the form. A list of recycling centers near you appears, which makes it easy to locate how and where to recycle these items. Here’s an in-depth guide to recycling the different types of packaging Amazon uses.
The long strips of air pillows found in many boxes cannot be placed in your curbside recycling. Instead of throwing them away, look at How2Recycle. There’s bound to be a How2Recycle partner near you that will accept that plastic. Check How2Recycle for the nearest location. It’s likely to be a grocery store, as they often have bins for plastic bags where you can also drop off deflated plastic air pillows and other plastic films.
Brown Packing Paper
Brown packing paper is recyclable. Fold it up to save space and place it in your curbside recycling container for pick-up or to bring it to a facility on your own. If you compost at home, you can also shred the packing paper and add it when you need to add brown materials to your grass clippings and food scraps. If you use a charcoal grill or wood stove, brown packing paper can also be used to help light charcoal or kindling.
Bubble wrap may be used by marketplace sellers. If you get a lot of bubble wrap, you cannot place it in your curbside bin. Instead, use Recycle Nation to find participating recycling facilities that take bubble wrap. If there is no local recycler, you can post it on local boards and forums and give it away to anyone in need of bubble wrap.
Bubble-Lined Paper or Plastic Mailers
When your item/s come in bubble-lined mailers, you might be able to recycle them in your curbside bins or at your local recycling center. It does vary from one region to the next. If you cannot, find a local facility that accepts plastic film recycling with the How2Recycle program.
Cardboard boxes from Amazon are easy to recycle. Check your district’s rules on cutting them down if they’re large. Most facilities have rules in place asking homeowners to do their part and cut the cardboard down into squares or rectangles of a specific size (often no larger than 2 feet by 2 feet). If you bring cardboard to a facility, you might be able to avoid having to cut it down into smaller sizes. It also has to be clean and dry. You can also remove tape and staples and compost brown cardboard.
Like cardboard boxes, cardboard folders are recyclable. Simply place it in your bin for curbside pick-up or bring them to your local facility.
If you get items wrapped in foam sheets, it’s usually LDPE and can be recycled at locations that accept the plastic film. Recycle them the same way you would recycle plastic mailers or plastic bags. Find the nearest plastic film recycling location by visiting PlasticFilmRecycling.org. You can also unfold these mildew-resistant sheets and reuse them when storing items in your basement or garage.
Paper mailers are recyclable. You can place them in your curbside container or bring them to your local facility. You can also compost them. If you’re going to compost them, put them through a paper shredder first to make it easier for the material to break down.
Paper Padded Mailers
Mailers that are made from paper and stuffed with paper fibers are recyclable. This includes Amazon’s newest mailers that have a high-tech form of padding made from heating glue into a puffy white layer of padding. Place them in your curbside recycling bin and have them picked up at your home or bring them to your solid waste district. If you compost at home, they’re also compostable. Be sure to remove any tape or sticky labels before you compost them.
Before you throw plastic bags in the trash, see if there’s a plastic film recycling container near you. You may have that option available if your local grocery store is part of the How2Recycle program.
For items that come wrapped in shrink wrap, this is a plastic film. It’s not going to be easily recycled in your curbside bin or by bringing it to your local recycling center, but you should be able to recycle it in a plastic bag/plastic film recycling container.
Packaging From Amazon Grocery Orders
If you get grocery deliveries from Amazon Grocery, you’ll also have a lot of packaging to recycle with those deliveries. When possible, try to reuse what you can. You might find that gel packs and insulated pouches are useful when you buy groceries locally. They’ll keep refrigerated items cooler for longer. Otherwise, here are the best ways to recycle these shipping materials.
Cardboard Bottom Boards/ Boxes
Cardboard boxes and the bottom boards placed under items for structure are also easily recycled. Like cardboard boxes, cut them into the appropriate size for your waste district and put them in your curbside bin. If you bring recyclables to the center yourself, you may not need to cut them down. Brown cardboard is also compostable if you remove the tape and any sticky labels first.
Dry Ice Plastic Film or Plastic Pouches
Any plastic film or pouch that contains dry ice should not be recycled. You also shouldn’t touch it if there are still small pieces of dry ice remaining. If there are, leave it in the box and set it outside to finish the process of sublimation. If it’s absolutely necessary to remove the dry ice package, wear gloves. Once it’s finished, toss out the plastic.
You cannot recycle foil insulation. It should go into your trash. However, you could reuse it. Insert it into reusable grocery bags and turn a regular cloth bag into one that has insulation to keep frozen and cold items from warming up during your drive home.
Most recycling facilities are unable to process gel packs. If you can reuse them, that’s best. Otherwise, they need to be tossed into the trash.
Amazon’s insulated pouches are often recycling, but you have to take them apart. Remove the insulating pad from the mailer. Cut that pad open and remove the plastic film. The plastic film can be recycled at participating plastic bag/plastic film recycling bins. The fiber pad inside of the insulated pouch is made from natural fibers and can be composted. It may be accepted locally if your area facility accepts cotton fibers for recycling.
Paper bags are recyclable at most recycling facilities. Drop them off or place the folded paper bags in your curbside bin. You can also tear up and compost paper bags. One other idea is to see if local schools need paper bags. If teachers want textbooks covered, paper bags are a cost-effective way to do it.
Like paper packaging, paper insulation is recyclable. You can place it in your bin for curbside pick-up or bring it to your local recycling facility. You can also compost paper insulation.
Amazon will use frozen water bottles to keep some items cold during shipping. Those water bottles will melt over time. The water is safe to drink. Once emptied, the water bottles are easily recycled through curbside or drop-off recycling.
Plastic Produce Bags
The produce bags your fruit and vegetables arrive in are unlikely to be allowed in your curbside recycling bin. If they’re not, recycle them in a plastic bag/plastic film recycling bin at How2Recycle partners.
Can You Reuse or Repurpose?
It’s always worth seeing if there’s a way to reuse or repurpose the packaging materials. You don’t have to be the one reusing them. If there’s a Facebook, Reddit, Front Porch Forum, or other social groups for your area, post that you have boxes and packaging materials to rehome. Someone may be moving or looking for free shipping materials. This makes it easy to recycle materials. If there’s no recycling center within a few minutes of your home, giving packaging materials away becomes an easy solution and helps someone out.
You might be able to repurpose some items. Save the plastic produce bags to reuse when you go grocery shopping locally. Instead of getting new bags each trip, keep reusing a produce bag and reduce the number of plastic film products you’re using. Flatten brown packing paper into sheets and donate that paper to area art teachers who need paper for children to paint on.
Another neat idea is to dampen brown packing paper and push it into muffin tins. Let it dry so that it’s molded to form a cup. Remove the paper and cut it into individual cups. Take them outside to a patio or lawn and add scoops of potting soil into each cup. Use those cups to start seeds. When it’s time to plant the seedlings into a patio planter or garden bed, you plant the paper cup and seedling. The paper will break down and become soil.
Electronics Recycling Tips
Here’s another situation to consider. Your Amazon purchase was a new electronic. You’re replacing your old, slow laptop with a new, fast one. Your old laptop may have value to someone else, and Amazon’s Second Chance program is designed to help with that. Look for an Amazon and ERI electronics recycling container. They are available in a handful of cities in California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington. You deposit your unneeded electronics in these self-locking bins, ERI picks them up, destroys the data, and recycles or refurbishes them.
Look into the Amazon Trade-In program. Items like cell phones, gaming devices, e-readers, video games, and other electronic devices can be shipped to Amazon for free in exchange for gift cards. The amount you receive depends on the condition once the item is received. For example, that 6th Generation Kindle Paperwhite you bought years ago that still works could be worth as much as $25. You recycle and get a gift card at the same time.
Look for electronics recycling drop-off at a local recycling center. You should ask them where the electronics go once they’ve collected them. You want to verify that their provider doesn’t ship the electronics overseas. You also want to make sure they’re certified in ways that protect their workers, follow laws and regulations, and keep an eye on environmentally-friendly practices. You’ll find recommended e-waste recycling programs at Recycle Nation.
If you aren’t sure how to recycle the packaging a seller sends you, Recycle Nation can help. Our search form is a simple two-step process (ZIP code and item name) and delivers an updated list of centers that can recycle your item. PlasticFilmRecycling.org is also a helpful resource and determining where your local plastic film recycling bin is located. Most grocery stores have them. In addition to grocery store plastic bags, they accept the following clean and dry plastics:
- Any bags or plastic film labeled #2 or #4
- Bags from packaged small appliances and furnishings
- Bread bags
- Breakfast cereal bags that are plastic and not wax paper
- Bulk case wrappers from cat litter, drink bottles, napkins, paper towels, snacks, and toilet paper
- Deli bags
- Diaper (adult and baby) and sanitary pad bags
- Dry cleaning bags
- Electronics bags
- Game wrappers
- Loose hardware bags
- Newspaper bags
- Plastic sandwich or food storage bags like Ziploc
- Tyvek envelopes with the labels removed
Between these two organizations, it’s going to be easy to find exactly where you should bring your Amazon packaging materials and keep plastics out of landfills.