how to recycle amazon packaging

If you’re an eco-conscious person, you’re probably wondering how to recycle Amazon packaging. After all, the internet giant is responsible for quite a lot of the stuff.

In fact, in 2019, Amazon delivered 7 billion packages, generating 465 million pounds of plastic packaging. Of this, Oceana estimated that 22.4 million pounds of waste ended up in oceans and waterways, though Amazon says this figure is over-inflated by around 350%.

Given the e-commerce boom accelerated during the pandemic – Amazon’s sales increased 38% in 2020 and a further 44% in 2021 – we can assume that the waste increased as well. One study found that the brand’s absolute carbon emissions grew by 19% in 2020.

So how can you recycle old Amazon packaging to make sure it doesn’t end up damaging the environment?

Why is it important to recycle Amazon packaging?

In the post-COVID world, e-commerce dominates the retail market, and Amazon undoubtedly dominates e-commerce. Online shopping was already booming pre-pandemic, and lockdowns as well as health concerns strongly accelerated this trend as people stayed at home and away from brick-and-mortar stores.

Therefore, Amazon’s attitude to the environment is critically important – this behemoth of a brand has the potential to have positive or incredibly negative impacts on the planet. Furthermore, as the industry leader, Amazon sets an example for many others to follow.

The brand says they are “fully committed to building a sustainable business for its customers and the planet”. Amazon also co-founded the Climate Pledge, a commitment to make business carbon net-zero by the year 2040.

Despite their green claims, Amazon is yet to show significant concrete action or results when it comes to sustainability. They received a mediocre “C” rating by the Impakter Index, essentially because they have not set any clear KPIs to show how they will meet their lofty sustainability goals.

Furthermore, the e-commerce giant continues to partner with a number of oil and gas companies, as well as use an incredible amount of plastic packaging on their packages. Much of this packaging is not easily recyclable, such as plastic used for grocery orders, gel packs, and foil bubble wrap.

What materials does Amazon packaging typically contain?

You can order virtually anything on Amazon, from groceries to furniture, and the wide variety of products available come in a diverse range of packaging. But the task of how to recycle Amazon packaging can be somewhat challenging, due to this eclectic mix of materials.

amazon cardboard and plastic packaging on a wooden floor
Source: Flickr / Kari Sullivan

Amazon’s different divisions such as Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime typically use diverse types of packaging. For example, because they ship groceries, Amazon Fresh tends to use more plastic and foil-lined packaging which can be almost impossible to recycle.

There is also a wide range of materials used in Amazon Marketplace. As shipping is often the responsibility of the seller, the seller can choose to use any type of packaging.

As a customer, you may receive an Amazon package wrapped in any of the following materials:

  • Air pillows – These protect fragile items during shipping and are also often used to fill empty spaces in packaging to prevent products from moving around during transport.
  • Cardboard boxesCardboard boxes have long been an e-commerce packing favorite as they’re sturdy, spacious, cheap, and available in a range of shapes and sizes. Amazon Prime as well as many Amazon Marketplace sellers use cardboard boxes for most of their shipping.
  • Paper bags and packing paper – Paper bags and packing paper are a sustainable form of packaging. Amazon and its shippers sometimes use strong paper bags which are designed to be sturdy enough for shipping and can even be reused multiple times.
  • Bubble wrap-lined mailers – These mailers are lightweight, made from sturdier paper or card and lined with plastic bubble wrap, to protect their contents, offering plenty of space. They are perfect for sending breakable or oddly shaped items that cannot be packed in a cardboard box.
  • Bubble wrap – Bubble wrap is an easy and effective way to protect products from damage. It’s extremely flexible, so it can be wrapped around almost anything, and its light weight means it won’t push up shipping costs. 
  • Foam sheets – Foam sheets are sometimes used as an alternative to bubble wrap, having many of the same properties, such as being lightweight and good for protecting goods during transport.
  • Plastic bags & shrink-wrap – Just like in-store shopping, Amazon uses plastic bags and shrink-wrap store, carry, and pack a variety of materials and items.
  • Reusable gift bags and recycled gift bags – These bags are stylish but sustainable packaging solutions that can be reused several times.
  • Gel packs – These are portable bags filled with water and refrigerant gel used to keep food items and produce fresh. In particular, Amazon Fresh uses them to deliver and store perishable food items.
  • Dry ice pouches – Dry ice is used to keep all medical supplies and food at a stable temperature during shipping. It’s commonly used by Amazon Fresh.
  • Dry ice plastic film – This is another form of dry ice that Amazon uses to keep products cool in transport and storage and can be easily wrapped around many items.
  • Plastic bottles – Amazon Fresh also uses bottles filled with frozen water to keep produce fresh during storage and transport.
  • Foil insulation bags – Insulated bags keep the food items warm or cold for longer and prevent them from going bad and stale.

How to recycle Amazon packaging: all types

If you want to find out how to recycle Amazon packaging, the first thing to do is to look for the How2Recycle label on the packaging itself. These are printed instructions that will tell you how to recycle that particular type of material.

If in doubt, you can also check Earth 911’s search tool for nearby recycling centers that will accept specific materials.

Here’s a summary of the best way to recycle common types of Amazon packaging:

  • How to recycle air pillows – Amazon recommends you recycle these through your local municipality or find an appropriate recycling drop-off location. Air pillows are made from plastic film, making them difficult to recycle. Check with your local authority and if they don’t accept air pillows, find a recycling center that does. Be sure to pop the pillows and squash the air out before taking them for recycling.
  • How to recycle cardboard boxes – This is one of the easiest types of Amazon packaging to recycle. Most local recycling programs and centers accept cardboard, as long as it’s not wet or contaminated. You can also reuse them, not only for storage but for plenty of other purposes too! Check out our guide to recycling cardboard boxes for more info and ideas.
  • How to recycle paper bags and packing paper – Paper bags and packing paper are also very recyclable. You can recycle paper through your town’s recycling program, or better still, shred it and add it to your compost bin. If you are fond of grilling or have a wood stove, you can also use the paper to light your kindling.
  • How to recycle bubble wrap – It’s unlikely that your local authority will accept bubble wrap in their recycling pick up, though it’s worth checking with them. If not, you should find a recycling center nearby that takes this material.
  • How to recycle bubble wrap-lined envelopes – Likewise, Amazon suggests you contact recycling centers to take these special envelopes. You could also reuse them for secure storage or for gift wrapping delicate items.
  • How to recycle foam sheets – Foam sheets are typically made of LDPE, meaning they can be recycled at centers that accept the plastic film. Foam sheets are mildew-resistant, which makes them perfect for storing items in your garage or basements.
  • How to recycle plastic bags & shrink-wrap – It’s not easy to recycle plastic film or shrink-wrap, but many recycling centers now accept this material. Likewise, plastic bags are not accepted by many recycling programs, though you can reuse them as produce bags or trash bags.
  • How to recycle reusable gift bags and recycled gift bags – Amazon encourages its customers to reuse gift bags. If you feel they are torn or no longer reusable as bags, you could repurpose them as craft paper. Any gift bags made from plastic-coated paper or covered in glitter can’t be recycled. However, Amazon is increasingly using recycled gift bags that are not only made from 100% recycled material, but are also biodegradable.
  • How to recycle gel packs – Most recycling centers don’t accept gel packs, so re-using them is the best option. Otherwise, your only option is to throw them in the trash.
  • How to recycle dry ice plastic film – It is not recommended to reuse dry ice plastic film, so you should give it, fully intact, to your local recycling center.
  • How to recycle plastic bottles – Amazon often uses frozen water bottles to keep fresh produce cool during shipping. The ice melts over time and the water is safe to drink. You can then either reuse them as drinking bottles or recycle them through your curbside recycling program.
  • How to recycle dry ice pouches – Dry ice pouches need to be handled carefully as they contain toxic materials. Never open up the pouches, and if one breaks avoid touching the contents. Try to find a recycling center that will accept this material and take the complete, undamaged pouches to their drop-off point.
  • How to recycle foil insulation bags – Foil insulation bags are not recyclable, so if you don’t want them ending up in landfill you’ll need to reuse them. Clean the bag well, and put it inside a canvas bag to keep your frozen products cold when shopping. You could also remove the insulating pad, cut it open, and use it for a DIY project.

FAQs

It’s easy to be confused about how to recycle Amazon packaging. So we’ve pulled together the answers to common doubts and concerns.

Is Amazon packaging recyclable?

Amazon uses a lot of plastic in its packaging and in particular mixed with other materials, meaning much of it cannot be easily recycled. However, all of its cardboard boxes and folders, reusable and recyclable bags, and paper bags can be recycled through most local recycling programs.

amazon cardboard and paper packaging on the floor
Source: Flickr / Terry Kearney

Even items like bubble wrap, foam sheets, and even dry ice pouches can be recycled through recycling centers and drop-off programs. There are also plenty of ways you can reuse most types of Amazon packaging with a bit of creativity!

Does Amazon use reusable packaging?

Amazon has introduced reusable gift bags as a sustainable packaging solution. However, they still use plenty of other forms of packing, many of which are not easily recyclable.

This is particularly true of the types of packaging used by Amazon Fresh.

amazon fresh packaging
Source: Flickr / simone.brunozzi

What can I do with Amazon Prime Now insulated bags?

Unfortunately, Amazon Prime Now insulated bags can’t be recycled, so the only way to dispose of them is to put them in the trash. If you want to avoid your insulated bags ending up in landfill, reuse them to line reusable shopping bags or for DIY projects.

What can I do to make Amazon packaging more eco-friendly?

There’s no doubt that the majority of the packaging used by Amazon is an environmental disaster. However, there are a few things you can do to change this, and help to make your online shopping more eco-friendly.

Provide feedback to Amazon

Give Amazon feedback on how you feel about their packaging. Amazon values customer reviews, so after you receive your delivery, use the opportunity to tell them why their packaging is not sustainable and that you want more eco-friendly packaging next time.

Choose eco-friendly sellers

Take a look at the individual sellers on Amazon Marketplace (or elsewhere) who use eco-friendly packaging. There are plenty of green vendors on and off the platform who make an effort to use recyclable, reusable and compostable forms of packaging, and they typically mention this in their product descriptions.

If your product arrives and you’re happy with their sustainable packaging, be sure to mention this in your review.

Investigate local recycling centers

You’d be surprised what’s recyclable if you’re prepared to make a bit of effort. Even if your local recycling program won’t accept certain materials, there’s a good chance a recycling center will.

Take a look at Earth 911 and find a center in your area where you can take your Amazon bubble wrap, shrink wrap, and dry ice pouches.

Final thoughts on how to recycle Amazon packaging

We all love the convenience of shopping on Amazon, but it’s also important to consider the impact that this choice had on the environment. Although Amazon has made a number of green claims in recent years, they’re yet to demonstrate any real progress when it comes to sustainability, and their packaging is a prime example of that.

Although the volume and type of packaging Amazon uses for its deliveries is nothing short of an eco-nightmare, you can recycle or at least reuse most of it with a bit of effort. You can also do your part to encourage Amazon to move toward more sustainable packaging through the products you choose to buy and who you buy them from, as well as the feedback you give.

If you’ve enjoyed this post about how to recycle Amazon packaging, take a look at our guides to recycle Brita Filters and recycled building materials.

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