Sustainable Living

‘Tis the Season of Amazon Packages at Your Door—Here’s How To Recycle Them Properly

Photo: Amazon/Well+Good Creative
With all the online shopping you did this season, it was strange not to see a package or two on your porch at all times, and you're practically on a first-name basis with your mail delivery people. But now that the contents of said packages have all been gifted, what do you do with the empty shipping boxes and packaging?

You can discard that packaging and be conscious of the planet while you're at it by following a few guidelines (starting with please, please not tossing it in the trash). And if some of the packaging is from Amazon (because let's be honest, two-day shipping saved you in your scramble for last-minute gifts), those guidelines are simple and accessible. To learn about that process and Amazon's sustainability efforts, we connected with Pat Lindner, Amazon’s vice president of packaging and innovation.

"[Amazon is] committed to delivering products safely and sustainably," Lindner says. "We know our size and scale can make a difference and that we have a responsibility to do good, for our planet, and for our customer. That’s also why we co-founded and became the first signatory of The Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040—10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement."

From right-sized envelopes to curbside recyclable boxes, Amazon is always looking at how it can innovate to reduce packaging and increase recyclability.

Keep reading for more on Amazon’s sustainability efforts and how to recycle packages this season.

How Amazon is committing to more sustainable packaging

Amazon’s commitment to more sustainable packaging starts with reduction. Amazon aims to use "the least amount of packaging needed that will still ensure the product arrives safely,” Lindner says. “We even have a program for products that can be shipped without any additional Amazon packaging at all.” (Just be aware of potential spoilers if you’re shipping a gift straight to its recipient!)

To accomplish this mission, Amazon uses machine-learning algorithms to identify which products don’t need additional boxing and which smaller items are suitable for flexible packaging. The result of this effort? “Since 2015, our investments in processes, materials, and technologies have allowed us to reduce the packaging weight per shipment by more than 38 percent and eliminate more than 1.5 million tons of packaging,” Lindner says. Talk about lessening your impact.

How to recycle packages properly

When eliminating materials altogether isn’t possible, Amazon focuses on replacing harder-to-recycle materials with alternative options, using less material, and incorporating more recycled content. That's where that tower of boxes and packaging stacked in a corner of your house comes into play: The Amazon Second Chance page is a resource that shows you exactly how to recycle packages properly (because all the different rules of recycling can be confusing sometimes).

Plus, Amazon includes a “How2Recycle” label on all shipments, and partners with organizations like the Closed Loop fund and the Recycling Partnership on education and infrastructure. “The next time you receive an Amazon package, check to see if it has a QR code that will help you learn more,” Lindner says.

As a quick overview, these are the main things Lindner says to keep in mind: Drop boxes and paper-padded mailers in curbside recycling—just try to flatten them before you do, he says. If you don’t have access to curbside recycling for plastic, you’ll need to take your blue-and-white envelopes and air pillows to a nearby dropoff. Discarding your packages (read: cleaning up your living room) in a conscious way? Now that’s a holiday gift.

How to shop sustainably on Amazon

Want to keep sustainability in mind in other ways, too? Lindner has a few pro tips: “Select Amazon Day as a shipping option if the product qualifies. This lets [you] select a day for all of [your] products to be delivered,” Lindner says. “Although [your] products might not always come together in one box, on average, Amazon Day uses 30 percent fewer boxes.”

You can also shop products marked with the Climate Pledge Friendly label, which means they have at least one sustainability certification. On Lindner’s list? “I personally love the new Echo dot," he says. "It’s in our Climate Pledge Friendly program because it has the ‘Reducing CO2’ label, which signifies a product is reducing its carbon footprint year after year.”

Whatever ends up on your doorstep this season—for yourself or for someone special in your life—may your heart, your home, and your recycling bin be full.

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