‘Tis The Season to Recycle: How to Keep Packaging Out of the Trash Over the Holidays

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Online shopping for the upcoming holiday season is expected to surpass the records set last year. With that, comes an increase in packages delivered and also an influx of cardboard boxes and packaging materials in your home. But before you rush to the trash, remember to recycle!

Recycling saves energy and natural resources, decreases pollution, and keeps landfills from filling up. According to Stanford University, about 30% of trash is from packaging (boxes, bags, wrappers), and we discard our own weight in packaging every 30-40 days. This time of year presents a great opportunity to educate and remind consumers to recycle.

Republic Services estimates each household will dispose 25% more trash (that’s about 1,000 extra pounds) between Black Friday and New Year’s Day.

Here are some tips on how online retailers can do their part to help the environment.

Encourage customers to recycle and reuse

Most residents have recycling bins at home, however, not all recyclable items belong in these bins. Certain recyclable materials need to stay separate from others. Many grocery stores offer plastic drop-off stations to collect plastics with resin identification codes 2 and 4 (e.g., grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, shrink wrap). You can find a plastic drop-off location near you here.

It’s important to note that boxes and other recyclable materials cannot be recycled if they end up contaminated, so keeping them clean and away from items that can comprise the quality is important.

What can be tossed in the recycling bin from online orders?

  • Cardboard boxes (once broken down)
  • Tissue paper
  • Cards, packing slips, and envelopes
  • Kraft paper and other paper inserts or paper-based dunnage
  • Non-metallic wrapping paper

What needs to be taken to a plastic drop-off location from package deliveries?

What can be reused?

If your orders are sent in a really cool branded box, your customers may want to hang on to them. Keeping or repurposing packages is another good alternative, as long as they do not end up in the trash. Not every box will be in good enough condition to reuse, but packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and other packing supplies can be reused for future shipments, packing for a move, and more.

What else can online retailers do to cut down on waste?

Learn some steps you can take to reduce your environmental impact, in addition to the chance of cardboard from your shipments ending up in landfills.

Use sustainable materials

Online retailers have the power to make choices that benefit the environment. From using post-consumer recycled content in the manufacturing of products, to choosing eco-friendly packaging and branded boxes, you can be intentional about sustainability.

Make it appealing to order in bulk

Some people order items online impulsively with the click of a button. By grouping products together, rather than ordering them individually, items can travel in one box instead of many. Ecommerce merchants can offer bulk discounts and kits, use the proper sized box, and try other methods to reduce the amount of packing materials used.

Reduce miles travelled

The greater the distance a package travels, the greater the toll on the environment. One way to reduce miles in transit is by storing inventory closer to your customers. You can also encourage customers to plan for their deliveries with free tools like UPS My Choice. Knowing when to expect deliveries prevents redeliveries, and thus, a larger carbon footprint. Additionally, more trips occur each time a customer sends a product back.

To reduce the likelihood of ecommerce returns and exchanges, retailers can optimise their website to include customer reviews, high-quality photos, and thorough product descriptions.


Online shopping produces a lot of empty boxes, especially this time of year. Unfortunately, cardboard and plastic still end up in landfills today. By recycling the leftover materials from online orders, we can reduce the impact online shopping has on the environment. Of course, it is ultimately up to each end customer to make these decisions. As an ecommerce merchant, you can encourage this behaviour and even make choices that help – not hurt – the environment.

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Written By:

Kristina is the Sr. Director of Marketing Communications at ShipBob, where she writes various articles, case studies, and other resources to help ecommerce brands grow their business.

Read all posts written by Kristina Lopienski