Every Piece Of E-Commerce Packaging Should Actually Be Recyclable

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  • Every day, millions of e-commerce packages are delivered around the world. That number has only grown in recent months with the COVID-19 pandemic’s boost to online shopping. 
  • Those millions of packages come in packaging, much of which ends up in landfills.
  • Modern companies must be environmentally focused, which not only means creating recyclable packaging that can actually be recycled, but following through on programs to ensure boxes and bubble mailers end up in recycling plants, not landfills. 

The Problem With Packaging

Amazon alone shipped 415 million packages in July 2020. That means 415 million bubble mailers and boxes. A large issue is simply the massive quantity of packaging. But aside from that, the materials aren’t compatible with most recycling systems and many people don’t have access to recycling. 

In recent years, Amazon has moved away from shipping in cardboard boxes to packaging items in lightweight mailers, which take up less space in delivery trucks and planes. Amazon actually created a fully recyclable mailer, but the majority of its packages are still sent in the blue plastic bubble mailers. Although the majority of mailers are recyclable, they aren’t sortable in most recycling systems and tend to get caught in the machinery. When that happens, the entire recycling operation has to shut down so the mailer can be removed and the machinery can be cleaned. 

So while plastic mailers are technically recyclable, they need to be recycled separately so that they don’t gum up recycling systems. Amazon has taken the first step to create packaging that can be recycled, but it has left much of the burden of actually sorting and recycling items to cities and recycling centers. 

Another issue arises with packaging materials that some recycling services don’t accept. Amazon points customers to a website to find drop-off recycling centers that take the plastic film of its mailers. But once again, Amazon is putting the burden on actually recycling items to customers. The goal of all companies should be to make their customers’ lives easier, not to make them work harder. Forcing customers to find a place and drop off their old packaging is definitely making their lives harder. 

Recyclable Solutions

E-commerce retailers, especially Amazon, need to take responsibility for the planet by creating more sustainable packaging. The simplest solution is to make all packaging recyclable in a manner that can work with existing recycling tools. Another option is moving away from throwaway packaging altogether and instead using reuse and refill systems. 

Amazon has taken a few steps, including Frustration-Free Packaging that doesn’t use unnecessary shipping boxes. Customers can opt in to FFP for certain items. Since 2008, the program has eliminated more than 1.18 billion shipping boxes. 

Creating new packaging is expensive and a cost that most e-commerce companies don’t want (or can’t afford) to take on. Earlier this year, Jeff Bezos announced that he was donating $10 billion to his new organization Earth Fund to fight climate change. What about taking that $10 billion and putting it towards eliminating one of the biggest contributors to trash: Amazon packages. 

It’s not enough to just say they are environmentally conscious—companies must follow through and ensure their green efforts are actually effective. E-commerce companies need to re-evaluate their materials to create recyclable packaging that can actually be recycled without placing the burden on customers.

Blake Morgan is the bestselling author of The Customer of the Future. Sign up for her new course here.



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