amazon box sits next to a clock

Can You Recycle Amazon Packaging?

When Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994, the company was originally set up as an online marketplace for books. Fast forward a couple decades, and Amazon is now the world’s largest retailer, selling a variety of other goods including clothes, furniture, electronics, video games, toys, beauty products, and food – just about everything, really.

Annually, Amazon ships more than 10 billion packages, and in March 2020 alone, as governments around the world enforced restrictions on movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual visits to Amazon amounted to more than 4 billion visitors.

The dramatic growth in e-commerce over the last few years has been accompanied by increased concern about its environmental impacts. Among the environmental concerns has been the aspect of e-commerce packaging, which is one of the factors that contribute to total carbon emissions of online shopping.

According to Amazon’s 2020 sustainability report, the company is dedicated to reducing its environmental footprint through recycling initiatives in its operations and processes. The report states that across the United States, the company is developing recycling infrastructure, devising recyclable packaging material and investing in activities and processes that support the recycling industry.

Can you recycle Amazon packaging?

Not all types of Amazon packaging are curbside recyclable. While almost all of Amazon’s packaging can technically be recycled, there is not necessarily widespread access to collection programs for certain types of plastics used in their packaging.

Which Types of Amazon Packaging are Recyclable?

women opening an amazon box

Amazon uses different types of packaging including bubble-lined mailers, padded mailers, fresh paper bag, bubble-lined plastic bags, air pillows, cardboard boxes and gel packs.

Here we break down the recyclability of the most common types of Amazon packaging.

bubble lined paper mailer sits on surface

Paper Bubble Mailer

Bubble-lined paper mailers have an exterior made of paper and an interior of bubble wrap, and are not recyclable due to their mixed-material composition.

Padded paper mailer

The Amazon paper padded mailer is made of 100% paper and uses a type of glue as padding material that is made from the same material as the glue used in cardboard boxes. The padded paper mailer is curbside recyclable – it was actually developed as a replacement for bubble-wrapped envelopes.

All Plastic Bubble Mailer

Except in rare community recycling programs, Amazon’s bubble-lined plastic bag is not curbside recyclable. The bags are unrecyclable because they tend to be problematic for recycling machinery as they easily get tangled, slowing the recycling process.

But the good news is that stores like Target, WalMart, and Whole Foods will accept #2 or #4 plastic films such as bubble wrap and all-plastic bubble mailers as part of their recycling initiatives.

Non-Bubble Plastic Bags (aka Poly Mailers)

Amazon’s regular plastic shipping bag, which is not bubble lined, is widely used and in 2019 about seven million of these packages were shipped around the world. Just like the its bubble lined counterpart, the regular plastic bag is not curbside recyclable.

amazon fresh truck parked in neighborhood

Amazon fresh paper bags

The Amazon fresh paper bag is made of paper and can be recycled.

Packing Paper

Amazon’s brown packing paper is recyclable.

Cardboard Boxes

Amazon corrugated cardboard boxes are recyclable.

Air Pillows

Air pillows are comprised of air enclosed in plastics, and like many plastic products are generally not recyclable in a curbside recycling bin. They can be reused but do tend to easily deflate thus making their life span quite short. Unless #2/#4 plastic collection is available in your area, air pillows should be disposed of as trash.

Gel Packs

Gel packs are portable plastic bags that usually contain water and a refrigerant gel, and are almost certainly not curbside recyclable.

amazon mailer sits outside as litter

Other Amazon Packaging Materials

The other types of packaging used by Amazon include Amazon Fresh dry ice plastic film, dry ice pouch, and plastic water bottle; Prime Now insulated pouch; plastic mailer, plastic envelope, rigid plastic, shrink film, flexible film, and foam.

Most of this packaging material contains plastic and is generally not recyclable in most curbside recycling programs. Unless the packing material in question falls under the #2 or #4 plastic categories appropriate for plastic film recycling and a plastic film recycling collection is available in your area (like the ones we mentioned at Target or WalMart), unfortunately it must be disposed of as trash.

Why The Packaging Conversation Matters

amazon truck driving away

The recycling of waste material to make it into valuable products is one of contemporary society’s main challenges. As of 2015, around 6300 million metric tons of plastic waste had been produced, with about 79% gathered in landfills or the natural environment, 12% incinerated and only around 9% recycled.

Although Amazon says that it is committed to reducing its environmental footprint by using recyclable packaging, a substantial amount of the packaging material it currently uses is not recyclable. The majority of its packaging still involves using plastic, and it has more than 15 different types of plastic packaging.

Plastic is now a major source of pollution of land, marine and freshwater ecosystems. Packaging is the number one use of plastics and in 2016, it accounted for approximately 42% (146 million metric tons) of all plastics used globally.

Generally, the greater the use of current packaging material by the major online shopping companies, the greater the negative environmental impacts caused by the ecommerce industry.

A recent report by a non-profit ocean conservation organization, Oceana, concluded that Amazon has a plastic problem. According to the report, Amazon produced approximately 211 million kilograms (kg) of plastic packaging in 2019, with 10.18 million kg ending up as pollution in marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, Amazon profits increased by nearly 200%. Amazon growth has continued, with the company recording a profit for the first quarter of 2021 three times larger than it was for the same period in 2020.

The continued rapid growth of Amazon means that increased amounts of its packaging material are being shipped out, the majority of which are not recyclable.

Therefore, the company needs to invest in the production and use of recyclable packaging to reduce packaging waste and its environmental impact.


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