Retail Therapy for Our Planet

August 12, 2021 Retail Therapy for Our Planet

Ecommerce has increased globally since its inception in 1994. In 2020 online sales were at an all-time high. Pandemic restrictions forced businesses to close their brick-and-mortar locations and turn toward digital sales temporarily. Amazon has become the second most profitable national retailer because consumers love the unparalleled choice and convenience of online shopping. However, as popularity soars, the consequence is a dramatic increase in packaging materials. Customers are forced to become experts on what goes in the recycling bin and what ends up in the landfill.  Here are some ideas on how to cut down on the shipping material and, when you can’t, how to recycle it correctly.

Stop Over Packaging

Many online retailers are leading the way in sustainability. The way they see it, excess packaging isn’t just bad for the planet; it’s also bad for business. Excessive packaging is one of the most common complaints about online shopping, so retailers are trying to set themselves apart by using limited packaging, recycled materials, and even compostable containers made from sugar cane and root starch.

The popular fashion brand Zara is leading the way; they have developed a plan to become zero waste by 2025. Boxes shipped to Zara stores are used five times before they are recycled, and when they finally are recycled, part of that material is used for their shipping boxes.

Other fashion retailers have adopted the RePack alternative. Brands present their customers with the option of RePack packaging at checkout. Shoppers leave a refundable deposit, and when their goods are delivered, they return the packaging for free by mail and get their deposit back.  These boxes are designed to last 20 cycles.

Ecommerce giant Amazon has made changes as well. Have you felt the frustration of receiving a giant box on your steps from Amazon only to find out it contains yet another box inside?  Amazon is now offering “frustration-free” packaging on some items. When this option is selected, the product will be shipped in its original box, not in a small box inside of a larger container. In addition, consumers can choose to have multiple items mailed together or have their orders sent in as few packages as possible. This option is only available when the goods are shipped from the same warehouse or vendor.

Recycling Rules for Online Retail

Significant advancements have been made on the part of many merchants to keep packaging sustainable and limited. But even so, we end up with a lot of cardboard – from retail boxes to moving boxes, cardboard is part of our everyday lives. Most are made from corrugated cardboard or paperboard and are EASILY recycled. Simply cut along the tape lines, flatten the box, and pop it in your curbside recycling. From there, it will go to a recycling processing facility like GreenWorks.

However, even though cardboard is recyclable, the shipping materials inside the boxes are not.

Remember, you CANNOT recycle the following items:

  • Bubble wrap
  • Padded shipping envelopes
  • Styrofoam
  • Packing peanuts
  • “Compostable” packing peanuts
  • Plastic airbags


All in all, we are proud of many of the retailers for their commitment to sustainable shipping. We appreciate the convenience of online shopping and hope that they continue their journey towards reduced waste. Please remember, cardboard can go in your curbside recycling, but most of the packing materials can’t.