Recent estimates put the number of Amazon Prime members at 80 million. Even if each Prime member only ordered one package per year, that adds up to tons (literally) of cardboard and other types of packaging material. Never mind the fact that it's typical for Prime members to make purchases weekly (or even more often!) — and that's before you even consider other services like Prime Pantry. Great for convenience's sake, but not so great for the planet — especially if you're not reusing or recycling your boxes.
If you're looking to minimize the footprint of your Amazon habit, here's what you need to know.
The Best Thing You Can Do: Reuse
Remember the three R's you learned in elementary school — reduce, reuse, and recycle? You learned them in that order for a reason. The best thing you can do for the environment is use fewer resources because that prevents waste before it ever happens. (For its part, Amazon has started to tackle the "reduce" piece through its sustainability initiative, which, among other measures, involves shipping products in their own packaging, rather than using extra, unnecessary packaging.)
But what about when you've already made an Amazon purchase and now have leftover packaging? Reusing materials is the best thing you can do because you're saving the energy that goes into recycling them.
If you need to mail a package, great — use one of your Amazon boxes (and, ideally, the packing material that came with it, too). Crafting is always an option. (We recommend this DIY storage bin project.) Or you can use leftover boxes to organize overflow kitchen stuff in your basement or closet.
If you don't have any possible way to reuse the boxes and packing material, you still have a few "reuse" options: Mail centers often accept materials like bubble wrap or styrofoam for reuse; just call ahead to make sure your donation will be welcome before you make the trip. Or you can collect materials for a while and then post your batch on a network like Craigslist or Freecycle for someone else who might need them.
And just in case you didn't have enough options, Amazon has also partnered with the organization Give Back Box, which lets you print free shipping labels to send donations to nearby participating charitable organizations. Fill the box with as much kitchen gear as will fit to make the most of your reused materials. Of course, if you have something like a Goodwill nearby, you can also load up a box of goods to donate and transport it yourself.
For the Materials You Can't Reuse: Recycle
As another part of Amazon's sustainability efforts, it's working toward using 100 percent recyclable packaging. (The company stopped using plastic "clamshell" cases, for example, and plastic-coated wire ties.)
Most community recycling programs take cardboard and paper packaging materials, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. You'll just want to check your local recycling guidelines to make sure you're following the proper procedure to keep your waste out of a landfill. And while most programs accept some type of plastics, too, check the "resin number" (it's printed on the plastic inside a triangle). This lets you know which type of resin content is in the plastic, which dictates whether or not your community can recycle it (again, this is something you'll need to check your municipality's guidelines for).
These measures can be a little tedious, yes, but considering the good you're doing for the planet, it's a small price to pay.