- Editor’s Note: This recycling-tips article was written by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Clair Ryan. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Clair at 630-208-3841 or email@example.com.
For better or for worse, the COVID pandemic has given online shopping (e-commerce) a significant boost. Online purchases make up about 13% of all retail sales at the moment.
Getting what you need delivered at the click of a button is very convenient, but our purchases are delivered with a whole variety of packaging that we need to figure out how to dispose of safely.
Jennifer Jarland, my esteemed predecessor, wrote up a tip about proper recycling of cardboard boxes last year that you can read here.
Today, we’re going to take a look at other types of packaging used in e-commerce – namely, padded and unpadded mailers and package cushioning.
Whether or not packaging can be recycled depends on what it is made of, and whether it is made of one type of material or many.
Plastics in Packaging
First, we’ll look at plastics you might receive in the mail. These include the opaque plastic bags that clothes and other soft items are often shipped in, poly mailers (plastic mailer envelopes that have bubble wrap inside), air-filled pillows that are popular as cushioning, and good old bubble wrap.
All of these items can and should be recycled, but it’s very important that they aren’t put into curbside recycling bins.
Plastic bags and films can’t be sorted properly at recycling facilities and tend to clog the machinery. Instead, use this directory to find a convenient drop-off location.
In this area, several supermarket and other “big box” chains participate. Used plastic shipping supplies can go to these sites along with plastic grocery bags, bread bags, and other items.
Just make sure to puncture and deflate the air pillows first. To maximize recyclability and to protect your privacy, it’s recommended that you cut the paper address labels off of bags and mailers before taking them to recycle.
Green bonus tip: Keep in mind that a lot of cushioning used in shipping is highly reusable. If you have space, it doesn’t hurt to store some bubble wrap or air-pouches for the next time you need to mail something fragile or for your next move. You can also call local shipping supply stores to see if they will accept clean, tape-free bubble wrap for re-use.
Now, let’s talk paper.
Plain manila envelopes can be put in curbside bins.
PaddOne of the largest online retailers is currently piloting the use of padded paper envelopes with a new type of cushioning. If you tear one of these envelopes open, the cushioning looks like nickel-sized foamy white dots (see photo above).
These envelopes can be recycled curbside as paper because the cushioning dissolves during processing.
Bubble mailers that are paper on the inside and plastic on the outside pose a real problem because they are neither fully paper nor plastic. Unless you can reuse these or separate the paper outside from the plastic inside, these simply have to go in the trash.
Finally, let’s take a look at packaging foam (Styrofoam).
Many communities struggle with packaging foam because it is very bulky and takes hundreds of years to degrade in landfills. We are very lucky here in Kane County to have two locations that serve as drop off points for a variety of packaging foam for recycling.
Many vendors are switching to molded cardboard pieces to pack protect heavy and fragile items, so with any luck we will have less need for packing foam recycling in the future.
Green bonus tip: Start a packaging foam collection with your neighbors, church or friends and take turns making the journey to one of the drop of locations. Many hands make less work!
Read More Recycling Tips!
- New Interactive Map Helps You Find Your Way to Kane County’s Awesome Recycling Centers!
- Top 9 Recycling Tips From 2022 Green Guide!