If you look in your trash or recycle bin, you’ll notice a lot of what you’re getting rid of is packaging for other items. Food packaging is a major problem in today’s society, but this post is going to focus on how to reduce packaging waste from gifts, online shopping, and non-consumable items like housewares.
To many people, gift giving is a very important tradition to show you care. The down side is it can create a lot of waste. Luckily, there are many ways to reduce packaging waste involved with gift-giving and and receiving.
When choosing gifts for others, first look for experiences that require no packaging whatsoever. Tickets to a movie, concert, or sporting event can be purchased online and saved to your phone. You can also go out to dinner, go for a healthy hike, or have a movie night in together.
If you still want to go the traditional route, be conscious about the materials your gift is made of and packaged in. Is there a glass alternative to that lotion you’re eyeing? Is there a toy that doesn’t come sealed in that razor sharp, scissor-breaking plastic (you know the kind!)?
Next head to the wrapping station. Does your gift even need wrapping? It’s possible to just dress up a gift without needing to hide it in a bag or under some paper. For example, I gifted some granola in a mason jar for Christmas a few years ago and tied some green and red yarn around the lid. Still festive and still low waste.
If you aren’t shipping the gift, try out furoshiki, the Japanese art of cloth wrapping. Check out this useful guide to wrap a variety of different items. You can also reuse packaging you’ve received. Who doesn’t have a little stash of old giftbags? Lastly, you can repurpose paper grocery bags and decorate them with markers or crayons to use as wrapping paper.
If you are shipping, reuse boxes, envelopes (UPS has some that can be reused and resealed a second time) and packing materials (bubblewrap, air pillows, packing paper). You can also reuse old newspaper to help cushion the gift. You can either send the gift wrapped inside the shipping box, or just have that box be the wrapping.
When holidays or your birthday are drawing near, be sure to inform potential gift-givers of your stance on gifts. Let them know you appreciate their generosity, but you would prefer no gifts, gifted experiences, low waste gifts, or a donation to a charity or non-profit organization. To reduce packaging waste even more, tell them they don’t need to wrap anything. You can also give specific suggestions of items or brands you support.
Online shopping is a booming industry that just keeps growing, but with that is a growing pile of wasted packaging materials. You can shop online and still reduce packaging waste by shopping smart and doing a little extra work.
Let’s tackle the big one: Amazon. There are many ways to prevent unnecessary waste. If offered, bundle your items together so they all come in the same box. This is possible when the items can come from the same location.
Have you heard of Amazon’s Frustration Free Packaging? These items come with minimal packaging and, if possible, ship in their original box instead of repacked into an Amazon box. Items in the program are mainly children’s items, office supplies, snacks, and batteries.
Finally, a hidden tip: you can request that Amazon put a note on your account to use as little packaging as possible. While this doesn’t guarantee you will always get less packaging, it doesn’t hurt and can only help. All you need to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org from the email your Amazon account is linked to and request they add this note to your account:
“I have an Amazon account under email@example.com. I would like to put a note on my account letting packers know I would prefer as little packaging as possible, especially plastic air pillows and bubble wrap. Thanks!”
As for other online retailers, try resale sites like eBay, Etsy, or the various fashion resellers (Poshmark, ThredUp, etc.) first. This way you can contact the seller and request minimal packaging. Resale sites are also better for the environment because you are giving new life to old items instead of increasing the demand for new ones. Some sites show seller location. This then gives you a better idea of where your items will shipped from so you can choose nearby sellers to reduce transportation emissions.
This section is for reducing packaging waste outside of food packaging. Look for items packaged in recycled materials. If this is the case, it will usually say somewhere on the side or bottom. Most commonly it will be recycled paper or cardboard. Post-consumer content is material recycled after it has been used by the public. Pre-consumer content is reused waste material from the production process.
Buy secondhand whenever possible because most items will not come with any packaging. You’ll also save money and not contribute to the demand for more new products. Check Craigslist or your local Facebook Marketplace or “Buy Nothing” pages. Hop over to your local thrift shops and check out what’s in stock today.
Ikea is a good place to shop for furniture because their items are packed flat to reduce packaging, and they have switched to using mushroom-based packaging in place of styrofoam. How cool is that? Check out my post on Sustainable Packaging Alternatives to learn more about this new packaging!
Reuse and recycle packaging materials. Cardboard and paper are easily recyclable, but you can reuse them in many different ways. Cardboard boxes can be reused for gifts, storage, made into a playhouse for kids, and a million other things. A simple internet search will open up a huge variety of reuse and upcycling options. If unwrapped carefully, wrapping paper can be reused a second time. You can also use it to jazz up craft projects. Paper can be reused for crafts and papier mache projects.
Plastic cushioning materials can be reused again and again so long as they still have air. Local grocery stores will take back bubble wrap and air pillows for recycling in the same bin used to collect and recycle plastic grocery bags. UPS and FedEx stores may also happily accept bubblewrap, air pillows, and packing peanuts.
Although not really packaging waste, receipts are an almost inevitable piece of waste that comes with shopping so I wanted to include a few tips in this post about reducing the amount you receive.
- Shop online so order confirmations/receipts are emailed to you
- Select for receipts to be emailed instead of printed at locations that ask (my library does this for example)
- Decline receipts (although many times one is printed anyway and just tossed)
- Avoid stores notorious for unreasonably long receipts (I’m looking at you, CVS!)
- Remember! Receipts are usually printed on thermal paper which contains BPA. For this reason, receipts are NOT recyclable as they can contaminate the entire batch of material. The batch may then be refused and sent to landfill or incinerator instead.
That’s a wrap! (Get it?)
Although packaging may not be completely avoidable in our society (yet), there are lots of ways we can reduce it and get as much use as we can from its materials. Want to learn more about sustainable packaging ? Be sure to check out my posts on Sustainable Packaging Alternatives!