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Recycle or Compost Your Holiday Shipping Packaging [Video]

As we get into the month of December, you’ve most likely prepared your online stores, your inventory, and are ready to pack and ship until the last day shipping carriers will accept packages in time for the Christmas holiday. 

But before you get too caught up with the busy season, remember that customers are looking to shop with brands that are sustainable. Young people in the US like millennials and Gen Zers make up a large portion of the market that is looking for sustainable brands. In fact, 92% of young millennials (ages 24-27) will spend more this holiday season than they did last year. As an ecommerce retailer, you’ll want to make sure your business is attracting this crowd. It may be too late to change your packaging to eco-friendly options, but it’s not too late to let your customers know what part of their shipping packaging they can recycle or compost!

This holiday season, make it easy for your customers by letting them know what they can recycle or compost when they receive your product for the holidays. You’ll be making a good impression and forming relationships that last into the new year. 

We’ve broken down commonly used holiday shipping packaging materials and listed out how they can be recycled or composted. Pass these recycling tips on to your customers this holiday season!


Recycling Basics

green recycling bin in front of trees

Before we get into which holiday shipping and packaging materials can be recycled, let’s go over the recycling process. There are three main steps to the process. The first step is collection. The most common collection ways are curbside and drop-off, whether dropping off at a recycling center or local pickup location.

The next step is processing. Once all materials are sorted by like materials, each type of material must go through a process before it can be turned into a new material. 

After materials are processed, the new products are ready to be sent out for reuse.

Composting Basics

"compost happens" sign on a fence hanging above tree logs covered in snow

Composting is a cycle of breaking down and decomposing materials into natural substances rich in nutrients.

If you have the land, you can make a compost pile in your yard or enclose your compost in a bin outside. If you don’t have land, you can still compost in a bin indoors to use on your potted plants and porch or balcony planters. 

The composting process happens naturally and needs carbon, nitrogen and a warm, damp environment to activate the process. If done correctly, your compost pile should not smell bad. 

When it comes to materials you can compost, be more selective than when recycling. The materials have to be able to break down naturally.

What Part of My Holiday Shipping Packaging Can I Recycle or Compost?

Packaging Filler

Packing Paper or Crinkle Paper—Recyclable and Compostable

kraft brown packing paper on a white wooden table with a bowl of cherries

If you used kraft brown packing paper or crinkle paper to secure your product in your shipping box, good news for both you and your customers. Kraft brown packing paper is recyclable and compostable! 

Even if the paper you’ve sourced is not made from recycled materials, you can still recycle it by placing it in your recycling bin for pickup or by dropping it off at your local center.

If you want to compost it, you can shred your kraft paper and scatter it in your compost bin. Just make sure your paper is uncoated before tossing it into your compost bin. Shredded uncoated kraft brown paper makes great bedding for your compost worms if you practice vermicomposting. 

Bubble Wrap—Recyclable, But Use Caution

sheet of bubble wrap with scissors and clear tape on top

If you used bubble wrap to package your items, let your customers know that bubble wrap is technically recyclable. While you can’t set it out for curbside pickup or drop it off at a regular recycling center, many shopping centers like Target and Whole Foods accept bubble wrap and plastic bags. 

Packing Peanuts—It Depends

white and pink foam packing peanuts

Packing peanuts are slightly more difficult to recycle. It’s not because they’re made with Styrofoam. Packing peanuts are actually made from a material called expanded polystyrene (EPS), which is commonly confused with Styrofoam. Styrofoam is a brand that manufactures expanded polystyrene products mainly used in the construction and craft industry. Other common office and food industry products like cups, boxes and packing peanuts are just generic EPS. 

Luckily for you, the packing peanuts you use or receive will most likely be color-coded.

White or Pink Packing Peanuts
These are the most common type of packing peanuts available. White or pink usually means the packing peanuts were made with mostly raw materials. These peanuts won’t break down and will need to be recycled or reused.

Many stores and shipping carriers take donations of packing peanuts. Call up your local stores to ask if they accept packing peanuts for reuse. If you’re unable to find a location that accepts them, you’ll have to dispose of the white or pink packing peanuts in the landfill.

Green Packing Peanuts
Green packing peanuts are typically made fro 70% recycled materials and can even break down naturally. If you received a package with green packing peanuts, try running them underwater to see if they break down. If they do, it’s safe to throw them in the compost pile.

Marketing Collateral—Recyclable

thanks card

Did you pack marketing collateral like instructions, a business card or flyer in your package? Whether you used glossy paper, cardstock, newsprint or any other type of paper, you can recycle your marketing collateral. 

Since the ink content is high on most marketing collateral pieces and we’re not sure where the ink came from, we don’t recommend shredding and placing in the compost pile. Several inks have traces of petroleum or metal in them that can be toxic if broken down into soil. Furthermore, most paper is bleached with chlorine, which can also be toxic if broken down into soil.

Unless you used a soy-based ink on unbleached, uncoated paper made from recycled materials, we suggest simply recycling your marketing collateral.

Shipping Container

The last part of your holiday shipping packaging is the shipping container itself. This is the first physical impression your customer has when it comes to your brand, so make sure your customer knows what to do with the container when they receive it.

Poly Mailer (plastic shipping bag)—Recyclable

poly mailer bag

Treat plastic shipping bags like you would a plastic grocery bag and the bubble wrap we mentioned above. Most stores like Target and Whole Foods have allotted drop-off bins and will accept poly mailers, plastic bags and bubble wrap. Find a location near you by entering in your ZIP code here.

Cardboard Shipping Box—Recycle or Compost!

soak and soy hand made skin care with custom cardboard shipping box

If you used a cardboard shipping box, you’ve chosen one of the most eco-friendly shipping containers available. Most cardboard shipping boxes are made with 80% recycled materials, so the box itself is already friendly for the planet. If you’ve chosen Brandable Box’s kraft brown boxes for your shipping boxes, you received a shipping box made from 100% recycled materials. 

Each year, nearly 100 billion cardboard boxes are manufactured in the US and over 75% of them are recycled. You’re in good company if you recycle your shipping boxes.

Cardboard shipping boxes are also compostable. In fact, shredded cardboard is a great material to use as the carbon for your compost pile. Just make sure to only use the parts of the box without shipping labels or packing tape. You can recycle the rest of the box by placing in your recycling bin for pickup.

Whichever material you’ve chosen for your holiday shipping packaging, pass on these recycling and composting tips to your customers. They’ll not only appreciate the tips on getting rid of excess packaging but will also appreciate that you’ve thought about how your packaging will impact the environment. 

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