Boxes, boxes, boxes!

February 20, 2024

It used to be that we saw an increase in boxes to our homes during the holidays, but now, buying items online and having them delivered to our homes is a year-round event. All those shipping boxes, packing materials, and padded envelopes can pile up.

According to Forbes Magazine, the average American received 21 packages per year in 2019. In 2021, the USPS said it delivered 13.2 billion pieces of mail and packages just between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. FedEx estimated it would deliver 100 million more packages from Black Friday to Christmas that same year than it did in 2019, and 10% more than its record 2020 season. And the numbers have only continued to grow since these statistics were published.

With this massive volume of online packaging, we cannot throw it away without overflowing our trash cans. Instead, we need to reuse or recycle what we can. Most shipping boxes are made from corrugated cardboard, which consists of three or more layers. Often, there are one or more squiggly or zigzag layers of cardboard sandwiched between two flat layers. Corrugated cardboard is excellent for protecting items during shipping or moving. Because of its strength, it is both sturdy and reusable.

Before tossing boxes into the recycle bin, consider how you might get one more use out of them instead. Free online marketplaces like Freecycle, Craigslist, or Nextdoor often allow you to connect with neighbors who are moving and need boxes and packing materials. Or you could use the boxes to make crafts with your children or grandchildren. If you need ideas for making cool toys from recycled boxes, check out 15+ Super Easy Cardboard Box Craft Ideas For Kids or search online. Be sure to give the boxes at least one more use before recycling!

After reuse, recycle your packaging.

When efforts at reuse are exhausted, here is what to do with the packaging that remains:

  • Cardboard shipping boxes should be recycled. Please empty and then flatten the box before putting it into a recycling bin or cart.
  • Deflated plastic packing pillows, bubble wrap, and plastic mailing envelopes can be recycled in the same way you would recycle plastic bags and other plastic film. Collect the bags and film in your house and then drop them off for recycling at a grocery or department store with a designated plastic bag recycling bin. For locations, visit
  • Packing peanuts are typically made of expanded polystyrene foam and are not accepted for recycling in most communities. These are accepted at some package shipping stores for reuse. Call ahead to make sure they are currently accepting the items you have.
  • Shipping envelopes and other packaging that contain a mix of paper and plastic that cannot be separated should go into the trash.

Image credit: Onur Döngel | iStock | Getty Images Plus