Where you can recycle your Amazon packaging—and where you can’t

Even if technically recyclable, a lot of Amazon packaging isn’t accepted by curbside recycling programs—here’s how to get them in the right bin.

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Nina Dang
Nina Dang

Former Campaign Associate, CALPIRG

Over the past few years, the convenience of online shopping has made its appeal hard for most shoppers to resist. According to the US Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales grew 50% over the pandemic, to $870 billion in 2021. Pandemic-related success has made Amazon the world’s largest retailer outside China. As a result, a lot of us are having to figure out how to properly discard a pile of assorted packaging materials each week. 

Packing paper, bubble-lined mailers, air pillows, cardboard boxes…your Amazon order might come packaged in any of these, and some are easier to recycle than others (if at all). It’s important to know the differences, so you can recycle whenever possible and to prevent jamming up recycling facilities with the wrong materials. 

Here are the materials that curbside recycling programs in California will accept:

  1. Paper padded mailers
  2. Cardboard boxes and cardboard folders (make sure they’re dry and clean first, remove packing peanuts/foam from inside, and flatten)
  3. Packing paper

The following are not accepted by most curbside recycling programs in California. Amazon’s website claims that they may be recycled through designated drop-off centers depending on your zip code. However, it’s unclear whether these centers actually accept and recycle the items: in a recent investigation, Oceana found that 41% of the recommended sites visited by their participants would not accept Amazon plastic packaging, and over 80% of store managers were unaware that Amazon was directing its customers there. Therefore, you should first consult the store website to verify that it accepts plastic film, and make sure your materials comply with their requirements before bringing them in. If you find a suitable drop-off location, these items may be recycled to create new plastic film products, made into composite lumber used for benches, decks, and playground sets, or pellets that are used to make plastic containers, crates, pipes, new plastic bags, and pallets.

  1. Bubble-lined plastic bag (remove the label first)
  2. Plastic bag (remove the label first)
  3. Air pillows (pop the air out of the pillow first)

These materials are generally not recyclable and should be placed in your trash bin:

  1. Bubble-lined paper mailer
  2. Amazon Fresh gel pack
  3. Amazon Fresh foil bubble insulation bag

We should all be doing what we can to reuse and recycle the packaging our products arrive in, and consulting this list is a helpful start. However, that ubiquitous shipping materials are not easily recycled from home is an issue that e-commerce companies themselves must fix. Too often, well-meaning consumers place the wrong materials in their recycling bins without realizing they won’t be accepted, which can disrupt the recycling process and prevent other materials from being recycled. This is one reason why only a small percentage of recyclable plastic used in the U.S. actually gets recycled. Amazon should cut its use of single-use plastic packaging altogether, like it has committed to doing in Germany, India, and the U.K. 


Nina Dang

Former Campaign Associate, CALPIRG

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