How do environmentalists feel about the amount of packaging waste now that holiday shopping has largely switched from retail shops to online stores?

The cardboard you recycle likely makes a 12,000-mile, fossil-fuel-spewing loop at sea (to China and back) in its journey of rebirth. Photo Credit: Pixabay
The cardboard you recycle likely makes a 12,000-mile, fossil-fuel-spewing loop at sea (to China and back) in its journey of rebirth. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

This past holiday season marked the first year that holiday shoppers spent more of their gift budgets online than in stores, according to a recent report by the consulting firm Deloitte. Environmentalists are indeed concerned that this trend doesn’t augur well for the environment, given the extra packaging waste and energy costs that accompany getting merchandise to customers. Going to the store or mall to do our shopping burns fossil fuels, for sure, but at least the items we purchase don’t then have to be re-swaddled in extra filler and cardboard and shipped to us on a plane, truck, train or ship.

For its part, Amazon—the company many blame for ushering in the transition to e-commerce in the first place and which today dominates online retail—used some 6,000 trucks and 32 planes to get some five billion items to its Prime members in 2017. During that process, untold hundreds of millions of cardboard boxes were used to get customers’ choices to their doorsteps. Those boxes are in turn typically recycled by the recipients, and collected by municipal curbside pick-up service.

But that’s not the end of the story: Next, this once-used cardboard is typically shipped to China where it is soaked in water, stripped of staples and reborn as new cardboard. In many cases the box you recycle has made a 12,000-mile, fossil-fuel-spewing loop at sea in its journey of rebirth. So… while recycling is a great thing, it may not be worth it if we factor in the fossil fuels emitted in the process. We’d be better off avoiding the extra layer of packaging altogether. Maybe that trip to the mall isn’t such a bad idea after all.

That said, Amazon recently boasted of transitioning to more sustainable packaging during the 2017 holiday season, switching 100 million shipments from cardboard boxes to less resource-intensive padded mailers, reportedly eliminating 181,000 tons of waste. So that’s something, but Amazon and other online retailers have a long way to go in reducing not only the amount of packaging but perhaps even the packaging altogether when possible.

This is not to say you should bad about recycling your boxes in the wake of the holidays, as it’s a perfectly decent environmental thing to do. But if you want to go the extra mile, maybe think of some way to reuse them at least one more time before the next recipient ships it off for recycling—or re-uses it as well. Also, don’t forget that most gift wrap—as long as it doesn’t have foil or glitter or a plasticizing non-rip coating—as well as holiday cards, can be recycled as well. And yet another option for responsibly discarding that cardboard, wrapping paper and holiday cards is in your yard waste or compost bin, in which case it will live another day not as a cardboard box but instead as part of your next batch of mulch or soil amendment.

CONTACTS: Deloitte’s 2017 Holiday Retail Survey,; Amazon Energy & Environment,

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of the nonprofit EarthTalk. To donate, visit Send questions to:

Green living


  • If you factor in the carbon emissions associated with producing and delivering the extra food required to feed a rider of a conventional bicycle, charging up an e-bike from your grid-based electrical outlet may be better for the environment. Photo Credit: Joe Haupt, FlickrCC.

    E-Bikes Are Better?

    Is there truth to the notion that E-bikes recharged off the fossil-fuel grid actually generate fewer carbon emissions overall than conventional human-powered bikes? Roddy Scheer & Dough Moss EarthTalk...
  • California could see more drilling rigs such as the Gail off of Santa Barbara in coming years, now that the feds are planning to reopen 98 percent of federal waters to drilling. Photo Credit: BOEM-OPA

    Conservation Groups Slam Trump Plan to Drill Off California Coast

    Suzanne Potter California News Service SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Staggering. Extreme. Radical. Dangerous. That’s how conservation groups are describing the Trump administration’s decision to open up 98 percent of...
  • Getting a few houseplants is one way to start cleaning up the air quality inside your home. Photo Credit: Pixabay

    Indoor Air Pollution

    Do you have any tips for how to improve my home’s air quality without breaking the bank? Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss EarthTalk The key to a healthy indoor...
  • Gas flares at a well in Bakersfield, Calif. Photo Credit: Chris Jordan-Bloch/Earthjustice

    Groups Sue to Keep Methane Waste Rule

    Suzanne Potter California News Service SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Two new lawsuits have been filed in federal court to stop the Trump administration from deep-sixing rules meant to reduce pollution,...