Not sure what do with your unused Amazon boxes this holiday season? The online retailer announced a box recycling program earlier this week. The move was welcomed by environmental advocates who noted that Amazon is the largest user of cardboard boxes in the U.S. In fact, only Chinese internet giant Alibaba uses more cardboard boxes.
The program’s goal is to motivate customers to use their old shipping boxes to make donations to Goodwill Industries and was announced on a website post. To make donations, customer will ship food or clothing to Goodwill via UPS or the U.S. Postal service by printing out a shipping label from Amazon’s website and the company will pay the shipping costs.
If the program sounds familiar it is because it has been around in one form or another since 2015. Goodwill has been participating since 2012 and during that time the charity has partnered with other retail giants including Bonobos, Ann Taylor, Overstock, REI, and Overstock.
Advocates welcomed Amazon’s support of the program saying that it not only helps disadvantaged families by making donations of unused goods but also helps to give a second life to the shipping boxes.
While the exact number of cardboard boxes used by the company is hard to determine. Analysts estimated that the company shipped roughly 1 billion orders per year. That works out to just over 31 orders per second.
Even with the company is using recycled paper for its cardboard boxes, the sheer demand requires the harvesting of just under 2 million trees per year. This is on top of the recycled content in Amazon’s boxes.
Furthermore, it is unlikely that any reuse program will reduce this amount. This is not due to a lack of trying. Instead, the company’s growth rate means that the volume of paper used to ship every item the company sells is likely to increase.
As The New York Times noted in a February 2016 article, it is not just the shipping boxes. When a customer receives a shipment, it is usually packed like a ‘Russian nesting doll’ with a master container filled with several smaller containers.
Ultimately, this is the conundrum of online commerce as its continued growth will on exacerbate the demand for packing materials. While much of this can be often by increasing the recycled content of the boxes which the kitchen supplies, shoes, and camping items come in, it is up to consumers and the companies to find second uses for boxes or ways to eliminate boxes altogether.