The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Holiday E-Commerce Recycling 101

The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Holiday E-Commerce Recycling 101

Massachusetts residents can expect a blizzard of boxes this holiday season with the U.S. Postal Service estimating it will deliver a mind-boggling 910 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. 

There can be plenty of things to stress about during the holiday season, but considering what to do with all the holiday packages arriving at your home doesn’t have to be one of them. Most of the packaging from your online shopping can be reused or recycled, and Recycle Smart MA makes it easy to figure out what goes where.

Old cardboard boxes can be recycled up to seven times and are used to create a wide range of products like cereal boxes, shoe boxes, new cardboard boxes or even furniture. According to the American Forest and Paper Association, cardboard boxes are the most-recycled packaging material, with nearly half of the material used to make new boxes coming from recycled paper. So that box you recycled last year may actually be helping to deliver another present to your house this year.

To ensure your cardboard boxes make it to next year’s Cyber Monday – simply remove any plastic air pillows, packing peanuts or Styrofoam inserts before placing them in your recycling bin. It’s also important to keep your recycling bin dry and free of food and liquids which can attract pests, impact the recyclability of the paper and cardboard, and make a mess for the recycling facility workers who sort the material. Here’s a pro tip – flatten cardboard boxes so you can close the lid on your recycling bin or wait to put them out if the weather looks bad.

Another great option for dealing with the avalanche of boxes is to reuse them.

Cardboard boxes are strong and durable, they can be reused for online shopping returns, storage, regifting or arts and crafts.

What about all the other packaging materials you receive during the holiday shopping season? Let’s break it down! Here is what packaging is recyclable (and what isn’t) from your online shopping orders:


  • Cardboard box – flatten, and recycle

  • Paper filler – recycle

  • Plastic air pillows & bubble wrap –these don’t belong in your recycling bin but you can save and reuse or bundle with other plastic bags and wrap and bring them to a collection bin at your local supermarket

  • Plastic shipping bag –  plastic bags of any kind do not belong in your recycling bin, but you can remove the labels and return them with your other plastic bags to the collection bin at your local supermarket or place them in the trash

  • Bubble lined paper mailers – mailers made with both paper and plastic should be placed in the trash if you can’t reuse them.

  • Packaging peanuts – these do not belong in your recycling bin but you can keep and reuse the peanuts or take them to a pack-and-ship store (FedEx, UPS, Kinkos, etc.)

Still have recycling questions? Check out the Recyclopedia at to search for hundreds of items (from paper bags to pizza boxes) to find out what to do with them.