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 RecycleSmartMA.org to search for hundreds of items (from paper bags to pizza boxes) to find out what to do with them.


Partner Spotlight: Worcester Garden Club

Worcester Garden Club members tour the local recycling facility.
Is recycling even worth it? What is happening with all of these single use plastics? With all the recent negative headlines like the “The Dark Side of Recycling” and “The Great Recycling Con”, the Worcester Garden Club wanted to know what they could do to help. Inspired by the Garden Club of America’s (GCA) ConWatch Spring 2018 publication focused on plastics and the GCA’s position paper on Waste Management – the group reached out to the Recycle Smart team at MassDEP and asked us to come give a talk on recycling contamination and plastic reduction during their Conservation Roundtable in November. Since then they have gone above and beyond to spread the word that Yes! Recycling is still worth it! We just need to make sure we are Recycling Smart.  Surveying the 12 towns where garden club members live, the Worcester Garden Club members wanted to learn where their recyclables and trash go. They have toured area recycling facilities, met with Worcester’s Solid Waste Coordinator, supported Worcester’s Solid Waste 5-year Master Plan, and advocated for the municipal and state-wide plastic bag bans. They are the first garden club to join the Recycle Smart Partner program and have created an excellent website featuring Recycle Smart: worcestergardenclub.org/recycling-smart. Way to go, Worcester Garden Club! Thanks for being such a ‘binspiration’!

'Tis the Season (to get Social)

Check out (and share) these holiday videos and social images from Recycle Smart MA and our friends at The Recycling Partnership.

If you love the movie, Love Actually, you will appreciate this video from The Recycling Partnership. Because it’s the holidays (and at the holidays, you tell the truth).


Download the video here or share the social post here.

Twas the week before Xmas, light strings went dark, fix them, return them to the store or toss them, but not in your recycling cart #christmaslights #notinthecart


Download this image from the Recycling Partnership here.


Looking for simple tips on how to reduce your waste during the holidays? Check out (and share) this video about green holiday gift giving. Download the video here or share the social post here.

 Feeling really festive? Check out Recycle Smart MA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for more holiday social content to share with your neighbors, family, friends, and colleagues. What better gift than giving your loved ones the answers to their most pressing recycling questions? 

With best wishes for a green and happy holiday season! 

The Recycle Smart Team at MassDEP