How to Reduce Packaging When Ordering Online

Are you going to recycle those when you're done?. Jeramey Lende/

The internet is an amazing place. You shop from the comfort of home and, like magic, boxes appear on your doorstep. With the popularity of Amazon Prime and so many companies that offer free shipping, the convenience can be addicting. From holiday gifts to weekly groceries, the packages keep piling up.

But tucked amid the electronics, books and other items you ordered are piles of air pillows, foam peanuts and bubble wrap. Often there's a huge box to hold a tiny product. The thrill of speedy convenience quickly can be replaced with the guilt of wasteful packaging.

Fortunately, you don't have to give up online ordering. Here are some ways to reduce waste when shopping online.

Contact customer service

Plastic air pockets are popular packing materials.
Plastic air pockets are popular packing materials. Elena Loginova/Shutterstock

When you order online, let retailers know that you'd like as little plastic packaging as possible.

You should get a reply saying that a note has been made on your account. It may take some time for your request to actually make it through the system, but feel free to follow up if you keep receiving packages with lots of plastic waste.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story mentioned a general email for Amazon customer service that accepted this type of blanket request, but we've since learned that Amazon has stopped accepting feedback in this manner. However, you can still leave feedback with individual vendors as we spell out below; just look at your orders and see the boxes to the right of each product. We're hoping Amazon will bring back this blanket coverage and we'll find out more.

Give feedback

If you receive an order with an excessive amount of unnecessary packaging, be sure to let the retailer know. Likewise, if you were pleased with minimal or zero-waste packaging, let them know too. Sometimes a retailer will send an email asking for feedback after a product has shipped.

If you don't receive that kind of communication asking for feedback, go to the "contact us" page — like this one from Amazon — and weigh in with your comments that way. Without feedback, retailers won't know what shoppers think and won't know which practices could use some updating.

Shop frustration-free

Amazon has hundreds of thousands of products that are part of the company's Frustration-Free Packaging program. These items come in easy-to-open, 100 percent recyclable packaging and are delivered without any additional boxes or envelopes. Amazon claims that from 2007 to 2017, the retailer has eliminated more than 244,000 tons of packaging materials, including 500 million shipping boxes.

To find products shipped this way, search for items in the link above or enter "frustration free packaging" in the search bar after the name of the item you're looking for. You can also look for the phrase "frustration-free packaging" in the shipping details when you add an item to your cart.

Combine your orders

A delivery man is swamped with boxes in New York City.
A delivery man is swamped with boxes in New York City. Andriy Blokhin/

Do you really need that phone-charging cable right away or can it wait until the hair gel is ready to ship in a few days? Even though you might get free shipping on your orders, no matter how small they are, combining them is smart for several reasons, points out Eco Mama.

"This not only reduces the amount of boxes and packaging needed for your orders, it also reduces the amount of planes and trucks involved in getting them to you. This reduces their use of fossil fuels and lowers their carbon footprint. Indirectly, it also reduces your carbon footprint since you're the reason behind those deliveries."

When you get to the shipping page, always choose the option that lets you ship deliveries into the fewest number of packages.

Shop packaging-free

If you can handle letting go of your Amazon addiction, there are companies that ship packaging-free as a matter of principle. Created by zero-waste entrepreneur Lauren Singer, the Package Free Shop reuses boxes and ships without using plastic. From cooking to health and beauty to pet supplies, the company sells a wide array of products with the goal of reducing waste and finding alternatives to single-use plastic products.

The Wally Shop — which is only in Brooklyn, New York, right now with plans to expand — delivers fresh groceries to your door with all reusable packaging. The company's tagline is, "You take care of the earth — we'll take care of the groceries."