How to get rid of annoying packaging

December 1, 2009

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Shopping online can save you time and is much less stressful than battling the crowds at the mall. It's also better for the planet than making a dedicated trip to the store, but it can be a real hassle to get rid of the resulting packaging, which can really pile up. 

As much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans consume every year goes toward packaging, wrapping, and decorating goods, according to Earth 911.

Here are some tips for tackling it with a clear conscience: 


Bubble wrap

You have many options for reusing bubble wrap. Set it aside for another time when you need to ship something fragile, if you have the room to store it. Or give it to someone who has a use for it now. Try listing  bubble wrap on Freecycle or in the free stuff section of Craigslist, or bring it to your local mailing center (such as the UPS Store or Mail Boxes Etc).

Otherwise, try clever ways to reuse bubble wrap such as keeping produce fresh longer, removing frost from your windshield, or using it for insulation. Really! Check out all these innovative suggestions from Planet Green.


Packing peanuts

As with bubble wrap, the best thing you can do is figure out how to reuse packing peanuts as they were meant to be used. You can reuse them yourself (store in an old pair of pantyhose) or give them away (shipping stores take them back, and Freecycle and Craigslist are also an option).

Feeling more creative? The Green Cheapskate says they can help make ice last longer, and they're handy to have around for projects.


FedEx envelopes

Paper envelopes can go in with your paper recycling. Depending on where you live, you can probably get away with leaving the plastic sleeve on, but it's better to remove it if you can. "It is always good practice to remove non-paper items from your paper recyclables so you don't contaminate the recycling stream," says Jennifer Berry at Earth 911.

Tyvek envelopes are a different story since they are actually made of plastic and not paper. You can mail Tyvek envelopes back to the manufacturer (Dupont) for recycling.

Stuff envelopes (less than 25) into an inside-out Tyvek envelope and mail to this address: Tyvek Recycle, Attn. Shirley B. Wright, 200 Elliham Avenue, #A, Richmond, VA 23237. You will have to pay for postage yourself. Otherwise, you should throw them in the trash.


Cardboard boxes

You can recycle cardboard boxes with mixed paper in most communities. Just break down the boxes and remove tape.

Better yet, store cardboard boxes and reuse them, or give them to someone who needs them. You can also drop off used boxes at U-Haul stores or use the company's message board to trade or sell boxes.


Clamshell packaging

You probably won't have to deal with this hard plastic packaging until after the gifts are opened, although if you know the recipient won't return your present (if you buy your child a toy, for example) you may want to open the package up before you wrap it to save the recipient the hassle later on.

Whether or not you can recycle clamshell packaging depends on where you live and what type of plastic it's made of. Given that the ubiquitous packaging is typically made from PVC (#3) or polypropylene (#5) and that most curbside recycling programs only accept polyethylene (#1) or high density polyethylene (#2), you probably can't recycle it.

"If your recycling program does take all kinds of plastics, it's important to note which kind of plastic your container is made of and to verify if it's accepted, says Berry. "I hate to say it, but when it doubt, try to find a way to reuse it or throw it out."


Wrapping paper

This is another post-holiday concern, but good to think about, especially when you are wrapping gifts. Try to choose paper that is made from recycled paper or that can be recycled. Better yet, get creative, and save money on store-bought paper.

Grandma had the right idea about saving any paper in good condition and keeping ribbon and bows to use again. But sometimes that is just not possible.

Whether you can recycle wrapping paper depends on what it's made of (metallic and foil aren't a good bet for the recycling bin) and where you live. Most traditional wrapping paper isn't recyclable, but some municipalities do recycle it. Be sure to remove all tape, ribbons, and bows beforehand. If you're not sure, you should throw it out.


Environmental journalist Lori Bongiorno shares green-living tips and product reviews with Yahoo! Green's users. Send Lori a question or suggestion for potential use in a future column. Her book, Green Greener Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-smart Choices a Part of Your Life is available on Yahoo! Shopping and

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