Amazon shipped over thirteen million packages per day in 2018 (source). So, if you’re like the ninety-five million other Americans who have a Prime membership, and order on a weekly basis, you have a somewhat steady supply of cardboard.
So, what should you do with it? Amazon shipping boxes are curbside recyclable, but what does that mean? Can you compost them? Are the inks toxic? Is that paper tape ever going to decompose?
Today, we’re going to answer those questions.
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I had a heart-to-heart with Amazon’s chatbot about packaging material, and it was surprisingly helpful. Apparently, millions of people are interested in Amazon’s commitment to sustainable practices.
And, while they don’t reveal exactly what their packaging material is made from, there is enough information to make an educated guess.
Are Amazon Prime Boxes Compostable? In short, yes, Amazon Prime boxes are compostable. They will decompose easier if you shred them and add them to a compost pile in the appropriate brown to green ratio. However, even in an active compost pile, they will take longer to break down than most other brown materials.
The main concern with Amazon shipping boxes is the black ink that makes up the logo. Twenty years ago, this would have been printed with a petroleum-based ink, which is toxic when it is printed over such a large area.
As e-commerce has evolved and become more eco-conscious, the industry shifted to a cheaper and more sustainable substitute: soy-based inks. This shift has made carbon-based materials much safer to compost.
However, there is no definitive answer on Amazon’s website about the exact ink they use. It may be a charcoal ink, or a vegetable-based ink of some kind. Either way, Amazon Prime boxes, and almost any corrugated cardboard box, should be able to be composted with little to no safety concerns.
Is Amazon Prime Tape Compostable?
Technically, yes. The tape is 100% recyclable and compostable. The thick fibers that hold it together are biodegradable.
However, it will take a long time to break down in a traditional compost pile. The paper fibers should break down fairly quickly, but the more rigid material may take years to decompose.
The biodegradable nature of the fibers is great news for landfills, but not so great news for gardeners. If you do compost the tape, be prepared to pick out small pieces as you work it into your soil.
While Amazon Prime tape is biodegradable, Amazon shipping labels are not. Whether you are composting or recycling your boxes, you must first remove the shipping labels. Why? Because shipping labels are mostly plastic.
How Do I Compost Amazon Prime Boxes?
Very slowly. Corrugated cardboard is the highest value grade of recyclable papers (source). It has long, sturdy fibers which will eventually be recycled into lower grade paper products. But, because of its durability, it can take a long time to fully decompose.
The first step for adding boxes to your compost pile is to remove the shipping label. You can also take off the tape if you would rather not wait for it to break down.
Depending on the amount of cardboard, you may want to create a new active compost pile and incorporate all of the cardboard at once. If you only have a few boxes, you can add them into an existing pile when you turn it.
Wet down the boxes so they are easier to tear. You can add some liquid detergent during the soaking process to help them break down quicker. Rip the boxes into small pieces, and incorporate the cardboard into your brown material as you build your compost pile.
Cardboard can double the amount of time an active compost pile will take to finish, but it is also a great additive to help retain moisture. If you are in a dry climate, cardboard can help maintain an even moisture content, which will help keep your pile active.
Why Should I Compost Amazon Prime Boxes?
Cardboard and paper make up over 40% of the solid waste in landfills (source). In the United States, we use over 100 billion corrugated cardboard boxes each year! Those boxes are either going to be recycled, or decompose in a landfill.
“Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” This phrase gives us the order of importance for our product usage. Our first priority is to reduce our consumption. Second, reuse what we do consume. Third, recycle what we can’t reuse.
So, if we can reuse our boxes by turning them into a rich, bulky soil amendment, then we should try to do this before we opt for recycling. Cardboard does not add much nutrition into the soil, but it does provide an essential element that is more important for alleviating soil issues: structure.
Brown organic material will become bulky organic matter once it has decomposed. This bulky material will help increase porosity, which improves drainage in clay soils, water retention in sandy soils, and nutrient retention in all soils.
Many homeowners struggle with lawn and garden issues that are almost always rooted in the soil. Healthy soil means healthy lawns and healthy landscapes, so creating free soil amendments not only helps reuse consumable products but also helps save money on lawn care. Healthier soil means less frequent watering, fertilizing, and pesticide applications.
Regardless of your motivation to compost cardboard shipping boxes, there are enough benefits to make it a perfectly viable option for reducing the amount of waste your home produces.
Check out the benefits of adding organic material to clay and waterlogged soils, and don’t forget to read our tutorial on active composting.
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Does Amazon Spray Boxes With Pesticides Or Chemicals?
Amazon does not spray their boxes with pesticides or other chemicals. This is a false story that spread on social networks but was not found to be factually accurate.
There have been recent claims which seem to have started on Facebook, that Amazon is spraying boxes with chemicals or pesticides. This allegation has been debunked by multiple sources. In fact, a representative from Amazon put this allegation to rest once and for all in a recent interview.
Can I Compost All Types Of Cardboard?
No. Corrugated cardboard boxes are almost always safe to compost. Flat cardboard like cereal boxes can be composted but should be shredded very small and given ample time to decompose. Amazon offers a shredder that has excellent reviews regarding cardboard shredding. Check it out here.
Wax-coated cardboard materials, like paper cups, should not be composted. They may break down eventually, but not soon enough to make a viable compost addition.
Can I Use Cardboard As Weed Barrier?
Yes. Cardboard makes an excellent weed barrier in a vegetable garden. It holds water in the soil and prevents seeds from sprouting.
Use sections of cardboard over areas you do not want plants to grow, like pathways, and wet them down to prevent them from blowing away. You may need to weigh them down with rocks or cover them with grass clippings to keep them in place.
Can I Use Amazon Boxes For Vermicomposting?
Yes. Corrugated cardboard is a source of cellulose; a necessary ingredient in worm bedding. Cardboard must be finely cut or shredded to use as bedding material and may be mixed in with newspaper to help with movement.
Worms cannot survive on cardboard alone, so continue to feed them fruit and vegetable scraps as usual.
Read all of our articles on composting to learn more about how to turn yard debris and kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich soil
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