What to do with all those Amazon and online shopping cardboard boxes??! For the record, I am not sitting at my computer impulsively buying all the things, but here are some fun and easy ways to reuse cardboard boxes that show up at your front door.
Do you have a lot of cardboard boxes entering your world? We buy quite a few things online, so we have our fair share of cardboard boxes arriving at our front door. While they never end up in our trash, they rarely end up in our recycling bin either.
Babies know from an early age that a cardboard box is a magical thing. As adults, cardboard boxes have so much potential that we need to channel the inner child in us and put all our cardboard boxes to good use.
After All, We Produce Tons of Boxes
In fact, we generated 33.2 million tons of corrugated boxes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest data from 2018 (from Table 5 of 2018 Data Tables). Nearly 96.5% of those boxes were recycled while the remaining 3.5% were either combusted or sent to landfills. That’s not too shabby, particularly when compared to the overall recycling rate of a rather dismal 23.6%.
However, recycling really isn’t the best option. It still takes a lot of virgin trees to make 33 million tons of boxes, even if a large portion of them include recycled material. Recycling also requires a significant amount of energy for transportation and processing.
While Amazon is, by no means, the sole contributor to the crazy volume of cardboard boxes ringing our doorbells, they (with the help of loyal customers and a dangerously easy Buy with 1-Click functionality) are a significant contributor. To put this in perspective, I dug into their financial statements and made a few assumptions and estimates.
Amazon Cardboard Shipping Boxes Around The Globe
In 2019, Amazon reported $141 billion in online sales in their annual 10k (or publicly available financial statements), which includes both physical and digital products. Let’s assume that 85% of those sales are for physical products, an average transaction ranges from $50-$75, 10-15% of packages arrive with a box inside the box, and a broken down Amazon box is 1/2″ thick.
As a disclaimer, these are not scientific estimates but rough guesses based on my experience. The model below includes a few different calculations to provide some crude sensitivity analysis. While I recognize the calculations below aren’t perfect, they directionally give an idea of just how many Amazon boxes are created and shipped around the world each year.
All in all, when broken down and laid on top of each other, all those Amazon cardboard boxes are almost tall enough to wrap around the Earth! Seriously?!
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, considering I shop online for many things and have even had two different delivery trucks at my house at the same time.
What Do We Do With All This Cardboard?
I know all the environmentalists and minimalists are screaming under their breath, and sometimes at the top of their lungs, to just stop buying so much stuff. That is an entirely fair conclusion, and I’m preaching the same message to just buy less. But in reality, many will continue to indulge in the convenience and efficiency of 2-hour delivery at the tip of our fingers.
Did you know Amazon has over 200 million (200 million!!) Prime members? With the holidays upon us, most of the 200 million Prime members will take advantage of free shipping to fill their holiday shopping carts. That’s a lot of cardboard boxes headed out into the world.
If you’ve got some cardboard boxes headed to your front door, reconsider what you will do with them after you’ve opened your treasure. At the very least, hopefully, you break them down and recycle or compost them. Cardboard is a great source of free carbon for your compost bin. Even better, consider one of the following options to extend the longevity of your cardboard a little (or a lot) longer.
10 Ways To Reuse Cardboard Boxes Other Than Recycling
Reuse Cardboard As Garden Bed Starter
Full of carbon and not contaminated by many other chemicals, generic corrugated cardboard can serve many purposes for a garden. It creates a great starter for new beds, helps reduce weeds, and can help protect weak or young plants from the elements, among many other uses. Carbon combines with nitrogen in the dirt to create healthy, nutrient-rich soil in which plants can flourish.
Be sure to remove stickers and tape before laying cardboard in your garden. The stickers and tape won’t decompose and feed the soil like the corrugated cardboard. Cardboard can make great walkways in your garden or be used more broadly to prevent weeds from growing.
Reuse Cardboard As Garden Seedling Tray
Cardboard boxes make great containers for seedings getting ready to be planted in your garden. In some cases, I used the cardboard boxes themselves as containers to hold 10-15 seedlings, each in an individual repurposed seed container.
Last spring, when I planted seeds for our garden with my son, I cut down the edges of a few cardboard boxes to create seedling box supports for our vegetable garden. I had small containers and repurposed yogurt containers from prior years’ seedlings, so I placed those on top of cardboard boxes inside a plant crate. The cardboard provided a bit of extra stability to hold our vegetable garden seedlings.
Related Reading: 7 Great Life Lessons Kids Learn While Gardening
Repurpose Cardboard As Garden Kneeler
I often find myself kneeling in the garden as I work in the raised beds. Instead of spending money on an expensive or poorly made garden kneeler, I simply flatten a cardboard box and kneel on that in the garden.
When I’m not using it, I store it in our shed or in the garage. After using a cardboard box as a garden dealer and realizing it worked perfectly well, I have no need to purchase a special garden kneeler. Save that money!
Compost Your Cardboard
Clean corrugated cardboard, typically the material of which Amazon boxes are made, is a great type of cardboard for compost. It has high levels of carbon, one of the components necessary to combine with the nitrogen (from food scraps and such) to break down the compost pile and turn it into nutrient-rich humus for healthy soil. Cut your cardboard into strips or tear it into pieces and put them into your compost as brown matter (or carbon additions).
If you’re a regular around here, you know I’m a compost geek and love watching as trash and waste transform into healthy soil to support the growth of new life. I’ve shared a bunch about composting at home and have a Bring Your Trash To Life series in which I share interviews with other families to show how other people compost in all sorts of ways and different living styles.
Reuse Cardboard As A Toy
It may be cliche, but there’s a good reason we all joke that babies love a box more than the gift that came in the box. Cardboard boxes are so much fun! These are the best toys and spark creativity. If you aren’t sure how to use a cardboard box, give it to a child and I bet their imagination will run wild.
As an example, my boys loved making these cardboard football helmets. They spent an hour or so making helmets, with a bit of help from me. They played with them several times over the course of a few weeks, and then we recycled and composted the pieces.
Upcycle Cardboard For Forts
What kid doesn’t love a good fort? Repurposed cardboard boxes, especially sturdy ones like those from Amazon, make great foundations for forts. Use them to build secret hideouts, hallways, or little nooks and crannies inside a larger blanket fort to really take your fort game to the next level. You can also check out these ideas for some epic forts to make at home. Your kids will thank you.
Use Cardboard As Art Supply
Crafts made with repurposed cardboard are endless. There are so many ways kids and adults can reuse cardboard as art supplies. I often tell them to “make it” when they ask for something new, and cardboard is one of their favorite materials for creation. It’s hard to argue against this pure desire for creativity, so I have a stash of broken-down cardboard boxes in my closet that come to the rescue any time an art project just must be done.
Did you know there are entire social media accounts dedicated to the cherished practice of creating something new with recycled cardboard? If you’re looking for a neat cardboard craft project, check out @recycleandplay or #cardboardart on Instagram. You will find more ideas than you’ll ever have time to make.
Lately, I’ve seen Amazon include designs of flowers on their boxes specifically for creative hands. My younger son and I cut out the flowers (above) so he could make a cardboard flower bouquet for our counter.
Repurpose Cardboard As Gift Packaging
I don’t think I’ll ever need to buy gift wrap or gift boxes again. I have so many great materials around my house that make perfect gift wrap alternatives. Reuse cardboard boxes for gifts that can’t be wrapped in just paper. If you want some more ideas, I shared a bunch of other holiday-inspired gift wrapping ideas using upcycled material from a bunch of different types of packaging as well as how to make DIY gift tags from greeting cards.
Reuse Cardboard Boxes For Moving
Moving boxes don’t have to be expensive. Give your corrugated cardboard boxes to a friend or neighbor who is moving to help them save money on moving boxes and reduce the number of new boxes coming to market.
Make a note in your product description that they would be perfect for moving so someone searching for moving boxes on Facebook Marketplace will easily find them. Further, the more boxes you have, the more likely someone is to make the effort to stop by and pick them up.
Amazon’s Give Back Box Program
I hesitate to include Amazon’s Give Back Box program because I think it requires some meaningful diligence on the part of us, the donors. However, I’m mentioning it anyway with the request that you use it sparingly and only when you have something really valuable to give to a charity that you no longer need.
By typing in your address on Amazon, you can print a shipping label, fill an Amazon box with items to donate, and drop it in the mail for free. We’re reusing the box AND donating to charity, which sounds like a win-win. But like most things in life, it’s not so cut and dry.
If donors aren’t thoughtful and choose to use this program as a dumping ground for their unwanted and useless junk, the charities end up with a bunch of trash of which they need to dispose. Secondhand shops receive far more donations than they are able to sell. A good portion of the items we think are being productively donated actually end up in landfills or flooding third-world countries and harming their economies.
So… take this recommendation with caution. If you have a few great items that you know a thrift shop would love, go ahead and send them along. But please don’t make this your lazy excuse to buy more things or not find the right home for things you no longer need.
Create Cardboard Postcards or Birthday Cards, Thank You Cards, etc…
Although a little atypical, you can create really creative and unique cards from corrugated cardboard boxes. While Amazon boxes, for example, have some printing on them, much of the box is plain brown cardboard. This makes it perfect for a DIY birthday card or holiday greeting, especially a handmade one from a child.
Repurpose Cardboard Boxes For Home Organization
Cardboard boxes are great for storage and home organization. Don’t spend a bunch of money on expensive organization containers when things you already have will work well.
For example, we store garden seeds in a small box and the boys’ Nintendo Switch and accessories in another box. We keep all our baking items, like chocolate chips, sprinkles, food coloring, and more, in another Amazon box in our kitchen cabinet. We have cardboard boxes of various sizes all around our house, but those are just a few quick ideas.
Sometimes, I wrap duct tape around the edges of the box to provide a bit of extra strength or durability. I’ve found this to be really useful.
How do you reuse your cardboard boxes? I’d love to hear more ideas in the comments!