Green Packing and Shipping

Itís easy for Santa. The sleigh has zero emissions and apparently offers such a smooth ride that packing peanuts are not required. For the rest of us with gifts to deliver across town or across the globe, being green isnít so straightforward. Here are a number of simple green packing and shipping tips that go easy on the environment, reindeer not required.

Greenest Packing

  • Reuse shipping materials. It is best environmental practice to reuse a box made of virgin trees rather than to buy a new box made from recycled content, ditto for packing materials. Shipping materials that already exist represent embodied energy. Energy was already used to manufacture that box or bubble wrap, so itís a done deal. The resources used or pollution caused by its creation canít be taken back. The best thing you can do at this point is extend the productís useful life.
  • If you canít remove old tape or labels from a box, turn it inside out. Break open the bottom seams and the side seam, which you can see inside the box. Refold the box inside out and secure the seams with packing tape.
  • Use the smallest box that fits your needs. Besides using less resources for the box itself, this also reduces the amount of materials required to protect the cargo.
  • Use old bubble wrap, packing peanuts, tissue paper, boxes, crumbled newspaper and magazine pages.
  • To safely nestle smaller gifts, use popped popcorn. Use plain popcorn and the recipient can compost them, or feed them to the birds!
  • Run damaged or over-reused wrapping paper through the shredder for festive packing material.
  • Make the packaging part of the gift. Use tea towels, guest towels, a scarf, etc. as part of the gift and wrap fragile items in them.
  • Unless it is part of the gift, donít use fabric to pad withóit is heavier than other packaging material and can add significant weight to your package.

Second Best Green Packing
If you canít reuse anything to package gifts with, here are the green pros and cons of packaging you can buy.

  • Try to buy boxes with that are made from recycled fibers or from fibers sourced from managed forests.
  • Resist plastic packaging. Bubble wrap and other plastic packaging are derived from petroleum. Although they are technically recyclable, not all municipalities accept their plastic type. Many municipalities only recycle plastic bottles.
  • Try biodegradable packing peanuts, which easily dissolve when exposed to water and leave no chemical residue. They can be reused or composted.
  • Traditional peanuts are made of polystyrene, a petroleum derived material that is not biodegradable. Fortunately, this seemingly eternal plastic can be reused. Clean, unwanted polystyrene peanuts are accepted at 1,500 packaging stores around the US. Call the Plastic Loosefill Council’s Peanut Hotline at 1-800-828-2214 for the names of local businesses that accept them. (UPS is one of them.)


  • Buy local. If possible, purchase products online from a store thatís located near your recipient to prevent the need for long-distance shipping.
  • Prepare your packages early enough so that you can send by ground rather than air; ground shipping is more efficient than air freight.
  • Operator selection: Chose a shipping company that operates in an environmentally preferable way. FedEx operates a fleet of 93 hybrid trucks in 12 cities, while UPS has purchased 50 hybrid-electric trucks. Of course, you canít be sure that your particular package is being shipped by one of the hybrid trucks, but at least youíre giving business to companies that are working towards sustainability.
  • If you are shipping within a city, consider using a courier service that uses bicycles.
  • Carbon Offsets: Check to see if the retailer you are purchasing from offers carbon offsets for shipping, which many now do. Unfortunately, if the retailer does not have this option, there is no carbon calculator for individuals to estimate the carbon created from the shipment of their products, but you can create some offsets of your own. Be green in a way that you wouldnít have otherwise: Commit to biking somewhere X number of times, buy a local product even though you were going to buy an imported product, or finally switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Although these carbon offsets can not be accurately calculated, itís good a good frame of mind to get into!

By Melissa Breyer, Producer, Care2 Green Living

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Nora M.
Nora M.7 months ago

Using the smallest box for your needs is very useful. Not only does it save the materials, used for shipping, it makes it so that your stuff doesn't roll around the box as much as it's being shipped. I've never heard of using plain popped corn for packaging materials. It's always a good idea to try to use the materials on hand to get the job done.

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Carol Ann Ochwat
Carol Ann O.4 years ago

The problem with using food..popcorn ect.. is that rodents and bugs like it too. What a nightmare to open a beautifully thought out gift only to be shocked with droppings or crawling insects surprising you on the way to the trash can.

Melissa T.
Melissa T.4 years ago

Remember that items such as holiday candies (peppermints, marshmallows, etc.) serves as great packing material. Plus, if you are purchasing more than one gift for someone, put them in the same box with festive fillers for one awesome gift. Reuseable bags are a god-send, and recycled aluminum gift card tins are great ideas, too! Also, many companies (Starbucks included) offer gift cards made of recycled materials. I hope these help as well!

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman4 years ago

than for the great information

D. R.
D Ravenwood4 years ago

Hate to be a downer, but popcorn is actually a problem for birds, as it is easily lodged in throats. Having rescued and cared for (successfully) many birds for decades, I also learned this. I myself in the dark before. So, use popcorn if you want and compost, but do not feed to birds. Good tips and intentions; we are all trying to do what is best, I know!

Bethany M.
Bethany M.4 years ago

These are awesome ideas! I love the idea of using popcorn as packing material!

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado4 years ago

Popcorn sounds and tastes good.

Annemarie W.
Annemarie L.4 years ago

Thanks, great information for the holiday season!

Cindy B.
Cindy Black4 years ago

Thank you, Melissa! Mmmm, that popcorn looks good!