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About Those Air Cushions in Amazon Packages (theatlantic.com)
218 points by atombender on Dec 27, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 230 comments



> frustrated customers on forums discussing how many air-filled cushions they were getting

> while deflated air cushions can be recycled, many cities won’t collect them curbside

Pop them, put them in recycling. It's plastic, it's not my job to deal with the fallout. Either it's recyclable and I've done all I can, or it's the retailers' or cities' problem. The idea that there are "frustrated customers" is beyond me. Is this really what ordinary citizens sit around obsessing over? I just don't get it; this would be concern #10,056 on my list of priorities.


This is very irresponsible. The reason soft plastics are unrecyclable curbside in San Francisco is that they pose a very real danger to the machines that do recycling sorting. This is possible to overcome with greater manual filtering of recyclable materials, but Recology currently does not have the funds for it. Putting soft plastics in curbside recycling at the moment does nothing but make recycling worse for everyone.


To put in tech terms: This is horrible UX and it's no surprise to me that recycling isn't very effective. Asking your end users to deal with your internal complexity doesn't work in software or in recycling.

I want to help out, really I do, but I have more important things to worry about than which type of plastic goes in which bin. Hell, I'm happy to put the right kind of thing in the right bin if they made it clear which is which and why. But they don't do a very good job of communicating to me why this is important. They just say "recycle properly" then try to make you feel irresponsible and like a bad citizen for not knowing the proper way to do it based on some opaque and arcane process.

If you want people to help out, make it easy for them to feel like they're a part of it. The rules around recycling do the opposite - make you feel like you're harming things if you don't do things exactly right. Not a very empowering feeling at all.


If it's a UX problem, I think the issue is not that garbage disposal chores lack special tingly feeling of empowerement and engagement, but that the negative feedback loop isn't closed. Wiping your ass is pretty low on the happy feelings scale, but neglecting to do so has nearly immediate negative repurcussions. How do we get people to care about things beyond their own rear end? Most people would agree that having children in third world countries sort through toxic electronics waste is a bad thing, but... that's far away, and this new phone has slightly smaller pixels.

What if we couldn't export our waste for someone else to deal with? Maybe then the feeling of personal responsibility would come rushing back.


Much innovation in the last 20 years has been finding ways to get your customers to do work for free that you previously paid employees to do instead.

For example, self-service checkouts in supermarkets, fast food, building a holiday package, etc.

Recycling is the same. They have 'outsourced' much of the job to local government and consumers.


To add: other than cost transfer, it enables better scaling for the companies.


That's not really the case. It's simply a really hard problem and that's easiest to address early on (recycle somewhat right) than to try and filter useful things out of shredded sludge.


It's a really hard problem that big companies show no signs of helping to solve because they have no economic interest in doing so. They use whatever packaging helps their short-term profits without consideration of long-term environmental damage.

It's a typical externalities problem - the full cost of using some types of packaging is not paid by the one doing the packaging.


The city just has to say "put all your soft plastics in a larger soft plastic bag for easier sorting at the other end" or "take your soft plastics to the supermarket and put them in the soft-plastics bin there".

Do everything to make it easy at both ends.


There is an obvious irony to having to go to your supermarket to recycle the plastic bags you received by shopping online, i.e. by not having to go to your supermarket to do shopping...


Yes, and I did suggest an alternative.


Don't recyclers have to sort submissions anyway? It's expected that citizens will fail to completely adhere to recycling instructions and submissions must be sorted anyway.


Throwing your plastic bags into recycling because "it'll get sorted anyway" is as bad as throwing your litter on the ground because "we pay people to clean the streets anyway"

You're just playing NIMBY by passing the responsibility on.


On the other hand where do you put the limit on what is a acceptable burden ?

Here are the rules for recycling where I lived: plastic to be cleaned before recycling (a minimal trace of food, allegedly, would require the whole batch of plastic to be thrown away). You are also supposed to separate the plastic part from the cardboard part on the packaging. You are also supposed to check if there is a specific type of coating on the inside of a cardboard box like foil for milk or wax for cups. Metal, Glass need to be cleaned too, although without threat of discarding a ton of waste. Paper is recycled separately from cardboard, however I believe that was for operational rather than technical reasons. Recycled paper could not be recycled again and glassy paper (magazine covers) needed removal.

When you get to that stage you realise that the average product in the supermarket would require quite a lot of processing. That's not realistic to expect people to follow all those rules and if you rely on thousands or ten of thousands of people to comply with them in order for your recycling to work, you are deep in the designed to fail territory.


These are currently the rules in San Francisco and we do pretty well on the whole!

You know, it's interesting that you say that we can't expect people to follow all those rules, but I just got back from Japan and WOW. That country has basically gotten everyone on board with following every rule. There are like four different receptacles for trash and you have to walk all your own trash out to the proper drop point. It seems like a crazy complex system, but the people understand why it has to be that way (no landfill space) and why their civic duty matters.


The country I was talking about did not have that amount of civic duty. Japan is in a category of its own.

In the case of my story, it appears to be working well too. People have 3 bins, different collection days and quota (and tax). On the surface there is no real way for the system not to work, unless you consider the increase in fly-tipping. (allegedly)

I'm not quite sure it is working as advertised though. I can't believe that the people can determine the coating type that was used on whatever cardboard piece they see and get it wrong in small enough percentages that the process depending on it is still efficient. And it is a compounded effect, the more rules, the more edge cases. I haven't seen any change in the packaging of product, if anything it has gotten even more difficult to process than before. If people were choosing brand with easier packaging, all the brands would have followed by now ( those rules have been in place for over 15 years now ), I just can't believe that people moaning when a TV channel number change would just happily start washing their ready meal plastic boxes.

Another example that makes me doubtful. There are recycling centers for chemical, electronic stuff, gardening waste, ... The rules are quite simpler (eg: cooking oil vs car oil), yet people get it wrong all the time and the people managing the center are busy directing and correcting people all the time. That's at the recycling center, a place where people have already committed time to specifically go recycling their stuff.


>These are currently the rules in San Francisco and we do pretty well on the whole!

You say that, yet people are evidently kept awake at night by the thought of little plastic cushions.


Or as bad as throwing your used CFLs and propane tanks in your recycling bin. "Let them figure it out!"


It's more like

Don't recyclers have to sort submissions anyway? It's expected that citizens will "completely fail" to adhere to recycling instructions and submissions must be sorted anyway.


Doesn't this just mean that the machines were chosen unwisely?


There's more to it than machine choice, there's also process surrounding the machines. The current process probably assumes a certain compliance rate of people "not putting soft plastic in the bin". In so much as we are citizens who don't want to endanger the recycling process, I believe we have at least a mild ethical duty to at least not knowingly do just that.


Doesn't this just mean that the process surrounding the machines was chosen unwisely???


Yes.


There are plenty of cities that do soft plastic recycling. I'm surprised San Fransisco doesn't.


SF has a very high diversion percentage (waste that doesn't go to landfull). I'm not sure what tradeoffs go into getting that number, but I do absolutely recommend going on one of the free Recology tours. We went on a tour a few months ago as part of the SF YIMBY infrastructure tour series (shameless plug) and I had a great time.


YIMBY? Your infrastructure my back yard?


"Yes in my back yard." It's a group that advocates for building more housing in San Francisco.


How much does municipal recycling cost in San Francisco?

Is it a net profitable endeavor (energy in vs out)?

What are the recycled materials being used for, and what are the costs to get the material into that state?


> but Recology currently does not have the funds for it

And you know this how?


If plastic bags are not curbside recyclable then throwing them in the bin doesn't help. Consumers absolutely do bear responsibility for the environmental impact of their consumption choices.


In Los Angeles, as they continued to receive recyclables in the blue cans that were deemed inappropriate, they continued to expand the list of appropriate materials to fit what consumers were tossing in the cans. So, it's not cut and dry if putting unlisted items in the blue cans helps or not.


In parent's defense, every city has different rules sometimes different recycling vendors within a city. They rarely communicate these rules in an effective and routine manner.


I don't think I've ever understood the "what goes in recycling, what goes in organics" rules in any place I've ever lived. It's a total unknown. I put stuff in whatever bin makes intuitive sense and the man in the truck takes it away. Until either 1. the rules are explained in a sensible way or 2. the city starts fining me for putting something in the wrong bin, my behavior is not going to change.


In Switzerland, recycling is done by the city administration. Put things in the wrong bin, get fined (and quite aggressively so). Instructions are sent to you when you move into the city and every year to every household. Works really well [1] (recycling rates: Glass 95%, aluminium 90%, paper 90%, plastic bottles 80%, batteries 70%). Also, no landfills at all, everything is burned, air is filtered and heat is used for heating.

[1] http://www.bafu.admin.ch/umwelt/indikatoren/08484/08653/inde...


The recycling rates are great, but even with perfect filtering there's a serious issue with burning trash. Namely, CO2.


That's better than methane from letting it decompose in landfill, plus you get energy out.


That depends on how much biomass goes to landfill but a good composting/recycling program can sort a lot of that out. Furthermore, landfill methane can be captured and repurposed.[1]

Seriously, burning stuff is not good. We need to stop doing that.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landfill_gas_utilization


> no landfills at all, everything is burned

Only combustible waste is burned. Landfills are still needed.


How do they know who put what in which trash can?


Highest fines are for putting plastics/glass/large metals in the roadside bags that are picked up. They usually try to find an address label or similar inside the bag to identify you.

For public trash cans: It happens that private security hides around the cans to control. I was once fined about 40 USD for putting paper in the paper bin on sunday at noon. They hid around the corner.


Could you explain that a bit? Fined for putting paper in the paper bin?


It's forbidden to put recyclable materials in the public recycling bins on sundays in Switzerland. Mostly because glass shatters loudly. So while cities massively encourage recycling, some laws prevent it on certain days.


Serious question: did you ever look it up? What's the problem exactly.. did the municipal recycler not have a website that stated what they accept? Could you not find the website in a google search? When you say "explained in a sensible way", do you mean you did find an explanation but it didn't make sense?


Consumption choices is a strange term when every store surrounding someone does double plastic bags all day. If the city is concerned, address the problem at the source and not the leaves where I gaurantee you no amount of social pressure will have anywhere near the effect.


That's consistent with shared responsibility. We work together as citizens to make laws that express collective goals. Some cities have banned plastic bags quite effectively. Perhaps we should federally regulate shipping environmental impacts as well.


Yep, there's a bag ban here in Austin. Stores can't hand them out.


Same in the Bay Area plus we just passed more laws against plastic bags in the past election.


You could always ask them not to double bag, or take your own bags...


In Brooklyn we now have four (FOUR!) different containers for trash in our little apartment. Since I was a kid and recycling began as "a thing" it's gotten more and more complex and expensive on the consumer's end. Shouldn't this process be trending the other way?


> Shouldn't this process be trending the other way?

I can think up two answers to that.

1. Someone has a nicely rigged racket running. Making the masses pay in a way that's legal and they can't escape would be my wettest dream if I were an organized criminal.

2. Our modes of production and transportation have lots of hidden externalized costs. Finding and addressing those is an ongoing process. Distributing them over the end users may be one of the fairest ways to deal with them.


In Manhattan I have three but add the fourth -- composting -- myself voluntarily, which isn't curbside. I have to walk it to the park where they collect it only at certain times.

Why?

Because it helps me reduce my landfill trash to where I empty it 3 to 4 times per year. Actually, I've reduced my recyclable trash to nearly the same levels.


They way I remember it in the early days of recycling we had to sort into plastics, glass, and paper, but sometime in the last ten years or so everything's moved to a single stream one-bucket process.


Seems like there are two kinds:

The opaque, crinkly ones -- they seem like the plastic that's in shopping bags. Maybe it's okay to deflate them and recycle them together? Even if your municipal recycling doesn't take them, I've seen lots of grocery stores that do (in the US).

The clear ones -- Like a sandwich bag, maybe a polyethylene? Can these be recycled with shopping bags too?


pop them, send them back to the folks who foisted them upon you. They might start using recyclable paper or corn starch instead.


Yes, really if you are worried about the environmental impact you shouldn't hit the buy button in the first place.


I had to package and tape boxes at an Amazon fulfillment center over peak season one day.

One of the "problems" I found with the process is the system tells you the size of box to use. You're not allowed to use a smaller size, even if it would work, only that size or larger. It also tends to overestimate the size of the item, so many boxes wind up with a lot more empty space than would be necessary, and more packing.

I'm sure this bias is intentional, but I found it odd at the time.


UPS wants 2 inches of space between the product and the outer box... keeps real damage from happening if the outer box is slightly punctured by something.

https://www.ups.com/content/us/en/resources/ship/packaging/g...


That's sensible. What isn't is the often vast oversize of Amazon packaging. Like sending one hard drive in a 2cu ft box with lots of packaging. There's now lots of scope for the item to move around so the single item inevitably ends up in a corner against the outer box.

Amazon never seem to actually bubble wrap anything any more - which has led to damage more than once. Neither the string of air pockets, as in the article, or paper is as effective as they rarely use enough to prevent movement.

Here in the UK Amazon seems to have switched solely to paper inner packaging. Environmentally I prefer this.


Amazon ships a huge box, then loads it halfway with paper or air bubbles. Everything shifts around, so it protects nothing in transit. They often ship non-delicate items like clothes in cardboard boxes, where plastic bags would be less wasteful and more protective. Overall, the result of their shipping is that I spend a lot of time deflating plastic, breaking down boxes, and moving lots of garbage to my garage and, subsequently, the curb. Then a truck hauls it some more. All for packaging that ultimately protected paper towels, or that was so loose that the box rattled anyway. It's worse than worthless--it destroys value, takes time, is inconvenient, and hurts the environment, all for no useful result at all.

And Amazon does not seem to care. It is so bad that I have shifted purchases offline to Costco in part so I don't have to deal with all this shipping waste. Costco doesn't even give me a bag.


I recently ordered this decal[1]. It came in this box[2].

If you don’t want to visit the links below, the sticker is 4 inches square, and the box is 7” x 5” x 10”. Why a cardboard mailer wasn’t enough, I don’t know. At least the seven air pouches included with it protected it from high G forces...

1. http://a.co/ew4OGOB 2. http://imgur.com/qCsvJu7


> And Amazon does not seem to care.

This might be of interest to you; send your gently used stuff to Goodwill, in Amazon boxes, for free.

https://www.givebackbox.com


Amazon owns East Dane/ShopBop, clothing sites which do always use plastic bags. I guess for mainline Amazon they don't care enough about to differentiate what they ship products in.


Boxes are easier to stack and move especially if you are handling Amazon volumes of goods. Quite often the amount of items that can be carried by a truck or plane is limited by their weight not size, so it may not be as wasteful as it seems.


> Here in the UK Amazon seems to have switched solely to paper inner packaging. Environmentally I prefer this.

It's not clear to me you should (perhaps you should, the balance simply isn't clear to me).

A plastic air cushion weighs almost nothing, so shipping it to the merchant and then to you uses almost no fuel.

It is rarely recycled but instead become sequestered carbon in a landfill. For me, they are convenient to recycle in Palo Alto but this article says, to my surprise, that that's uncommon. I'm not sure of the carbon impact of recycling PE.

While paper uses a lot of water and chemicals to make, and involves cutting down trees. It's also very heavy so costly in terms of fuel to transport and recycle.

Aesthetically, I agree that paper is much nicer.


>and involves cutting down trees

Which they plant more of. Using this as an argument against paper is silly because it only applies to unsustainable approaches to paper. If we judged every process by the worst way to do it, then no process would be acceptable.


I'm not sure what your point is here.

The whole point of recycling paper is to avoid cutting down trees (and as a minor secondary point reduce landfill, though most paper is compostable). Paper recycling is quite energy and chemical intensive when compared to virgin paper production. If you want to talk about "sustainable" and consider planting trees to be fine, then you don't want to recycle.

I don't consider cutting down trees and replanting them that great, frankly. You take a large tree with a large surface area that's transpiring lots of carbon and replace it with a sapling with a small surface area. Yes that sapling is, over time, turning carbon into tree trunk, but that time scale for that is decades while the paper releases carbon immediately through its production and transport and then continues to do so over decades as it decomposes.

This calculus can be improved by making the paper out of something with a better yield and shorter growth time (hemp is claimed to be such but I have no idea if that's true) and by using non-fossil fuel. But you have to look at the chemistry required as well...and in any case paper is heavy (a box of paper is basically a box of wood) which is inherently fuel intensive.

Plastic film (and plastic toys) are sequestered if you can stick them in landfills. Of course the best carbon sequestration will be to leave the oil in the ground...not yet an option in 2017.

But the best lifecycle analysis has to be done on base of most accurate costs possible, not emotion. Paper is pretty shitty.


Conventional wisdom is that recycled paper uses less resources than new paper.

https://archive.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/materials/paper/web/...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_recycling


The box on the first link summarizes the benefits pretty well, thanks.

Still, I am not yet convinced vs the lifetime oil consumption & carbon release of paper packaging vs plastic.


  You take a large tree with a large surface area that's transpiring lots of carbon and replace it with a sapling with a small surface area. Yes that sapling is, over time, turning carbon into tree trunk, but that time scale for that is decades
Actually the growth peaks in a young forest as soon as there is at least one leaf or needle on most possible paths of a sunray. This is called canopy closure, and as soon as it has been achieved the growth starts to decline. This has been studied extensively, here is one example:

https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/2397

The reason in a nutshell is that when trees start to compete on the available sunlight by out-growing and overshadowing each other, they need to work harder to pull water up to the top where most of the photosynthesis happens. The leaves or needles in the shadow produce almost nothing but still consume resources for respiration.


You may be right. I don't have answers. I'm not sure anyone does. I've often wished it were easier to see all the externalities and environmental issues in our stuff. So I can make decisions with my eyes open. I think it's likely we're making many poor choices for the right reasons at the moment.

I'd be surprised if unbleached brown paper, screwed up as padding, came out worse environmentally than oil derived plastic. It's probably polythene or variant which doesn't really biodegrade and lasts for centuries. Or leaches chemicals or ends up in the ocean and photodegrades to little bits.

How do we evaluate 1,000 year lifespan vs months for impact? Does that change if we consider it ending up inside wildlife or the ocean foodchain?

Here in my part of the UK at least it's essentially non-recyclable.

I think I'd like to use less, but that's very much an instinctive view. I'd rather corn starch replacements for much packing as it better suits a one time temporary use.


> I'd be surprised if unbleached brown paper, screwed up as padding, came out worse environmentally than oil derived plastic.

I would not be surprised; the production even of unbleached Kraft paper is quite energy intensive and environmentally bad (look up "black liquor" for example). Oil derived plastics (not very nice either by any stretch of the imagination) appear to use less energy to produce and of course much much less to transport.

> It's probably polythene or variant which doesn't really biodegrade and lasts for centuries. Or leaches chemicals or ends up in the ocean and photodegrades to little bits.

PE doesn't really biodegrade in any meaningful sense of the word. But if stuck in the ground it doesn't release any more carbon into the atmosphere, unlike decaying organic matter. Typical PE film doesn't contain interesting plasticisers so there's nothing to leach out.

The nasty end result of PE film is when it flies about and gets eaten by animals. That's why plastic bags are so horrible. I don't know if these air bags suffer the same fate; I suspect they do. That's bad.

But you said "envoronmentally" not just waste stream: when I look at the total life cycle it's not clear to me that paper is better.

Note that if oil were only involved as feedstock (so both products were produced with only wind or solar electricity) then the calculus could be different.


Interesting. I wasn't aware there was quite so much liquor (by weight) created from paper production. It does seem like they get most of their energy from it now they don't just dump it in rivers.

Recycled changes the numbers too if you don't need to bleach it back to white. Though you've a load of ink and finishers to deal with. At least paper is regularly recycled.

So I think we're in agreement that we don't know!


Actually, "black liquor" is usually burned, and some pulp mills are even energy-positive. The main problem is not energy, it's pollution (a huge source of controversy here in Uruguay, we have several huge pulp mills).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_liquor

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UPM_(company)#Uruguay :

"provides CO2-neutral biomass-based electricity "


Some mills will even produce paper at a loss, in order to produce black liquor to make power from. Especially when there are "green" power subsidies involved.

It's kind of insane, but there was a mill near where I grew up that was doing exactly this a few years ago.


I would like to see the numbers (dollars and calories) on what it costs to recycle these materials, including transport and collection costs.

It appears the trend is to externalize the sorting of materials, as this appears to be the most expensive part.

Are there dedicated paid human sorters? Would people volunteer to help in such a way?


Here in Japan the packaging I see most from Amazon is where they strap the item down with a strong plastic wrap to a thick piece of cardboard that's glued to the bottom of the box. This keeps it centered and they don't need any filler at all.


I see that occasionally in the US (except not glued down) but mostly for things that don't have their own display boxes like books, sometimes electronics or DVDs. Since it's not glued, they still rely on air bags to fill the space.

You probably want something to fill the space. Empty boxes are easy to unintentionally crush, exposing the contents to damage, weather, and loss.


Paper or air cushions aren't going to make a substantial difference to whether a box is crushed.


They actually do. If you fill the space, it's much harder to crush the box, because you not only have to exert enough force to break down the cardboard but enough force to pop the air bags inside. The air bags especially add a lot of support in the very center, where the tape is actually taking most of the force. You can test this yourself. Get a couple of identical shipping boxes, fill one with air bags and the other with nothing, tape them up identically. Start stacking 10 pound weight plates on top and watch which one crushes first.

Paper will probably add less support unless it's really packed, but it will still add some.


I've seen this packaging before. Notably, Apple uses this design when shipping iPhones. Overall, however, it doesn't seem to be very common in the States.


Curious question: what condition due the boxes typically arrive in? Are punctures and crushed boxes common or rare?

It definitely seems like a better method, but I'm curious if the shipping handling is different there.

(For reference, in the SE US I'd say about 1:15 Amazon boxes arrives with some kind of damage. 1:40 with worrisome damage)


I guess it may only be workable in Japan - the delivery companies here are exceptionally good. I've never received a package in anything other than 100% perfect condition. I used to subscribe to a monthly beer club that would send 5 glass bottles of beer though the post office's "5-7℃ chilled delivery" service and they were barely packed at all, no issues.

That said I used to often have CDs and DVDs delivered from Amazon.jp to Sweden when I lived there that were packed the same way and they arrived safely, but CDs and DVDs are probably the easiest thing to ship.


I had to go into the warehouse of a local shipping company the other day to identify and pick up an oversized package, and I couldn't believe how brutal the conveyor systems were. In the few minutes i was there, i saw a couple of boxes fall of a belt, and one particular box caught in a junction of a couple of belts with every other box coming through bashing against it, and no one treating any of these occurrences as a problematic issue.

I can see now how a majority of the parcels may get through ok, but the few that end up caught or trapped will end up in very poor condition.


I'm in the UK, and basically every package I get has some sort of minor damage. Squashed corners, punched sides, etc. I had a box that looked like somebody had ripped it open the other day. The inner manufacturers box was fine though (it had paper packaging).


Yes, Amazon seems to have no clue about shipping HDDs. Especially OEM HDDs. They have come loose, in a huge box, in just thin plastic "cases", embedded in air pockets. Which had been pounded flat in transit. New Egg, in contrast, shipped HDDs with molded cardboard padding (as I recall).


I've rarely buy from NewEgg, so I don't know how their return policy works, but for Amazon, if I ordered a hard drive and it was DOA, I tell them and they send me a new one before I even ship the first one back. No RMA numbers, no warranty problems, no "it was fine when it shipped, so that's UPS' fault". A simple "defective or doesn't work" and a new one is shipped that day.


This, this and so much this. This is why the majority of my electronics and parts come from Amazon. All other vendors are a morass of justificational cowdung compared to Amazon.

Dear vendor: You can take your RMAs, your restocking fees and your lame-ass excuses for shirking responsibility and shove it where the sun don't shine. Because, Amazon.


Sure, Amazon does make returns effortless. But there are two complications. First, DOA is not really a problem. Second, it seems that Amazon nukes accounts that return too much stuff. Or so I've read. So if you order many HDDs from Amazon, you're faced with many decisions about borderline poor packaging.


Sure their packaging could be better, but in my anecdotal evidence, it's generally enough. I've order dozens of "fragile" items from Amazon, including two hard drives and a graphics card, and none of them were DOA or showed any signs of damage. Regarding them nuking accounts, if you're returning so much that they nuke you, you're probably return an obscene amount.


I'm in the UK, and over the past few months I've received Amazon packages with paper, air cushions and bubble wrap (glass tea pot) - I assume it depends on what you order.


vast oversize? Like this: https://goo.gl/photos/qCcNFNBvp7RmXh1Q6

Sorry for the poor quality. Box is roughly 24" x 18" x 6" containing one approximately 13 inch long kitchen utensil (a silicon whisk) and 7-8 useless air cushions.


Recently I've seen a lot of Amazon packages where the item is in one corner of the box, held up against the outer box by some thick scrunched-up paper. That could easily be lazy packers, but I see it frequently enough that if it is to give a 2" gap, they're missing a QC step somehwhere..


It has been several years, but I was a manager on the inbound side at multiple FCs over the span of a couple years. Most likely reason for the mis-matched box size recommendation is due to the Warehouse Management System (WMS) that tracks all things (what is where when and item dimensions) having incorrect measurements of the item dimensions. On the outbound side, as you definitely know, packers are absolutely discouraged from using their judgement when selecting a box. Hell, there was a specific metric that was basically the adherence to the recommended box size. But when an ASIN first appears in a warehouse, the WMS will send the item to be scanned. The scanning process is used to input the dimensions and weight of the item. I know for a fact that some of the associates that performed that function would get lazy. I even had receivers that would completely fudge the numbers when the system asked the item to be sent to cubiscan. So there you have it - can't blame the packer on the outbound side. The problem was usually found when inbound didn't properly enter the item dimensions.


Sorry for going off-topic here, but I'm curious. You say you "had to" work a fulfillment center over peak season. Were you an engineer at Amazon at the time?

I'm asking because I've been told that Amazon makes engineers work at their fulfillment centers when it's peak season. If that's true, are people paid extra to do so?


I was a software developer for Amazon for five years, the majority of which was writing software for the fulfillment centers. Recently left to join a startup. My answers represent my experience, not Amazon's response.

> I've been told that Amazon makes engineers work at their fulfillment centers when it's peak season

Good god, no. An engineer salary has got to be 4 to 8 times the salary of an FC Associate (or more), and generally speaking we're terrible at manual labour! Besides which, the engineers are generally busy making sure the software doesn't fall over from the X-times load increase of all the extra users during the peak season.

That said, the better engineers tended to try to get on-site frequently to better understand the tools, problems, etc. I sure tried to be there often.


Not true. Managers are required to work in fulfillment centers (not necessarily during peak season) for a couple days as a means of giving them experience with that part of the company. I think is only for managers above a certain level, but don't remember the details. There's a similar program for customer service call centers.


No, I actually literally just work in a fulfillment center at the moment. I moved near Austin, TX, Amazon was hiring, and I needed something to have health insurance and start saving up to pay off my student loans (for a business application programming degree, ironically.)

I would like to be an engineer there but I think I'm underqualified for most of those positions. I learn what I can about the software and the processes when I can, though.


There's a very rare path from FC associate to the software side at Amazon. I've met a few people who've done it. This includes a senior principle engineer and an L8 director of software.


I did find their internal Twitter clone and notice that it was open source. If I could find a way to contribute to it without violating Amazon's policies I'd consider it.


This actually is the lesser problem. The bigger problem is when the packer / supervisor at the FBA FC decides it's ok to put sunglasses in a bubble mailer. #truestory


Amazon, in particular, sends packages in ridiculously oversized boxes. I've received kitchen knife from Amazon that was packed in a box more than twice the size of a shoebox. Literary hundreds of same items would have fitted there. On the bright note, it was padded with recycled paper, not plastic.


Its intentional for a few reasons:

a) Prevents damage to the internal contents

b) Compliance with 3pl recommendations

c) bin packing


I just got one of those -- a 30 lb. boxed item in another box twice its size, with just a few air cushions and paper dunnage. It slid around like crazy and was probably dangerous to carry.


Is this to reduce damage to the inner box? I received a keurig in an oversized box but I though it might be on purpose.


Probably.

But when you're told to pack a single DVD in a box big enough to need several layers of padding it sometimes seems excessive.


These little air bags makes a lot of sense to me, I wonder why it took them so long to become popular. How did everyone live through the packing peanuts phase and not realize this is a much simpler solution?


The air bags where each cell was independently inflated and sealed[1] were recently invented (2002) and there are a lot of patents for it.[2][3][4]

It took several iterations of ingenuity to figure it out because the previous sheet of air bags had one inlet to inflate all the airtubes. All the tubes were connected to each other like the tubes of a waterbed.

Since I've been seeing those inflatable air bags for more than 5 years in shipments from Amazon, Newegg, etc., it looks like industry adoption has taken less than 10 years.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflatable_air_cushion

[2] https://www.google.com/patents/US7150136

[3] https://www.google.com/patents/US20050103676

[4] https://www.google.com/patents/US6565946 used in this $1500 machine: http://minipakr.com/the-mini-pakr/


the last package peanuts I seem to remember finding in a package were disposable by putting them in compost, which seems like an advantage over plastic bags.


They're a nightmare if you have babies/pets and don't clear out your packing materials quickly - I keep my boxes and materials until I validate the item's functional.

Disposable peanuts are made from corn/rice so humans/pets can eat them, but it's unknown if they're easily digestible in large quantities and anecdotes about pets hurling them up are out there.

I prefer the air-packs, yes it's plastic (my recycler accepts them if they're collapsed and not loose), but a small amount given the size of the packages.


I ate one of the peanuts on a dare a long time ago, wouldn't do it again.

Whatever is on there as a preservative or pet/child deterrent (or possibly both) made me nauseous for hours afterward.


What did you get in return for taking the dare?


Even if you don't have babies/pets, but keep those recyclable peanuts around... you soon will in the form of roaches, moths, and mice. They grow up so quick!


those are great until you send a large volume of shipments by ocean cargo somewhere, and it arrives with a nest of several hundred rats that have eaten the packing material.


Recent ones you can, but those came about during the ascent of packaged air. Old ones were just plastic.

New ones you can even eat. They're made of corn.


It seems silly to use something with finite supply for something so simple to substitute.


It's not that simple. We can turn corn into petrochemicals if the relative prices change enough.


We routinely turn petrochemicals into corn, so it's nice to occasionally return the favor.

(https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/Energy-consumpti...)


Except you need to have a compost pile and become adept at identifying variants of packing peanuts.

We actually do compost, but our pile is inactive in the winter, and dumping some mysterious product into it isn't something that I'd want to do.


The city I live in has a composting program [0], so even if I don't want to compost myself, it's compulsory. The trash bin we get is about a quarter the size of both the recycle and compost bin.

I've never had problems identifying which packing materials are compostable. Usually putting one under warm water will give it away - they're designed to be washed down the drain.

https://bouldercolorado.gov/lead/compost


I haven't seen anyone else using it yet, but iFixit uses a paper/cardboard lattice/expanded mesh as packing material.


If we're talking about the same thing, I see electronic component vendors like Digikey/Mouser/etc. using that paper mesh a lot.


These are awesomexpected and work great, but unfortunately I bet they're pricier which is a huge influencer in packaging decisions.


I think there are two opportunities for the environmental effects of the air cushions.

1) Re-use rather than recycle: What if you could let the air out at home, open up the bag, stuff it with other bags, and the outside of the bag had a postage paid stamp. It goes back to the company that made the bag so it can be re-used.

2) Make them out of compostable plastic. Much simpler than above, probably the better way.

The key is that these air cushions don't need to last (likely) more than a few days. What can we do so that they have as little impact as possible.

They may be better than the packing peanuts or other substitutes, but there is still opportunity to improve.


They should just ship with reusable boxes. Better boxes with inner protections, where you would get some kind of credit if you post/bring it back empty, or reuse for personal mail. Maybe we should only be allowed to send packages with these boxes


Reminds me of a European grocery store. As an American, I was confounded to see a lack of bags at nearly any store I visited that wasnt a tourist gift shop my first time I ventured across the Atlantic. Then it started to make more sense than the garbage-cycle we have over here.


In most EU countries you need to pay for plastic* bags now, so they often aren't on display to make sure people pay - you just need to ask the cashier.

*And a lot have starch bags, which break if you try and put more than two milk bottles in or anything sharp.


Considering transport costs, I don't know how viable that would be.

Picking up boxes for recycling from houses alone would make for a pretty big carbon footprint. Not to mention costly. The current box strategy might be more carbon-friendly, oversll


You say recycling but I think you mean re-use.

The energy costs involved in recycling are not trivial and someone still needs to "pick it up from every house".

Its is almost always preferable carbon-wise to re-use, especially in metropolitan areas where pickup is trivial and could easily be performed on the next delivery. A small security deposit would cover the costs, or just keep them if you want some storage boxes.


The compostable idea is so much better than mailing them back because of the transport cost. In fact compostable air cushions exist: http://www.fpintl.com/biodegradable_packaging_cello_bubble_w...


Except that biodegradable packaging means the manufacturer needs to continue producing (and distributing) it, which incurs its own cost.


Returned air cushions would presumably be popped for recycling purposes only, so no, they would not be reusable.


Mailing bags back? What's the transit cost of doing that?


or the environmental cost of shipping them all around


I re-use mine when I sell stuff on ebay, etc.. (I also re-use boxes and other stuffing supplies).


My apartment complex has a large delivery bin area and I always wish I can leave the packaging boxes and padding/cushions in that area and only bring back the content of the box (provided that nothing is sensitive and nobody is watching). Would it be great if the delivery person can unbox the item at the delivery location with a fee and then bring the box back for recycling?


We order a from Amazon Prime Now occasionally and that stuff always just comes in a paper bag. No huge boxes, no packing material at all. Just a bag.

I imagine that's because its time in transit is far lower and it's handled by only one currier. In the end, probably less efficient but at least on the packing materials side it's more efficient.


Had a prime now package delivered this morning and it was literally just the item. No box or bag. Kinda weird but it works.


This is really awesome when the delivery service has a tendency to just chuck parcels in the snowbank or mud puddle. Ive had to file more than a few complaints and get replacements because of this


I was pleasantly surprised when I got my first Now purchase delivered that way. I was expecting a box. But the paper bag is better -- I use them as “garbage bags” for paper and cardboard, which makes the recycling quicker on my end.


I have definitely purchased something on prime now in part because the bags fit so perfectly into my recycling bin...


I struggle with a similar problem - I use a weekly food delivery service that delivers in a rather large polystyrene box and two ice packs. They offer to take last weeks when they deliver to recycle them, but leaving it out is rather difficult to do in my large apartment complex so I have to resort to always leaving them in the garbage room and I feel terrible for not recycling.


I'm sure your environmental impact of having food delivered to your door by a courier is much greater than a single box anyway.


Depends. A single delivery truck running a route for 20 customers is a heck of a lot more environmentally friendly than those 20 customers driving a car each to the store to load up.


It's more environmentally friendly to not drive. In Netherlands it's common to have a supermarket very close to your home (walking distance). Else you use a bike. A car is when you have a family and then you'd stock up for a week of supplies.


We started using Amazon Fresh a few months ago, and they deliver in reusable totes. You collapse 3-4 of them and stick them in an in-collapsed one and leave it out for pickup the next time you have an order. Really wish the rest of my amazon stuff would come this way.


Out of curiosity, are you talking about Blue Apron? I could benefit from a similar solution


Youfoodz (horrific name, great service) actually. Delivers whole fresh meals rather than raw ingredients http://youfoodz.com

I've used HelloFresh in Australia, a competitor/alternative to Blue Apron and the polystryene box they use is much much smaller because it only contains the small meat items. The Youfoodz box is much bigger https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0506/7861/files/Blog-Zarah...


HelloFresh (AU) recently switched [0][1]: they now use WoolCool (compostable & recyclable), plus gel ice packs (cut open and dispose of gel, recycle packet). Also means you don't need to return the boxes, which is handy in an apartment building.

[0]: https://www.hellofresh.com.au/recycle-your-hellofresh-packag... [1]: https://support.hellofresh.com.au/hc/en-us/articles/21774766...


Pretty sure Blue Apron provides return postage for recycling the box and packing materials.


Ok - what about returns? I have to remember to keep the box (at least) and packing materials (to suppress any complaints) for a week or two until I can ascertain that the item is fully functional/undamaged.


I just toss the box and packing materials. In practice, it's rarely been an issue.


I haven't seen any of these for years -- my Amazon packages always come with crumpled paper keeping things in place. Now I'm curious; does Amazon use different packaging in different locations? (I'm in BC, Canada.)


Some shipping methods you pay by the ounce, some by the pound. You'll probably see more kraft paper in methods paid by the pound, because the kraft paper is less expensive than the air pillows, and there's more slack to the next increment when paying by the pound. But for shipping methods paid by the ounce, a more expensive air pillow can keep the package from going up to the next ounce. That's one dimension of determining the proper dunnage. The other is, air pillows are more easily popped by heavier items or items with sharper edges (think blister packs), so the extra weight / shipping cost of the kraft paper averages out to be less expensive than the returns for damaged goods.


I've noticed two day airs are using a lot more air cushions in CA, US than standard shipping.


Differences in weight maybe ?


I'm betting this is it. My packages that heavy/dense enough to potentially pop air cushions if dropped seem to all use crumpled paper.


In Los Angeles a large majority of our holiday packages had one or more newer (to me) "bubble wrap" sheets instead of the Sealed Air pouches made from two 15"x15" sheets of a thicker plastic film sealed into 2" spheres (dimensions approximate).


Both in Toronto apparently.


"Something I didn't quite know how to dispose of"

Is it just me or can you not just pop them and throw them in the trash


Because they have a recycling symbol on them, yet most recyclers (inc. mine) specifically say do not recycle thin film (such as these) even if they have a symbol on them, because it gums up their shit.

So, yeah, a bit irksome.


Its not a "recycling symbol" its a Resin Identification Code [1]. I Imagine the confusion is intentional. You can use it to assist with recycling if you know which types of plastics your town can handle and what the numbers correspond to. The mere fact the symbol exists is meaningless as far as recycling goes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resin_identification_code


Agreed; I love recycling but these things account for probably less mass than any single kind of thing in my recycling bin (not the least of which is the damn boxes themselves). Way better than those awful peanuts that would take up a whole garbage bag by themselves.


Just drop them off at the closest grocery store. Anyone who recycles plastic bags will be capable of dealing with these as well.


I loathe styrofoam, it's messy and hard to get rid of. The air bags are a huge improvement. Just stab them with a knife, and they take up no space in the garbage.


OMG this, especially in dry climates. I HATE packing peanuts with a passion.


What's so bad about them specifically in dry climates?


Probably their tendency to stick to anything and everything when static electricity is involved.


Static makes them really sticky.


You see inflatable shipping air pillows, I see a new low cost production and unique marketing/sales method for "canned air": http://mashable.com/2016/05/01/australia-air-can-china/

polluted dystopian future here we come!


Perri-Air


Whether this is actually a progression over B&M stores is a different topic. But the amount of waste (most of these packaging materials are not being properly recycled. I do, but most of my neighbors don't) this $5.6 billion industry produced is astonishing.

It's such a wasteful industry that China Post actually came up with laws and regulations ordering carriers to reduce wastes by simplifying packaging for online ordered goods just starting late 2016[1]

Anecdotally, my friends in China told me that some of their double singles day items came in thin poly packs that without air cushions and most of the electronics are shipped with retail packaging as is and without an outer carton box.

I think U.S. should follow suit.

[1]: http://www.spb.gov.cn/dtxx_15079/201608/t20160812_826406.htm...


My dog loves the air packs, to the point that I can barely get a package in door without him grabbing at it. He'll open the package, pull the air packs out, pop them and walk away. The novelty must be wearing off, as he's been leaving unpopped ones lately.

So, unlike packing peanuts, we get some secondary use out of air packs.


Similar here. I cut a few of them off the chain, and toss them in the air (their low density and a running ceiling fan mean they float down) and the cat attacks them. A few claw & bite punctures later and they're ready for recycling.


Aren't you afraid he'll try to eat them?


He was heavily supervised the first few times, and I keep an eye out still. I'm as worried that he'd eat them as I am that you would, because he pops them for apparently the same reason you do. :-)

(But, yes, of course your dog may vary, and I don't recommend this.)


Polyethylene is inert so I wouldn't worry much.


Inertness is kind of the problem. They can really plug things up.


GI tract blockage is an ugly way to die.


Lucky, my dog loves them so much he gets excited when I receive packages.


I had no idea this is a widespread concern. Over the course of years, I have kept every box and the shipping materials under the presumption that I would reuse it all at some point. Only flaw in my logic is that I order way more stuff than I ship out. This, combined with my laziness, has resulted in a spare room in the house now being known among friends and family as "The Box Room", which was full wall to wall, floor to ceiling with empty boxes and hundreds of those air cushions of varying style and size.


Is there a recycling collection program in your area? eg something that collects cardboard along with household waste

If so, that seems like an easy way to start reducing the box count. :)


Share them with neighbors maybe, should they need to ship something?


> At the time, bubble wrap was invented for use as wallpaper.

How would that work? Nobody wants wallpaper that they have to replace each week because it keeps popping.


http://m.mentalfloss.com/article.php?id=13092

Looks like they tried textured wallpaper and green house insulation before packing. Maybe it was a lot harder to pop in the wallpaper version?


It works surprisingly well as cheap insulation. Put the bubble side to the glass and limit accidental popping. Ideal for garages and sheds!

Even seen it recommended for cheap double glazing for those of limited means or renting.


In most homes here in Japan there's bugger-all insulation and all windows are single-pane, so in winter people put up bubble wrap on windows/balcony doors as insulation.


The original prototypes were made from shower curtains, so much thicker and stronger than what you're used to seeing wrapped around stuff.


> it keeps popping

:)

Yup, it "just popped on its own", I didn't do it. LOL


Amazon does it different in Japan. They put items on a stiff piece of cardboard the same size as the box they will eventually put it in. Then shrink wrap the items and the cardboard. Then they glue / rubber cement the bottom of the cardboard to the shipping box.

It seems like it uses less material but the boxes are designed to be torn open like a FedEx envelope which means they are not reusable which seems wastful


I've gotten Amazon packages like this here in the US, but it's not a frequent occurrence. I prefer this method because aside from the shrink-wrap, everything else is recyclable cardboard.


I don't remember the source, but I remember reading somewhere that using only standardized boxes was an innovation that results in cheaper shipping of the same products than if they were packaged in irregular boxes instead.


Probably the book The Box although that was about shipping in general.


i just stab them with a fork and deflate them here in germany before putting the deflated baggies into the yellow bag, and the box into the paper bag. not sure what's all the fuss is about.

greener planet, happier people everyone wins.

a real issue would be making better use of the space. i once got shipped a 10 liter box that contained a single zippo lighter.


It's puzzling to see people not knowing what to do with what are essentially free plastic bags. You can deflate them and use them like you would any other bag, keep them inflated and continue using them as cushions, etc. It's not like they take much space deflated anyway. Recycling is good, but reuse is even better.


There are machines out there which create custom packaging:

http://boxondemand.com/


Easy solution: require companies that produce waste products to also fashion a waste recovery arm. Force them to build externalities into their business models from the get go. I'm sure they'll figure out the most efficient way to manage it.


Companies have to pre-pay their packaging disposal costs in Germany, either by making things deposit (bottles and some glass jars) or paying the costs outright (which gets them a little recycling symbol). Easy way to see the difference: yoghurt containers - fairly hefty plastic in the USA, almost eggshell-like plastic or deposit glass jars in Germany. Eggs come in cardboard, never styrofoam.

The only common seriously durable, non-deposit packaging around here are glass bottles and metal cans, as both of those things are easy and profitable to sort and recycle.


The article says they are recyclable but most localities don't do them, they have to be taken to the grocery store & deposited with bags.

Why would you target every small business with this expense?


The producer would be the manufacturer; the mandate could either fall directly on the manufacturer, or just require small businesses to arrange with the manufacturer for recycling.


In my scenario, the manufacturer would have to either provide logistics for local disposal (seems ideal to me) or do their own service (that would be rough!).

I imagine a cottage industry of recycle processing middle handlers would eventually lower the friction in this space.


If the mandate fell on the manufacturer, do you think they'd just absorb the cost out of he goodness of their hearts?


No, of course not. That's the entire point. The cost needs to be captured _somewhere_ in the private chain because right now it's just an externality that no public entity wants to deal with or can deal with.


This past summer, I ordered a container of household cleaner (16oz bottle with spray pump) from Amazon. Surprisingly, it arrived with no packaging whatsoever -- the bottle of cleaner was taped to a small piece of cardboard that contained the shipping label.

Not surprisingly, the bottle was empty upon arrival, its contents having leaked out during shipment.

I filed a complaint and they resent the product. The next shipment of the cleaner came wrapped in plastic bags, inside a traditional cardboard box (though no air cushions). I guess Amazon realized their experiment in minimization didn't work out all that well.


As an eBay customer, where the cost is usually a dollar or two cheaper, I find packaging is never a concern because robots aren't packaging my stuff.


I stab them with my keys to let the air out and recycle at the store with other plastic material, since the local waste company doesn't recycle bags or film at all. It seems a shame considering how much plastic ends up in landfills, water ways, the ocean (great garbage patches in the gyres) and basically on every beach in the world. [0,1] Literally, (no pun intended), the oceans need a million or so plastic-skimming aquatic Roombas to undo the anthropogenic-damage just in the oceans.

Btw: I'm wondering if anyone here recycles plastic using a filament maker for a 3d printer, either DIY or commercial, and how well that works.

0. https://news.vice.com/topic/pacific-garbage-patch

1. https://video.vice.com/en_us/video/garbage-island/563b9c912a...


Also, another note:

Waste sorting and recycling regulations need to be continually ratcheted up because a few bins isn't working (ever see the disaster of the composting, recycling and landfill bins at Costco?). Do like Stanford does: have separate bins (up to 5) but also divert more of the waste stream for recyclables, composting, etc. with pre-landfill processing. Left to their own devices, people rarely voluntarily make changes which are vital to more sustainable ecology.

It seems also that at some point in the future, it may become economical to mine landfills for materials when scarcity drives prices high enough.


I don't really care what they use, as long as they use something!

A few months ago they shipped me a camera lens, external hard drive, and some other smaller products in a giant box with no padding whatsoever. The lens and hard drive boxes had plenty of styrofoam, so fortunately nothing was damaged, but I made sure to complain.


I'd assume they knew the lens and hard drive boxes were internally padded. That's still no excuse for a large unpadded box where things can jostle around.


If Amazon made it so that you can drop boxes and packing material off a lockers, I would do it. Definitely a first world problem, but yeah the boxes and packing material backing up my garage is getting out of hand. The materials are in pristine condition and it feels so wasteful to pop/crush them.


Air cushions work well for me. I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old. When any amazon shipment arrives, I distract them with the air-cushions and put away the items delivered. Meanwhile kids jump on and burst the air-cushions, and I am left to deal with the remaining plastic.


> not to mention that stores in the U.S. use some 100 billion plastic bags every year

It is amazing how many people still do not use reusable tote bags.

If your like me and you forget to bring them or put them back into the car one way to remember is to put them on your coat rack or next to your master grocery list (ie a pad of paper you fill out during the week).

Even if I forget the bags I will often buy a new tote bag at the store.... in practice the more bags I have the less I seem to forget them (ie spares in the car).

I'm incredibly lazy so I have to imagine many others can do it.


I'm dubious on the value of reusable tote bags. For one thing, I pretty heavily re-use plastic bags that I get, anyway. I use them to bring my lunch to and from work, I use them as laundry and shoe-bags when traveling (to keep dirty things separate from clean clothes in a single bag), and then I (and everyone I've ever met) use them as trash can liners for small trash cans.

Given the large amount of additional resources it takes to create one of these reusable tote bags, and the fact that you need to wash them occasionally, it's not clear to me that they are a net benefit, even if you always know ahead of time that you are going to the store and always remember to bring them with you.


In my experience a single reusuable tote bag can carry 8x of a typical grocery store plastic bag. We have bags that are 6 years old and probably been used more than 200 times. They are polypropylene bags which apparently are often made from recycled bags anyway.

As for reusing plastic bags I do that as well as inevitable you will pick up some.

As for washing bags I almost never do because almost everything put in the bag is in some other container.

At least you have the option with reusable bags to clean them and thus could pre remove residues and toxins.

With plastic bags you might be exposed to various toxins (albeit probably at low levels). Just pickup and smell new plastic bags if you don't believe me. Ideally you shouldn't smell anything but I almost always do which means something volatile is being released.

The other issue is plastic bags aren't just bad because they take oil and energy to make... they are pretty awful for wild life. I have actually had to help turtles in the Charles River get out of plastic bags.

Apparently poly bags take 11x what it takes to make a single plastic bag [1]. But this again doesn't take into account how much you can overload a reusable bag with out them breaking and previously mentioned points (as well as being far more comfortable to hold on to... I just love how plastic bags cut off blood supply to fingers).

As for paper bags... they rip and suck in the rain.

[1]: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/are-reusable-bags-worse-for...


The issue I think is amazon has boxes in a few standard sizes. As a result for many products, they end up shipping in much larger boxes. I think it is economical to procure large amount of boxes in few standard sizes vs. have small quantities of many different boxes. This does lead to increase wastage though.


> "At the time, bubble wrap was invented for use as wallpaper. That trend never caught on, but the material’s use as protective packaging took off. Before bubble wrap, the most common options for cushioning goods in transit were sawdust, newspaper, and rubberized horsehair."


I once ordered a micro SD card off Amazon.

The box it came in looked like it contained an Xbox: it was huge! Upon opening it and removing all the Air Cushions™, there was a tiny little envelope at the bottom with the microsd inside.

Completely bewildering, albeit amusing.


Can't they just make them out of soy[1] instead of plastic? Then they'll biodegrade.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soybean_car


It's almost 2017, and the fact that this packaging is horribly polluting and absolutely terrible for the environment doesn't seem to be on the minds of most people. That's very disappointing.


How 'bout those little things they put in the middle of pizzas to stop them from getting crushed? Too bad I'm not a journalist, because that would make for an awesome story. /s


Where I live (in Canada) they tend to use balls of dough in the middle of the pizza to get the same effect, instead of the piece of plastic I've seen elsewhere.


Where in Canada? Turns out it's a pretty big country ;-) I grew up in the Vancouver area and never saw dough balls.

[1] comments like this are a bit of a peeve of mine as they contribute to the global mental picture of Canada as one homogeneous biosphere instead of a huge land mass with many different cultures and environments. Ever heard this one - "Oh, you're from Canada? My brother in law is from Canada; Jake Unrau - ever met him?"


I'ved lived in Toronto and Calgary, never seen any balls of dough (visited out East, no balls that I remember). Always those little plastic things or naught.


Apologies, I had meant to include my area in my original post. I'm in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. I've seen this done around Montreal, too.


There actually is a reasonably interesting story about them: http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/2011/4/a-round-p...

And the word you're looking for is "pizza saver".


What's the point of this comment? Packaging/shipping technology is hugely important, because the annual amount of landfill waste involved is staggeringly large. There's also a big economic component to it. And as the article says, this is a $5.6 billion industry in the US alone that is growing larger with every passing year.


A story on shipping as a factor in online sales, walking through the history of shipping strategies and packing techniques would be a super interesting story...

...but this does not (to me) appear to be that story- This seems like a story created by a journalist noticing the air cushions in his amazon package, making two phone calls to pad the story a bit, and then sending it to their editor as a finished work.


The whole premise is a guilt ridden exercise in navel gazing.

We've collectively decided that ordering everything online provides us with time and cost efficiency. Those things aren't free.


Customers could elect to pay more for handling (the H in S&H), or have a pricier tier of Prime that offers eco-friendly biodegradable packaging materials.


We have a really innovative solution to this problem.

There exists places that take bulk case packages of products, place them on shelves and make them available to the public. You give them money, put the items in a paper/plastic/reusable bag and take them home.

They are called stores. Many are located near common places, like intersections or near commercial office areas.


Weird.




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