Listen. I’m going to be real here: not all of us are living Pinterest-worthy zero waste lives here. And not all of us have the ability to source local, high-quality zero waste goods – basically, all of us outside of a select few major metropolitan areas.

And while the internet and ethical online shopping has really leveled the playing field, we also can’t all afford to always support brands with high price points. (Trust me – I get it. I started my zero waste journey almost qualifying for food stamps in a food desert without a car so zero waste on a budget is near and dear.)

So what happens when you’re ready to replace an old, used item with a zero waste counterpart? What do these factors lead to? Amazon.

Yeah, I don’t love the online behemoth any more than you. I try to refuse items I want but don’t need, and when I really need something I try to go local as often as possible – or at least not from Amazon. Still, there is a good point that – despite Amazon’s immensely problematic workings – that calling for an all-out boycott of Amazon is a function of privilege.

Those of us who don’t need Amazon should do well to avoid it. Still, when I do, I try to follow these 5 tips for the best way to get (near) zero waste orders from Amazon.

1. E-mail customer service

Start with shooting Customer Service an email (cs-reply@amazon.com). Ask them to make a note in your account to avoid plastic packaging or avoid extra packaging when possible. (No, there’s not a way to do this manually.) They’ll make a note to avoid plastic on your account, but it’s up to the distributors whether they do it or not. Definitely not a guaranteed method, but worth a try.

Something like:

Hello, I have an Amazon account associated with this address. I’d like to request that in the future my packaged as minimally as possible. This means opting out of bubble wrap, plastic pillows. or any other additional plastic packaging that can be avoided. Thank you!

My success rate isn’t 100% with this, but I’d guess 3 out of my last 5 packages have been packaged without plastic.

2. Search through Frustration-Free Packaging

Next, be sure to check out Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging service. The program sends your item without – essentially – a box around a box. The box is recyclable and comes without excess packaging materials. Not every item on Amazon is available in the frustration-free packaging service (there are over 300,000 items), but it’s definitely a start.

3. Shop Amazon Warehouse

While you’re likely to still face packaging issues, Amazon Warehouse Deals make me feel a little bit better about using the company. If you don’t know, Amazon Warehouse offers deep discounts on used products which means, although you’re supporting Amazon, you’re buying second hand.

The warehouse displays the item’s condition in the price box – the real story of the item is hard to ascertain until it actually arrives. I’ve gotten a table with “major cosmetic flaws” that just had an inch-long scratch in it, but an “acceptable” clothing rack with pieces missing.

Amazon Warehouse is a bit of a crapshoot, but you can recover items others have returned as well as saving yourself a decent chunk of change.

Tips on getting near-zero waste orders from Amazon - Green Indy Blog

4. Say no to 2-day shipping

Finally, if you’re ordering multiple items, be sure to request that they be sent together. Sure, it might take a few days longer to get your items, but you’ll get far less cardboard/plastic packaging with one bulk delivery. As I talked about in the post about online vs. local shopping:

When you ask for items to be delivered quickly, the online distributor loses the ability to consolidate deliveries. Rather than sorting items into trucks in the cheapest way, the company now has to focus on the fastest way. That means more trucks running on the roads or worse – air delivery. Airplanes emit far more carbon than other modes of transportation, so ultra-fast shipping guarantees you’re shooting more carbon directly into the sky.

PS. If you don’t want to recycle or reuse the cardboard box it comes in, consider using the Amazon Give-Back Program.

5. If you still got plastic packaging…

Zero waste orders from Amazon are kind of like unicorns… someone’s seen them (if you don’t count recyclable items) but the rest of the world has some serious doubts. So don’t be worried if you did end up with some non-recyclable items.

You can drop off bubble wrap to be recycled at a number of locations such as Target, Walmart, Lowes, etc. – find the closest drop off to you here. Those air-filled plastic pillows can be dropped off at any location that collects low and high density polyethylene films (AKA plastic bags).

Additionally, many UPS stores accept clean, foam packaging peanuts and bubble cushioning for reuse.

Zero waste item recs from Amazon

Since we’re talking about Amazon, I’ll leave some of my favorite product recommendations here if you’d like to check them out. As always, look for a local alternative first, but if you’re in a bind these products can be a great help to your zero waste journey!

Also consider using Amazon’s digital resources to read zero waste books that aren’t available in your local library.

Zero Waste Amazon Orders

For the kitchen

  • Cloth produce bags: perfect for replacing the plastic bags offered in grocery stores. Because not all of us have sewing talent that can ensure things that we make won’t fall apart.
  • Bamboo dish scrubber: because they’ll last longer than a traditional sponge and are 100% compostable once you’re done with them.
  • Stainless steel straws: because even if you didn’t usually use straws before, stainless steel straws are a staple for any zero waster (kidding… kind of).
  • Stainless steel tiffin: because it’s lighter/tougher than glass and more durable than plastic containers. Perfect if you’re moving all day or often get take-out.

For the bathroom

  • Stainless steel safety razor: because disposable razors are a huge waste and super sleek blades give you an even better shave. Don’t be afraid – they’re really not that scary!
  • Bamboo toothbrushes: because toothbrushes make up a huge part of our landfills and these can be composted once you’re done (except the bristles).
  • Bulk castile soap: because not all of us have refillable soap options around us and castile soap can be used for 1,001 purposes.
  • Fig + Yarrow tooth powder: if you don’t care to make it yourself, try this mild tooth powder in a cute, reusable glass container.

For the bedroom

  • Linen sheets: because I ordered some linen sheets last summer and my bed has never felt fancier. Plus, they just get better with age.
  • Hollander pillows: because this company not only makes comfortable pillows, but even their about us section talks about the company’s move toward 100% zero waste!

Do you have any other tips/tricks for getting (near) zero waste orders from Amazon? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

How to get near-zero waste orders from Amazon - Green Indy Blog
Tips on getting near-zero waste orders from Amazon - Green Indy Blog

Polly

An online resource here to help you break down the complex issue of zero waste into simple, actionable steps.

25 Comments

Emily Creppell · June 10, 2017 at 12:00 am

This was very helpful!!! Thanks for posting.

    Polly · June 10, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Emily!

Meagan · June 13, 2017 at 11:51 pm

This was such a helpful post. Like you, I often struggle with the slow and steady transition of being more zero-waste. I also relate to ordering on Amazon, which I do often due to the amazing deals you can find for certain things. I did not know about the frustration-free packaging so I am super excited to use that next time!

    Polly · June 14, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Good luck with frustration free packaging – I hope you can find something you like!

Tegan Feudale · July 14, 2017 at 12:47 pm

This is so helpful, I’ve actual bought some of my zero waste replacements for things from Amazon and am frustrated by the packaging! How do you choose to get the frustration free packaging when you order?

    Polly · July 14, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    You need to search specifically through the frustration free packaging site here: http://amzn.to/2sxQDuL

    Options are limited but you might find something!

      Tegan Feudale · July 14, 2017 at 1:13 pm

      Ah! I though I was just missing something. Thank you!

Sherry · August 19, 2017 at 1:53 am

Thanks for this. You did a great job showing ways to minimize waste when shopping Amazon. But still, I won’t shop Amazon for many reasons other than excess packaging.

    Polly · August 19, 2017 at 8:25 am

    Definitely agree that Amazon is pretty much the absolute last choice for me (beyond waste issues), but I’ve lived places where it’s one of the most convenient – if not only – options for getting things. Luckily, many have better options!

Gail · October 7, 2017 at 5:24 pm

my local postal (not a US postoffice) will also take boxes and bubble wrap parts to recycle.

    Polly · October 11, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Oh, that’s amazing! I don’t think most post offices in the States do that, so that’s amazing!

Emma Frame · November 20, 2017 at 2:39 am

You can also use Amazon’s “Give Back Box” option, which allows you to put usable clothes and household items in your used Amazon box, print a shipping label, drop it at your local shipping center, and it will be delivered free of charge to you to your nearest participating charitable organization. This doesn’t solve the bubble wrap issue but extends the life of the box and can help cycle some of your unwanted stuff. https://www.amazon.com/p/feature/xde6cauvpfp66o2

    Polly · November 20, 2017 at 9:05 am

    This is very interesting, although I wonder at the efficiency of transport/reusing a box vs. you just dropping off donations yourself during errands? Interesting concept, though, I’ll have to look more into it. Thanks for the link.

Doug · December 8, 2017 at 6:31 am

Thanks for sharing all of the potential ways to minimize our footprint. At this time of year, we generally reuse Amazon’s boxes and air pillows to ship gifts to our families. I sometimes wonder which is worse, getting in my car to drive 30 minutes to go shopping and contributing to polluting our air and adding to the congestion on our roads (as well as the time spent shopping and traveling) or sitting at home and ordering from Amazon and having to deal with the packaging and then using the time savings on something meaningful. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on that.

    Polly · December 18, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    They have done studies on that and I actually have a post going up next week about when it makes sense to order online vs. buying in-store! It’s super fascinating to read about it!

Mora · December 26, 2017 at 10:32 pm

Thanks, this is a really helpful post! I’m trying to move towards zero-waste but it is hard to avoid Amazon entirely, and I hate how much plastic packaging they use. Just emailed them to request a no plastic packaging note on my account 🙂 Also really interested to read your post about buying online vs. instore!

Jen · February 7, 2018 at 5:32 pm

I also use the boxes to fill up with donations. The Give Back Box program has helped us donate many unwanted items to those who may want them. So I end up with nothing except the items I ordered when I am done.

Megan · February 21, 2018 at 7:24 am

Just coming across this now and about to email customer service so the note is ready on my account for my next order.

I also went deep into settings within the app version and found a place where you can comment on and and photos for “packaging feedback” on orders you’ve placed in the last 60 days. Kind of cool!

Thanks for sharing

    Polly · February 23, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    I’m curious as to how many sellers would respond to the packaging feedback but that’s a great find. Thanks for letting me know!

Kristie · August 28, 2018 at 2:53 am

This is great advice. Thank you!

    Polly · August 28, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Kristie!

Eszter · September 6, 2018 at 10:48 am

Hi, I’ve recently discovered your blog. I’ve surprised this information about Amazon, that sounds really great… however, I recommend to all read about Amazon’s worker conditions…. they are not so happy and indeed they can’t afford the so called and chick “slow lifestyle”. Theis conditions are so hard like these fast fashion brands’ warehouse workers… definitely I am not sure we need to do shopping in Amazon in order to achieve our zero waste goals… so we should support local businesses, not the “big guys”.

    Polly · September 6, 2018 at 11:51 am

    To suggest I don’t know about the conditions behind Amazon is interesting – I am aware, as are most people. I certainly don’t need it myself anymore. That being said, it might be helpful to check out the article I linked and see that it is – unfortunately – sometimes the only option for people: https://marywinter.com/amazon-rank-stripping-why-asking-me-to-boycott-reveals-your-privilege/

    My brand of zero waste is meant to be as accessible as possible; unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to source local or more expensively-made sustainable products all the time and I want to meet people where they’re at.

Tiffanie Hess · September 7, 2018 at 5:43 am

I tried emailing Amazon and it worked!! Here was my response!

Hello,

Greetings from Amazon!!

We truly appreciate the time you’ve taken to send your feedback.

I’ve immediately passed your feedback along with your comments to our concerned teams; customer feedback like yours is essential in helping us determine what our customers want most.

Please be assured in future your products will be packaged as minimally as possible.

Thank you for taking time to offer your suggestions. We’re continually working to improve and your comments are important to us.

It is our privilege to have you as our valued customer & would like to thank you for your continued support.

We look forward to a very warm and fruitful association with you.

We’d appreciate your feedback. Please use the buttons below to vote about your experience today.

Best regards,
Rashmi D
Amazon.com

This is awesome! Thanks so much for the tips!

Are you joining Plastic Free July? - GREEN INDY · June 29, 2017 at 3:57 pm

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