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 (email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Check out this post or a full list of zero waste swaps by section.