Online ordering causing cardboard pile-ups around Anchorage

Cardboard piled at the Anchorage Recycling Center on Friday, Jan. 22. (Kavitha George/Alaska Public Media)

Cardboard is piling up at the Anchorage Recycling Center and at drop-off points around the city. Recycling coordinator Suzanna Caldwell said an uptick in cardboard recycling happens every year after the holidays, but the pandemic is also to blame as more people order products online. 

Nationwide, e-commerce sales increased about 5 percent during the pandemic, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. The Wall Street Journal reported residential recycling jumped 7 percent in 2020, and the cardboard box industry is booming.

“People are staying home, and they’re ordering things and a majority of that stuff, it ends up coming in cardboard boxes. And so, you know, there are times where some of the collection points that we have, are getting overwhelmed with the material,” Caldwell said.

Large TV and electronics boxes leftover from Christmas are also common this time of year.

How can you help? Break down those boxes before you put them in the recycling bin.  

“Break down your boxes. It really is crucial, in order to make sure that we’re able to recycle as much as possible,” Caldwell said. Otherwise, “you’re just sticking air into these containers, which is not efficient in terms of trying to transport the material around.”

The city is still collecting curbside recycling as usual. Cardboard overflows tend to happen at collection points around the city, but Caldwell said they’ve remained infrequent and clear up within a day or so.