Tutorial: How To Find Shipping Supplies in Your Recycle Bin

>> Saturday, July 17

My surprise and delight upon discovering how to find shipping supplies in my recycle bin

If you're like me and sell most of your art online, shipping and all the drama and costs that go with it are a big deal to you. When I first started my business one of the biggest kick in the pants was the cost of packaging supplies. Just protecting an item in a poly bag or bubble wrapper and sticking it into a nondescript mailer can run me a dollar or more a shipment. Ikes! And when the items you sell have profit margins in the one- or two-dollar range, this can break your bank.

My husband and I go through a lot of "boxed" food. You know, foods like crackers, cereal, icecream cones, pop-tarts, wrapped in a plastic bag and tucked into a colorful cardboard box. Once a week I haul a whole grocery bag full of these broken down boxes to the blue recycling box on the curb.

As I pondered these two scenarios, I had a thought. Why not recycle them into boxes to mail out my stuff? Though some of the boxes are torn, damp or have a food smell residue, most do not. Most are perfectly clean, neutrally-odored, pre-cut, pre-folded cardboard just begging to be made into a new box for my mailings.

So I began to experiment. And it worked! Here's how I did it:

How To Find Shipping Supplies in Your Recycle Bin

You will need:

  • cardboard boxes from your recycling bin
  • tape
  • elbow grease

  • 1. Examine your box for three criteria:
    Is it CLEAN?
    There should be no stains, no sticky, no greese, no crumbs, no ick, no nothing. If there is even a small bit of something, toss it back into the recycling bin.

    Is it TORN? 
    Tiny tears are OK. Those can be taped over. But if it's anything larger than an inch, or if it is along a seam or fold, forget it. Toss your box back into the recycling bin.

    Does it SMELL?
    OK, so it looks clean, feels clean, isn't torn up, but does it smell? Even if it's a nice smell, like cookies, toss it. You don't want any odors getting into your mailing. Not only can that compromise your product, it's just plain gross for the customer to experience on the other end. Place your nose directly on the cardboard and inhale deeply. You should smell only the faint odor of cardboard. If you smell anything else, no matter if it is a pleasant smell, toss it.

    2. So by now you hopefully have a few boxes left that have passed the above criteria. Take your first box and flip it so that you can see either the top or bottom of the box.

    3. Gently worm your finger under the flap and push until about 1/2 inch (1cm) comes away from the box. Continue to gently but firmly slide your finger under the flap until the whole flap comes loose.

    4. Do this with the other flap until all four flaps are open, like this:

    5. Now comes a somewhat tricky part. Peer into the box and find the corner that has the flap overlap. You can see this overlap in this picture:

    6. Once again tuck your finger in between the flaps and gently pry the two flaps apart.

    7. Now you should have a completely flat piece of cardboard, which you now want to examine again with the three criteria from the first step. If it passes inspection, look for extra bits of cardboard and glue and peel them off.



    8. Now fold every crease backwards--you are going to turn this box inside out eventually and this pre-folding will help the next steps go much more smoothly.

    9. Find the tiny flap from step 5 again. Fold it backwards.

    10. Now line the tiny flap with tape so that the sticky side of the tape faces the colored side of the box.

    11. Fold the box backwards so that it becomes a box again, but this time with the colored side and tiny flap inside. Tape the tiny flap to the inside of the new box.

    12. Tape up the outside of the tiny flap seam. Now you have the beginnings of your new box!

    13. Flip the box onto its side vertically. Push down the two side flaps.

    14. Now tuck in the two larger flaps just as if you were sealing up the box after pulling out an icecream cone.

    15. Tape it shut.

    16. Once you've placed your items to be shipped inside the box, do the same with the other end. The cardboard is light enough that you can write both addresses with a black permanent marker, no problem.

    17. And there you have it! Your completed box.

    Something to keep in mind

    These boxes were designed by their manufacturers to hold a certain volume and weight. These boxes are strongest when full (no big empty spaces inside) and when the item(s) weigh about what the original food weighed. So if it was a 32oz box of cereal, make sure your package does not weight much more than 2lbs and that the contents do not shift around. (Bubble wrap is great for preventing this.)

    Some outtakes for your amusement. :)

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    Emily & Caleb

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