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Recycle centers overwhelmed with boxes after online holiday shopping season

Boxes overwhelm recycle centers
Recycle centers overwhelmed with boxes post-holiday shopping 03:14

Companies that recycle cardboard boxes are overwhelmed after record holiday shopping online. The U.S. Postal Service estimated it would deliver 10 percent more packages in 2017 than the year before. Amazon, the leader in online shopping, said it shipped more than five billion items for Prime members in 2017. All of that cardboard is a huge recycling challenge.

One after another, a train of trucks unloads at the Burbank Recycle Center near Los Angeles. Natasha Gagarin emptied an SUV packed with empty boxes -- "well over 200," she estimated.

As a mom of four, this holiday season was all about convenience.

"Did you do a lot of your ordering online this year?" CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas asked.

"All on Amazon," Gagarin said.

Natasha Gagarin empties her SUV packed with empty boxes from holiday shopping.  CBS News

In the U.S. alone, Amazon used 6,000 trucks and 32 planes to get packages to its Prime members last year.

Kreigh Hampel is the recycling coordinator for the city of Burbank. He said he's "absolutely" seen an increase in the amount of cardboard.

"It's a tsunami of cardboard ... Everything goes up by five to 10 percent during the holidays," Hampel said.

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That's a concern for Hampel because the recycling process is so complex. The boxes are sorted and bundled, then he said they're loaded into containers and shipped across the pacific to China. There the boxes are soaked in water, stripped of staples, and reborn as boxes.

"There might be a 12,000-mile loop in a lot of the packaging that we buy and send back for recycling," Hampel said.

But Amazon said they've put a new focus on sustainable packaging, moving over a hundred million shipments from boxes to padded mailers in 2017.

"We make this kind of packaging easy to open, minimal waste, and 100 percent recyclable. As a result, to date, we've eliminated 181,000 tons of waste," said Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability at Amazon, in a video.

But centers like these are still overwhelmed after the holidays, as many shoppers seem to prefer buying online in December and recycling their boxes in January.

"So you don't think, maybe I'll got to the mall and not have to deal with this trip?" Yuccas asked Gagarin.

"Never ever ever ever. Just this trip compared to the hours at the mall -- the people, the parking, you can't find it, and waiting in lines at the cash registers and people that are just rude and ugly -- I wouldn't trade it for the world," she responded.

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