The digital age has unleashed a torrent of cardboard boxes bound for homes as shoppers have everything from diapers to dinner ingredients shipped to their doorsteps. Boxes are piling up in basements and garages, filling apartment building mailrooms and spilling out of overstuffed recycling bins. And they just keep coming – sometimes several a day.

Nationwide, the United States Postal Service’s package deliveries are up 65% since 2009. The onslaught of boxes is changing recycling and traffic patterns, inspiring thieves and even forcing changes in building design. That means new apartment buildings need parcel storage areas, recycling chutes and reconfigured mail rooms or high-tech electronic lockers, which send residents access codes to retrieve their packages, said architect Neil Reardon of UrbanWorks. The lockers take some strain off property managers, who are grappling with how to recoup the costs of the new service. At single-family homes, some large curbside recycling bins just aren’t enough to keep up with the flow.

Despite the influx of boxes heading to houses, box shipments nationally have remained relatively steady due to an accompanying drop-off in shipments to traditional retailers, said Rachel Kenyon, vice president of the Fibre Box Association, a trade group. With boxes going directly to consumers, companies increasingly want their products to stand out from the pile, said Neal Mintz of Minneapolis box manufacturer Cedar Box Company. A client who ships car seat covers, for example, recently asked for a blaze-orange box. Twenty years ago, a brown box would do just fine.

All those boxes sitting on doorsteps have proved tempting for thieves, too. Sgt Jim Gray of the St. Paul Police Department said package thefts used to occur primarily around Christmas. Now they happen all year round, he said, estimating there were about 100 in his western St. Paul district last year.

Some wonder about the environmental impact of the growing piles of boxes. Amazon says it developed software seven years ago that chooses the right box based on an item’s size and weight. The company’s boxes can also be used to ship unwanted items to Goodwill for free under the Give Back Box programme. Eureka Recycling, which handles recycling for Minneapolis and St. Paul residents, churned through more cardboard during a post-holiday bump this January than any other paper product – such as newspaper – for the first time in its processing facility’s 13-year history. The amount of cardboard recycled across the Twin Cities metro area jumped nearly 40% between 2005 and 2015, according to state data. Research into the environmental footprint of e-commerce vs traditional retail has been inconclusive. Lynn Hoffman of Eureka Recycling said such analyses depend heavily on what’s being ordered, where it comes from and what alternatives were available locally.

Source: The Star