Compare the eco-impact of different packaging materials using this chart. For perspective: The average U.S. home burns 11,000 kilowatt hours of energy and produces 16,000 pounds of carbon dioxide through electricity use per year.

Material Energy cost to produce $1,000 worth Greenhouse gases produced Amount recovered in 2007 Landfill lifespan Alternatives
Glass containers 6,944 kilowatt hours 3,527 lbs. 28% 1 million years Always recycle glass — otherwise your great- great-great grandkids might find a bottle you threw away.
Plastic containers (#1, #2, #5) 3,889 kilowatt hours 2,425 lbs. 14% 450 years Reduce use of throwaways, and try to buy easily recyclable #1 and #2 plastics.
Plastic bags and film 3,611 kilowatt hours 2,270 lbs. 10% 500-1,000 years Use canvas grocery bags; wrap sandwiches in napkins.
Polystyrene foam peanuts 3,333 kilowatt hours 2,078 lbs. 7% 500 years Cushion fragile shipments with crumpled newspapers or magazines. Drop off excess foam packaging peanuts at your local FedEx or UPS store.
Coated and uncoated paper bags 3,889 kilowatt hours 2,381 lbs. 37% 1 month Switch to reusable canvas bags, and always recycle paper bags.
Coated and laminated paper, including gift wrap, tissue, and butcher paper 3,611 kilowatt hours 2,151 lbs. Negligible 2-5 months Wrap gifts in newspaper comics pages or reusable fabric wraps.
Corrugated cardboard 4,444 kilowatt hours 2,645 lbs. 74% 1-2 months Buy packaging-free products. Reuse cardboard boxes and compost shredded cardboard.
Steel and aluminum cans, boxes, and other containers 4,722 kilowatt hours 3,262 lbs. 54% 200-400 years Fill reusable containers at the bulk bins, and always recycle steel or aluminum containers.

Source: Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA), eiolca.net/copyright/index.html.

7 instant packaging savers

  1. School lunches

    Ditch squishy paper bags in favor of reusable containers (preferably stainless steel, which doesn't leach chemicals and is more durable than plastic). Instead of slipping sandwiches into plastic bags, wrap in cloth napkins and secure with a rubber band.

  2. Gift giving

    Place gifts in a large basket and cover with a decorative, reusable sheet or blanket.

  3. Laundry detergent

    Choose concentrated powdered soaps sold in cardboard boxes, such as the Citrus Laundry Powder line from BioKleen (biokleenhome.com). Recycle the box.

  4. Online purchases

    Buy local when you can, or search craigslist.org for gently used items from sellers closer to where you live. If you must “click-to-buy,” reuse the cardboard box.

  5. Dog waste

    On your next walk, carry compostable BioBags (biobagusa.com), which decompose in one to six weeks. Deposit bags in a backyard container system, such as Doggie Dooley Toilet (doggiedooley.com), or discard with trash or leaf clippings. Don't compost or bury them near vegetable gardens — pet waste can contain harmful pathogens.

  6. Kitchen linens

    Replace paper products with cloth napkins and kitchen towels; they're not only colorful and stylish but will save you money in the long term. Store soiled napkins separate from clothes to avoid stains.

  7. Junk mail

    If you're receiving some of the 100 billion mailings that Americans get every year, de-list your name and address at the Direct Marketing Association website (dmachoice.org/dma/member/regist.action). To stop preapproved credit card offers, call 888.567.8688.

For more waste-reducing ideas, go to deliciouslivingmag.com and type recycling into the search box.