So. Many. Air. Pillows.

When you shop at online retailers, they carefully pack your product… with an added bonus of…air and plastics! Air cushion pillows, like bubble wraps, are quite an invention, dating all the way back to the 1950s.

While most of them are labeled with the Resin Identification Code (recycling symbol) of #4 LDPE, sometimes you find them made of #2 HDPE (same material as the typical grocery store bags). Unfortunately, not many municipal recycling centers can take your air pillows because they are too thin and stretchy. (more on this topic in another post!)

During this stay-at-home summer, we all have ramped up our online purchases. It has become my family’s routine to open the box, count how many air pillows are inside, and pop them with a pencil. It’s always fun!

One exaggerated example of a box content is seen above, where 39 continuous air pillows protect one merchandise. This seems unreal, but you know this has occurred to you too.

There seems to be a valid reason for this phenomenon. Online retailers optimize to fill the entire bed space of the trucks leaving their warehouse and can do so by using consistent sized boxes.

I’ve had a summer job at a Japanese courier giant Yamato Transport, and can personally attest that loading a cage or truck with differently sized and shaped packages leads to inefficient and unsafe loading. By sticking your product in one of their approved size boxes, along with air cushions inside, they ensure that your product arrives safely.

Can we get less air pillows, though?




“Refuse” and “Reduce” are at the top of the hierarchy in the well-known “3Rs/5Rs/7Rs of Waste Management”. We could essentially “refuse” to get air cushions by shopping locally. Even if we have to continue to rely on online shopping during this pandemic, we can simply “reduce” the number of air pillows that our favorite online retailers will need in your boxes:

  • Avoid “buy now” and equivalent options
  • Wait until your virtual shopping cart with full to check out and ship
  • Consider the “consolidation of products before shipment” option

Our Ray’cycle Challenge Program will gladly take your air pillows. Don’t forget to pop them before storing. Thank you!

From Inception to Launch

In this inaugural blog post for the team, I hope to tell a story of how our project came about.

On March 10, 2020, The University decided to switch to remote operation of the remainder of the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was just around the time that our Laboratory for Advanced Manufacturing of Polymeric Systems (LAMPS) researchers were just about to start doing hands-on polymer research. All quarantined at home, we decided to pivot to a completely new team project that has almost nothing to do with our individual research work.

Our core team consists of nine dedicated chemical engineering students, sophomores to seniors, volunteering their time across the globe from as far away as Hangzhou. We adopted an agile project development style and brainstormed ways to make a difference to society and the environment, all while bringing our Bucknell community together. And after a few weeks of deliberation and one catchy title, Ray’cycle Quarantine Challenge was born.

With gratitude to all those who provided input (current students, faculty, and alumni on panel reviews; the Director of Campus Sustainability, Sustainability Affinity House and Bucknell Center for Sustainability and the Environment for insightful discussions), and an established partnership with the Bucknell Environmental Club, we have officially launched the Ray’cycle Challenge on June 17, 2020. This puts us exactly at a 2 month period for the first Challenge, as the University announced an August 17 start date.

We are very excited!! A big thank you to those who are participating in our Challenge. We hope to deliver an interesting product soon!!