Photos of Amazon bags spotted by Chicagoans around the city. Credit: Provided

UPTOWN — Lauren Ocello was walking her dog recently when she saw a large, rectangular yellow bag made of a soft plastic, about the size of a treasure chest.

It had a QR code, a number and handles on its sides, but it was otherwise unmarked. For several months, Ocello has spotted one of these bags almost every time she walks her dog.

“They’d never be in the same spot,” Ocello said. “I guess it’s one of those wild things in our pandemic world that offers a little bit of a respite for your brain to go on a journey and wonder.”

The bags belong to Amazon. They are used by Amazon drivers — drivers subcontracted for Amazon through its Delivery Service Partner program as well as drivers in the Amazon Flex program who make deliveries with their own cars — to sort and store the hundreds of packages they’re on the hook for delivering each day. 

The ones Ocello has seen are just a few of the bags increasingly found in apartment lobbies or mailrooms, abandoned on sidewalks or left on parkways. The bags have fascinated, confused and sometimes annoyed people throughout the city.

Michelle Nordmeyer sits inside an Amazon bag found at Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Credit: Provided

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment, but drivers who handle the bags spoke to Block Club about how they work.

At the beginning of each shift, drivers scan the color-coded bags, which group packages in the order of their stops for the day, and load them onto an Amazon van or personal car, said Mark Tatum, a driver based in Colorado. 

Drivers are supposed to return the bags and undelivered packages back to the station at the end of their shift, Tatum said. 

But sometimes, the bags aren’t returned. There are several reasons why, but most seem to be left behind accidentally by drivers who are under high pressure to meet delivery quotas, especially during the peak holiday season, according to drivers who spoke to Block Club and posts online. 

“We’re on a very tight schedule: We have to deliver maybe 20-25 stops, which can consist of multiple buildings an hour, and those stops are extremely heavy, so sometimes [Amazon has] instructions for delivering them, but we don’t have enough time to follow those instructions, because you have to go fast, fast, fast,” said a Chicago driver who asked to stay anonymous for fear of retaliation from his employer. 

“Right now, it’s peak season, and it’s very, very busy. Now, I do over 30 [stops] an hour, and some during the night when it’s very hard to see.” 

Some drivers will leave the bags, still full of packages, at apartment buildings and high-rises because it’s “much handier to put all the packages in a bag and carry it into an apartment building” than to deliver all the packages to the appropriate units, one driver said. Drivers who leave the bags will sometimes pick them up later.

Tatum said he and other drivers sometimes collect errant bags they see on their routes.

Other drivers on Reddit, a forum website, said they leave bags when customers have multiple orders, when the packages are heavy or to keep packages dry if the ground is wet.

Amazon can track backs, drivers said — but the company “apparently” isn’t worried about it since so many are not returned.

“Amazon only cares if their package is delivered,” said the Chicago driver. “Amazon could easily track it, but I guess there’s not a lot of complaints.”

Amazon bags in use by volunteers with One Tail at a Time. Credit: Provided

While some Chicagoans leave the bags where they found them, others have decided to put them to use. 

Dan Lastres was a week away from moving to Bronzeville from Logan Square when he found a delivery bag in front of his building. 

“I just figured, ‘Well, that thing has handles on it, it’s really large — we can put a lot of the stuff we don’t have boxes for in there. And it clearly got abandoned because it was sitting out for a couple days,’” he said. “We just grabbed it for the move, and now it’s just sitting in the closet full of empty boxes for the next time we move.”

Darlene Pereda began seeing the bags in Buena Park around May. At first, she was a little annoyed the bags were littering the streets, but after she picked one up and started examining it, she quickly realized they could be pretty useful.

Pereda is a community engagement manager at One Tail at a Time, a nonprofit animal rescue, and helps run its Pet Mutual Aid program, which delivers free pet food and supplies to people and community food pantries. The bags she’s found have been put to use for the program.

“The containers have a ton of handles, so it really helps when we have a bunch of people pick them up and unload them,” Pereda said of the foldable bags. “They’re just very, very helpful, and anytime I do come across one, I drag it home.

“I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m obsessed with them. I am. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, you can do so much with these!’ I have so many ideas.”

It’s not just residents who are finding new uses for the bags. Other delivery drivers have begun snatching them up. 

Carlos, who asked to use only his first name, works at a logistics company and said some drivers at his company will use the Amazon bags they find when their own bins break. 

Johnathan Kaszynski, a UPS driver, said almost all of his co-workers have at least one Amazon bag in their truck.

“I always like to have a couple of those bins on my truck so I can keep all of my undeliverable packages there [and] keep them separate from everything else,” Kaszynski said. “If you have a stop and you have to use your hand cart, and you have a bunch of small packages in there, it can balance on the hand cart really well.”

Kaszynski said fellow drivers will try to bring back as many Amazon bags as they can, which they often find in the mailrooms of high-rise buildings. 

“It’s like Christmas when they show up with a bunch of them,” he said. “They’re hard to come by, and everyone likes to use them.”

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