NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, May 20th, 2023

Amazon has a big opportunity to be a leader in plastic packaging reduction

I do my best to avoid using sin­gle-use plas­tic: I bring my own tote bags to the gro­cery store and drink from reusable water bot­tles and cof­fee mugs.

I’ve stopped using film wrap in favor of reusable, beeswax-cov­ered fab­ric and reuse old yogurt con­tain­ers to store food.

But giv­en the ubiq­ui­ty of plas­tic in our soci­ety, it is near­ly impos­si­ble to avoid sin­gle-use plas­tic alto­geth­er. When I order any­thing online, more times than not, I am con­front­ed with a pile of plas­tic pack­ag­ing that I often can’t even recycle.

Plas­tic pack­ag­ing, includ­ing ship­ping envelopes, bub­ble wrap and foam, becomes waste as soon as some­one opens a pack­age. It lit­ters our com­mu­ni­ties and harms wildlife. Flex­i­ble plas­tic, includ­ing film, gro­cery bags and pack­ag­ing, can block ani­mals’ diges­tive tracts and was found respon­si­ble for the largest pro­por­tion of deaths of marine wildlife, com­pared to oth­er types of plastic.

A recent report from Oceana esti­mates that Ama­zon gen­er­at­ed 709 mil­lion pounds of plas­tic waste in 2021, includ­ing waste gen­er­at­ed by third-par­ties who sell their prod­ucts on Ama­zon. This is an increase of 18% from 2020.

With online shop­ping on the rise, this prob­lem is only get­ting worse: the quan­ti­ty of pack­ages sent glob­al­ly is pro­ject­ed to hit 205 mil­lion by 2024, near­ly dou­bling the amount of pack­ages sent in 2019.

We need com­pa­nies to stem the ris­ing tide of plas­tic waste.

As the world’s largest retail­er out­side of Chi­na, Ama­zon has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be a leader in reduc­ing sin­gle-use plas­tic in its operations.

In some places, Ama­zon is step­ping up to help keep this waste from over­whelm­ing the plan­et. Near­ly three years ago, Ama­zon announced that it had elim­i­nat­ed all sin­gle-use plas­tic in pack­ag­ing com­ing from ful­fill­ment cen­ters in India.

In 2022, Ama­zon stopped pack­ing prod­ucts in sin­gle-use plas­tic deliv­ery bags shipped from their Euro­pean ful­fill­ment cen­ters, and stopped using plas­tic air pil­lows in Europe and Aus­tralia. Yet, Ama­zon has not made sim­i­lar com­mit­ments in the Unit­ed States, its largest market.

In North Amer­i­ca, while Ama­zon has intro­duced a paper-padded mail­er which is recy­clable in most curb­side pro­grams, many ship­ments are still deliv­ered in Amazon’s plas­tic bub­ble-lined mail­ers, which are not recy­clable in most curb­side pro­grams. Even when you drop off Ama­zon pack­ag­ing at des­ig­nat­ed store drop-off facil­i­ties, there’s no guar­an­tee it will be recycled.

Want­i­ng to test the reli­a­bil­i­ty of these recy­cling pro­grams, vol­un­teers with the Stu­dent PIRGs put a track­ing device in 14 Ama­zon plas­tic mail­ing envelopes, air pil­lows or gro­cery bags. Then, the stu­dents put each of them in a dif­fer­ent store drop-off, recy­cling take-back bin in five stores across California.

They found that 9 of the 14 plas­tic mail­ing envelopes or gro­cery bags end­ed up in land­fills. The rest went to out-of-state or out-of-coun­try recy­cling centers.

This exper­i­ment, while small-scale, rein­forces the idea that we can’t recy­cle our way out of our plas­tic prob­lem: We must reduce the amount of plas­tic we’re using in the first place.

An Ama­zon share­hold­er res­o­lu­tion, which is expect­ed to be vot­ed on at Amazon’s annu­al meet­ing on May 24th, would require the com­pa­ny to report how much plas­tic pack­ag­ing it uses and out­line a plan for how to reduce that amount. Share­hold­ers ini­tial­ly vot­ed on this res­o­lu­tion, filed by the non­prof­it group As You Sow, in 2021. At that time, it only got 35.5% of the vote, but when it appeared on the bal­lot again last year, 48.9% of Ama­zon share­hold­ers vot­ed in favor..

Ama­zon share­hold­ers aren’t the only peo­ple who think that Ama­zon should cut down on plas­tic. Envi­ron­ment Amer­i­ca, U.S. PIRG, Envi­ron­men­tal Action, Oceana, and have col­lect­ed near­ly a mil­lion sig­na­tures on peti­tions call­ing on Ama­zon to change its ways. Specif­i­cal­ly, the peti­tions ask Ama­zon to elim­i­nate plas­tic from its U.S. ship­ments, report on and reduce its plas­tic pack­ag­ing foot­print, and give con­sumers plas­tic-free choic­es for packaging.

Ama­zon ought to heed these calls to reduce plas­tic pack­ag­ing in all of its oper­a­tions and adopt the pro­posed share­hold­er resolution.

This would be the surest way to elim­i­nate unnec­es­sary plas­tic waste and extend its com­mit­ment to pro­tect the planet.

About the author

As an advo­cate with Envi­ron­ment Wash­ing­ton, Pam Clough devel­ops and runs cam­paigns to pro­tect Washington’s envi­ron­ment. Pam has worked on issues rang­ing from wildlife restora­tion, clean ener­gy and cli­mate solu­tions, plas­tic pol­lu­tion, and clean water. Pam’s orga­niz­ing has helped reduce kid’s expo­sure to lead in drink­ing water in Wash­ing­ton pub­lic schools, ban poly­styrene foam pack­ag­ing peanuts and food con­tain­ers statewide, and win advances in clean build­ing ener­gy stan­dards to advance cli­mate solu­tions. Pam lives in Steila­coom, Wash­ing­ton, where she enjoys recre­at­ing on Puget Sound, ski­ing and hik­ing all year, and gardening.

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