Advocates with Environment Washington in front of the Amazon spheres
Advocates with Environment Washington in front of the Amazon spheres (Photo courtesy of Environment Washington)

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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