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Amazon’s Plastic Problem

By January 4, 2021No Comments

The world’s largest online retailer comes under fire for their plastic packaging practices, but the report by Oceana fails to recognize the benefits of recycled plastic. Should that be part of their strategy too?

You may feel a jolt of delight every time a parcel is left on your doorstep, but did you know that last year a delivery van’s worth of plastic packaging from Amazon was released into our oceans and rivers every 70 minutes?

This was the verdict of a new study published by Oceana, who analysed Amazon’s e-commerce packaging market data, combined with another scientific study. The report is calling on Amazon to reduce its plastic footprint and be fully transparent about its environmental impact.  

Many corporations are becoming more transparent about their plastic packaging goals, some of whom have made a commitment to the New Plastics Economy. We recently provided an update on how companies are shaping up to meet their 2025 plastic packaging targets, based on their annual Global Commitment Progress Report. Yet Amazon is currently not a signatory.

Amazon’s plastic packaging

In 2019 Amazon generated an estimated total of 465 million pounds of plastic packaging – 22.44 million pounds of which, ended up in our marine ecosystems. However, this number is expected to be much higher in 2020, as we’ve seen a substantial increase in home deliveries due to the pandemic. Amazon has openly challenged these numbers, claiming that they generate only one fourth the amount.

Nevertheless, the report puts considerable pressure on Amazon to review its plastic packaging practices. The main issue being that Amazon primarily uses plastic packaging materials which are of low value. 

Low value plastics and their recyclability

The problem with low value, primarily single-use, plastics, such as bubble wrap, inflatable pillows and other types of plastic film, is that they are difficult to recycle – and hence not a cost-effective option for recyclers. Thus, many of these types of plastics end up in landfill or in our oceans.

In theory, all plastic packaging is ‘recyclable’, but whether the packaging is actually recycled depends on whether the consumer disposes of it properly as well as whether the plastic material is accepted into local recycling streams. Hence, claims about recyclability are not always entirely accurate. But, what does ‘recyclable’ and ‘recycled’ really mean?

Recycled Plastic and Ocean Plastic Prevention

Although Amazon has taken steps to reduce their carbon emissions by prioritising lighter weight plastics, the report denounces Amazon for ignoring the environmental impact of plastic waste. They also ignore that the fact that virgin plastics are made from fossil fuels.

Yet the report fails to account for any of the benefits of using recycled plastic – which we think is a missed opportunity.

In one of our articles about plastic and carbon emissions, we demonstrated how paper, glass and aluminium can have a more damaging effect on the environment, and that recycled plastic emits less carbon emissions than new virgin plastic – up to 5 times less!

If according to Oceana’s poll, 86% of Amazon customers are concerned about plastic pollution and 87% think that Amazon and other retailers should do something about their plastic packaging, then using recycled plastic content, such as Prevented Ocean Plastic™ could be an essential part of that strategy.

Where plastic packaging is unnecessary, we should reduce it. Where it is needed, we should use Prevented Ocean Plastic™.