Amazon Is Ditching Plastic Packaging Abroad—but Using Even More in the U.S.

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In response to growing pressure to tackle plastic pollution, Amazon has been reducing plastics. Last July, the company said it had used it 11.6 percent less plastic for all its shipments around the world in 2022, compared to 2021. Amazon’s biggest reductions occurred in countries that have implemented – or threatened to implement – restrictions on certain types of plastic packaging. But the company’s progress may not continue in the US, which has not regulated plastic production at the federal level.

Amazon will generate 208 million pounds of plastic waste in the United States in 2022, about 10 percent more than last year, according to a new report from the non-profit organization Oceana. This packaging includes Amazon’s blue and white mailers, as well as other bags, wallets, and plastic bags. If they were all turned into plastic airbags and settled on end, Oceana estimates that the Earth would rotate more than 200 times.

“The problem is so serious that we need to change now,” said Dana Miller, Oceana’s chief strategic officer and author of the report.

Miller and his co-authors are calling on Amazon to end its use of plastics in the US, citing the company’s exit from major foreign markets as evidence that the change is possible. Amazon has done “impressive things in Europe and India, but in the US they are not making the same commitment,” Miller added. “The company has made great progress, but it is not enough.”

To calculate the amount of plastic used by Amazon in the US, Oceana used a market study of the amount of plastic used in 2022 by American e-commerce companies – more than 800 million pounds – and multiplied by Amazon’s share of the market, 30.5 percent. Oceana then made some changes to reflect Amazon’s public commitment to reduce plastic use. For example, in 2022, Amazon changed 99 percent of its combined paper mail and deliver 12 percent of its total US mail in 2022 without increasing its package.

Its estimated weight, 208 million pounds, is about 11 times the weight of Seattle’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle.

This is a concern because the type of plastic used in Amazon – known as “film” – is not recycled. Information is sent to landfills or heating systems, or disposed of in the environment. According to one 2020 scholarship, plastic film is one of the most common types of marine plastic debris near beaches, where it kills more marine animals than any other type of plastic. Oceana estimates that 22 million pounds of the Amazon’s global plastic waste generated in 2022 could end up in the ocean.

Plastic manufacturing brings additional concerns. The removal of fossil fuels used to make plastics, including the conversion of fossil fuels into plastic products, releases carbon and air, water, and land pollution that it affects low-income people disproportionately and communities of color.

Miller said he wants Amazon to cut back on plastics “out of responsibility … to reduce the impact on the environment.” But the company has been slow to respond to ethical demands from customers and owners, including three a shareholder elections from 2021 plastic waste will harm marine ecosystems and human health. Decisions, which everyone received more than 30 percent of shareholder votes, asked Amazon to cut the plastics used in the world by a third by 2030. When it announced that it had cut the plastics used in the world by 11.6 percent, Amazon did not make a quantitative commitment or an additional time to reduce.

Instead, Amazon seems to have taken its biggest steps towards reducing plastic waste by following strict plastic laws, or threatening them. “Amazon is a smart company,” Miller said. “They see things going well and they want to move quickly.”

In 2019, for example, Amazon India promised to eliminate plastic packaging When Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked people to “making India plastic free once and for all,” indicating that he would announce a major ban on the subject at the end of that year. Within months, Amazon India said it did removed the plastic package from the place to fulfill the country, instead it is paper.

In the European Union, a guidelines on single-use plastics It has been illegal since 2021 to sell several types of single-use plastic, including bags, and after a long period of writing, the bloc last month approved “history” aims to reduce packaging waste by 15 percent by 2040. Amazon said that by 2022 it would have removed single-use plastic bags in its place of fulfillment all over the world.

Although efforts from progressive lawmakers, the US still lacks a federal plan to regulate plastic packaging, which may help explain why Amazon hasn’t acted aggressively on the issue. A spokesperson for the company told Grist last month that Amazon has begun a “multi-year effort” to switch its U.S. fulfillment centers from plastic to packaging, but the company has not announced a timeline for the transition.

Then again, Amazon’s presence in America is also much larger than its operations abroad; the fact that US orders make up about 70 percent of Amazon’s total sales may make it difficult to change product placement here.

“It would be very difficult to eliminate plastics in the United States,” said Jenn Engstrom, director of the California chapter of the nonprofit US Public Interest Research Group, who was not involved in the Oceana report. But they are also one of the leading and largest companies in the world; just because it’s hard to do doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it.”

Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce company, sold more than half a trillion dollars‘ valuable assets last year. America’s biggest competitor, Walmart, said last month that it had done so solved once the use of plastic from its worldwide shipping envelopes. In China, retailer is making up for all the losses alternative methods of reuse.

Engstrom also pointed to other government policies that could affect Amazon’s use of plastics — particularly in California, where it is law enacted in 2022 requires companies to reduce their total state-distributed assets by 25 percent by 2032. Washington State tried to pass a similar law last year, but the proposal died in committee. Five other states have given very little money”increased responsibility of producers,” or EPR, which tries to make plastic manufacturers more financially responsible for the waste they produce — often by making them pay a premium.

Even Amazon is offering several discounts effort to change recycled plastics, Oceana says this is “not a strategy the company should rely on.” Plastic film cannot be recycled due to technical and economic constraints; almost no beach recycling program accepts it. In the best case, the plastic film can be reduced to plastic products or benches, but recent research points out that in-store drop-off programs that facilitate this process often end up dumping Amazon’s packaging in landfills or burning it in incinerators.

When American shoppers misplace Amazon’s plastic packaging in their recycling bins – as many do -a 2022 Bloomberg survey discovered that they could be living in illegal dumps and industrial furnaces in Muzaffarnagar, India, which could be dangerous to the health of nearby residents.

Pat Lindner, Amazon’s vice president of systems and sustainable packaging, called the Oceana study “a misleading report full of false and misleading information,” and told Grist that Amazon is committed to reducing its plastic in its US warehouses. A spokesperson said the company is proud to reduce the spread of plastic in Europe and India and will continue to share updates on progress in the US.

Oceana said the company declined the nonprofit’s request for information on countries’ use of plastics. The company also refused to share data on the plastic packaging used for shipping; Amazon’s disclosure of plastic packaging used in 2021 and 2022 is only based on packaging shipped from Amazon’s fulfillment centers.

“We hope that Amazon will provide more information … and shed some light on some of these questions,” Miller said.

This article appeared first Grist to Grist is a non-profit, independent non-profit organization reporting on climate change and a sustainable future. Find out more at

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