Amazon, Oceana out with competing plastic packaging viewpoints
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Amazon, Oceana out with competing plastic packaging viewpoints

Jun 29, 2023

A worker at an Amazon warehouse prepares packaging for shipment.

First Amazon was out with word that the online retailer had cut plastic packaging by 7 percent per unit. But now comes an environmental group claiming the company's overall plastic packaging use skyrocketed due to year-over-year growth.

Plastic packaging and its place in society has been under the microscope for years now with companies routinely talking about its use amid heightened public interest.

"In the midst of a rapid increase in customer orders throughout the pandemic, we continued to take steps to reduce single-use plastics in our outbound packaging," Amazon said in a recent blog. "In 2021, we reduced average plastic packaging weight per shipment by over 7 percent, resulting in 97,222 metric tons of single-use plastic being used across our global operations network to ship orders to customers."

The total metric tonnage figure provided by Amazon equals 214.3 million pounds.

A footnote in the blog indicates single-use plastics in outbound packaging includes "delivery packaging, such as poly bags, padded poly mailers, dunnage, prep materials, produce bags and single-use coolant."

Meanwhile, a new report by Oceana, "The Cost of Amazon's Plastic Denial on the World's Oceans," claims Amazon's plastic packaging waste jumped by 18 percent to an estimated 709 million pounds in 2021 from the environmental group's estimate of 599 million pounds for the company in 2020.

"Oceana found, based on data from a peer-reviewed study on plastic waste pollution published in Science in 2020, that up to 26 million pounds of this plastic waste will end up in the world's waterways and seas," the group said in a statement.

Amazon said "meeting the challenge posed by plastic-based packaging is more complex" than paper-based packaging.

"We are taking multiple approaches to help address the end-of-life challenges with flexible plastics, and in the cases where we can't eliminate the packaging materials altogether, we are looking into replacing plastics with existing alternative material options that are more readily recyclable today," the company said.

"While we are making progress, we're not satisfied. We have work to do to continue to reduce packaging, particularly plastic packaging that's harder to recycle, and we are undertaking a range of initiatives to do so," Amazon said in the blog.

Amazon also said it is using more recycled content in plastic packaging than before.

"For example, increasing the recycled content of our plastic film bags for outbound packaging in the U.S. from 25 percent to 50 percent, which contributed to Amazon avoiding over 30,000 tons of plastic use in 2021," the company said.

Oceana, meanwhile, said: "The science is clear; the type of plastic used by Amazon for its packaging is a threat to the oceans. Customers and shareholders are calling for the company to act. It's time for Amazon to, as it has on climate, step up and commit to a global reduction in its use of plastic packaging," Matt Littlejohn, Oceana's senior vice president for strategic initiatives, said in a news release.

"Amazon refuses to outline a plan and commit to a companywide reduction in plastic use. In doing so, the company is ignoring its shareholders. At its [annual meeting] in May 2022, nearly 49 percent of Amazon's shares — totaling 181 million shares — voted in favor of a resolution asking the company to address its growing plastic packaging problem," the environmental group said.

Oceana wants Amazon to commit to reducing its total amount of plastic packaging by a third from current levels. The group also is calling for public reporting on Amazon's plastic packaging footprint.

Pointing to local accounts obtained by Oceana, the environmental group said Amazon has "moved away from all plastic packaging used for shipments originating from its own fulfillment centers in Germany, which is the company's second-largest market."

"It is clear that Amazon can solve its plastic problem. Yet, it is choosing not to commit to do so on a global scale, despite the severe cost of plastic pollution to our oceans and planet," Oceana said.

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