Study Finds that Amazon Generates Enough Plastic to Circle Globe 500 Times


By Natasha Lasky, ODP Contributing Writer

A new report from the environmental nonprofit Oceana finds that Amazon has increased the amount of plastic packaging it uses every year.  Last year, according to Oceana’s estimates, the company generated enough plastic packaging to circle the globe 500 times.  In the pandemic, online shopping has increased with serious consequences given the amount of packaging generated by e-commerce. Amazon in particular is generating massive quantities of packaging waste — cardboard boxes, bubble mailers, tape, labels, and more, particularly during the holidays.

Why this Matters: Oceana also found that less than 1% of Amazon’s plastic waste ended up in rivers, lakes, and oceans.  But it’s 1% of a huge number —  that amounts to the equivalent of dumping one delivery van full of plastic into marine ecosystems every 70 minutes. Plastic pollution is dangerous to humans and harmful to the environment.  A new report found that more than 140 chemicals known to be harmful to human health are actively used in plastics, and many can leach out of products and harm the body. Recycling has also ground to a halt as a result of the pandemic, with facilities shut down at the very time when more single-use plastics are being used than ever.  It’s time to deal with our addiction to plastic head-on and that begins with customers pushing for more sustainable alternatives.

Amazon’s Record on Sustainability 

Last year, the company pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris climate agreement’s deadline. The company has changed its packaging standards to prioritize sustainability, using the right size of packaging for what’s being mailed, penalizing merchants for using too much packaging, and developing an all-paper padded mailer made of fully recyclable materials. However, Amazon’s attempt to lower carbon emissions while making deliveries more efficient has resulted in more plastic mailers. Plastic mailers made up 47% of Amazon packaging last year (out of 3.5 billion packages), up from 27% in 2016. These plastic mailers are particularly hard to recycle, making them more likely to end up in landfills.

Amazon disputed Oceana’s estimates.  The report states that Amazon was responsible for 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste last year, but Amazon says that figure is way too high. The Verge reported that Amazon claims to use only about a quarter of the plastic in Oceana’s report, according to an email from the company. But The Verge calculated that even if that’s the case, Amazon still used more than 116 million pounds of plastic packaging in 2019.

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