Amazon says it’ll ditch plastic padded mailers

An Amazon Prime packet at a plastic scrapyard in Muzaffarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh, India. | Image: Prashanth Vishwanathan / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon says it’ll eventually quit sending packages in plastic padded bags in an effort to cut down on packaging waste, according to a sustainability report the company released Tuesday.

“We are phasing out padded bags containing plastics in favor of recyclable alternatives,” the report says. But it’s missing an important detail: a deadline for when the company plans to make the change.

The company didn’t answer questions about its plan from The Verge. “Our first goal is to eliminate packaging altogether wherever possible, and when additional Amazon packaging is required to ship a product, we strive to optimize that packaging for increased recyclability and reduced carbon emissions,” Amazon spokesperson Elizabeth Fine said in an email.

Less than 10 percent of the world’s plastic waste has ever been recycled. The stuff is harder to rehash than paper; plastic bottles are often “downcycled” into lower-quality materials like fibers for carpeting. And plastic bags are even more difficult to recycle. Since municipal recycling programs typically can’t take plastic bags or films, most people in the US would have to take their Amazon mailers to designated drop-off locations if they want to avoid the landfill.

The e-commerce giant likely uses more flexible plastic packaging than nearly any other company in the world, according to activist shareholders that have pushed the company to come up with a plan to cut down its waste. After packages reach customers’ doorsteps, a lot of the plastic winds up in landfills or escapes out to sea since it isn’t accepted by most curbside pick-up recycling programs. So Amazon ditching its ubiquitous blue and white padded packaging could have a significant impact on the amount of plastic pollution building up in the environment, advocates say.

“If Amazon follows through, this is good news for the oceans,” Matt Littlejohn, senior vice president of the conservation organization Oceana, said in a press release. “The company should also commit to a phase-out deadline and make an explicit commitment to reduce all of its plastic packaging in addition to padded mailers but this is real progress and will mean that much less single-use plastic will find its way into the world’s seas.”

Amazon used 11.6 percent less single-use plastic in its global shipping in 2022 compared to the year before, the company says in its sustainability report. To do that, Amazon turned to more paper materials and tried to make packages lighter. But that figure only includes Amazon-owned and -operated fulfillment centers and not the network of third-party prepping and packing facilities.

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