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NewsSupply Chains

Report: Amazon generated 465M pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019

E-retailing giant says report overstates amount of waste by more than 350%.

A report released on Tuesday from environmental nonprofit Oceana slams Amazon’s use of plastic packaging, stating that the e-commerce giant produced enough waste last year to encircle the globe 500 times in the form of its air pillows.

Even as the e-giant launches high-profile initiatives aimed at reducing its carbon footprint,  Amazon has boosted the amount of plastic it uses each of the past three years, according to the report.  

Oceana estimates that Amazon was responsible for 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019. The report is based on e-commerce market data and a report published in the journal Science.

Amazon vehemently denies the claims, citing what it says is flawed methodology that overstates the amount the company produces — by over 350%.

“We share Oceana’s ambition to protect and restore the world’s oceans, and we support the reduced use of plastics,” Amazon said in an emailed statement to FreightWaves. 

“However, Oceana has dramatically miscalculated Amazon’s use of plastic. Since 2015, we have reduced the weight of outbound packaging by more than a third, and eliminated almost one million tons of packaging material.” 

The spokesperson did not comment on how much plastic packaging the company actually uses. 

But assuming the 350% figure is accurate, Amazon still used more than 130 million pounds of plastic packaging in 2019.

In an interview, Oceana Senior Vice President Matt Littlejohn said since Amazon did not release company data the nonprofit had no choice but to rely on public data.

Even if Oceana overestimated the extent of the e-retailer’s plastic use, he said, it’s still “a ton of plastic.”

Impact on oceans and waterways

Over the past year, Amazon has ramped up efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its various business operations, announcing it will become carbon neutral by 2040 and creating a $2 billion investment fund for renewable energy and sustainable technologies across industry sectors.

But as online shopping surges around the world, the environmental impacts of Amazon’s massive e-commerce operation are getting more scrutiny. 

According to the report, less than 1% of the plastic waste generated by Amazon makes its way into rivers, lakes and oceans. But using the Oceana figures, that still amounts to the equivalent of dumping one delivery van worth of plastic into waterways every 70 minutes, the authors wrote.

Consumers show little appetite for taking action on their own. Oceana polled Amazon Prime customers in the U.S. and asked if they followed the company’s recommendations for finding stores that will take their plastic packaging waste.

More than 98% of respondents said they had not done so, according to the report, and that less than 2% (1.67%) had made a special trip to bring their plastic packaging to the grocery stores for recycling.

Oceana does give Amazon credit for moving away from plastic — in India.

On June 29, 2020, Amazon India announced it had achieved a 100% successful transition away from single-use plastics. Amazon also reported that 40% of its orders were being shipped in their original boxes, 35% without an outer box or other packaging.

The e-giant should take similar steps to reduce plastic and to offer plastic-free choices around the world, advise the report authors.

For its part, Amazon said Oceana’s flawed estimates are based on comparing the company’s share of online sales to the amount of plastic used in a particular geography.

This methodology, the company said, misstates Amazon’s plastic packaging. If the assumptions of the study are corrected, according to Amazon, it actually suggests that the company uses much less plastic packaging than other retailers. 

With additional reporting by Alyssa Sporrer

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to lbaker@freightwaves.com.

2 Comments

  1. This is stupid, the market should decide policy not special interest groups. As a consumer and producer i could care less about Oceana or their mission. My mission is more production, more shipping, more buying… The economy outweighs the environment.

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