In an effort to tackle packaging waste, Amazon has announced its intention to stop using plastic padded bags for package delivery in a sustainability report just released.

The company will replace the bags with recyclable alternatives, although it has not specified a deadline for this transition.

Amazon spokesperson Elizabeth Fine stated that the company’s primary objective is to eliminate packaging whenever possible. When additional packaging is required, Amazon strives to optimise this for increased recyclability and reduced carbon emissions.

The company has not set out a specific timeline for the implementation of this plan.

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Experts believe that Amazon’s decision, if followed through, could have a positive impact on the environment, particularly the oceans. Plastic waste poses a significant challenge for recycling, with less than 10% of the world’s plastic waste being recycled.

Plastic bottles are often “downcycled” into lower-quality materials, and plastic bags are even more difficult to recycle. As municipal recycling programmes typically cannot accept plastic bags or films, individuals in the US would need to utilise designated drop-off locations to avoid contributing to landfill waste.

Amazon’s extensive plastic packaging usage

Activist shareholders have urged Amazon to address its waste management practices, given its extensive use of flexible plastic packaging.

A significant portion of the plastic used by Amazon ends up in landfills or oceans since it is not accepted by most kerbside recycling programmes.

By eliminating its ubiquitous blue and white padded packaging, Amazon could make a substantial contribution to reducing plastic pollution in the environment.

Matt Littlejohn, senior vice-president of the conservation organisation Oceana, expressed approval of Amazon’s initial steps, but emphasised the need for the company to set a phase-out deadline and extend its commitment to reducing all forms of plastic packaging, not just padded mailers.

Littlejohn believes that Amazon’s actions represent significant progress in minimising single-use plastic waste and its impact on marine ecosystems.

Previous progress and future efforts

Amazon reported that it reduced its single-use plastic consumption in global shipping by 11.6% in 2022 compared to the previous year. To achieve this reduction, the company turned to alternative materials, such as paper, and aimed to make packages lighter.

It is important to note, however, that this figure only considers Amazon-owned and operated fulfilment centres, excluding the network of third-party prepping and packing facilities.