Amazon packaging waste: Current operations and future plans

Deborah Williams 11 July 2019 (Last Updated August 5th, 2019 14:03)

Physical retail outlets visibly produce a lot of packaging waste, but online retailers can meet or exceed these amounts. From endless cardboard boxes to enough bubble wrap to relieve an entire nation’s stress, online retail produced 10,000 tonnes of packaging waste last year. Packaging Gateway takes a look at the packaging waste initiatives introduced by one of the biggest names in the sector, US tech giant Amazon, and its future plans to be more sustainable.

Amazon packaging waste: Current operations and future plans
Amazon packaging waste: Current operations and future plans. Credit: josemiguels via Pixabay

Amazon packaging waste: Current plans

On its website, Amazon states its packaging mission is to optimise the overall customer experience by collaborating with manufacturers worldwide to invent sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged.

In 2008, Amazon launched Frustration-Free Packaging – a programme designed to reduce waste, lower cost and provide customers with 100% recyclable, easy-to-open packaging.

The Frustration-Free Packaging programme includes various sustainable packaging initiatives, such as optimising box selections to better fit product sizes and weight, using flexible mailers instead of boxes for small items, using fully recyclable mailers and working with global vendor partners to produce ready-to-ship packaging. Last year, Amazon reported it has since then partnered with thousands of manufacturers to redesign their packaging as what they deem ‘Frustration-Free.’

Another avenue Amazon has taken to improve its packaging sustainability is by allowing customers to search for products available in the Frustration-Free Packaging programme.

How is Amazon becoming more sustainable?

Although Amazon has addressed its packaging waste efforts, many industry experts and consumers still believe it has not done enough to tackle the issue, with many customers taking to Twitter to voice their concerns and frustrations. From their reports, it is clear to see that Amazon still needs to make substantial efforts in reducing its packaging waste and review its current Frustration-Free Packaging programme.

In addition to this, Amazon has also come under fire about its use of unrecyclable packaging materials. Its use of lightweight plastic mailers, which play a positive role in reducing packaging size and unnecessary bulk, cannot be recycled via curbside recycling bins. Plastic mailers require a separate recycling stream as it has the ability to jam regular recycling systems. Amazon has been urged by sustainability experts to deliver more awareness and education to its customers on how and where to recycle plastic mailers.

Amazon has also distributed materials within its packaging, such as Thermocol, which is prohibited by specific nations. This again causes confusion and more packaging waste, which is left to the consumer to manage.

Luxury packaging company Delta Global commercial director Stuart Gannon said: “Amazon, much like so many fast growing, value brands, capitalize on the ‘stack it high, sell it cheap’ model.

“While they provide a service that few others can compete with on speed and price, this is at the sacrifice of the customer ‘gifting experience’ and the sustainable credentials of their packaging.

“Sadly and too often the packaging consideration by Amazon appears to be a one size fits many approach and in doing so little or no consideration to the damaging effects of unnecessary carbon foot prints and excessive packaging is taken creating huge waste in energy and material.”

In response to its sustainability efforts, Amazon said:Playing a significant role in helping to reduce the sources of human-induced climate change is an important commitment for Amazon. We’ve eliminated more than 244,000 tons of packaging materials and avoided 500 million shipping boxes.

“And with anticipated and continued progress in electric vehicles, aviation biofuels and renewable energy, we have set an ambitious goal to reach 50% of all Amazon shipments with net zero carbon by 2030. We are on a path to becoming the most sustainable retailer and cloud provider in the world, and will release our carbon footprint later this year.”