Amazon is actively working towards sustainable packaging by prioritising correctly sized, recyclable materials that minimise waste and ensure damage-free delivery.

With a strong emphasis on sustainability, the company is implementing innovative approaches to revolutionise its packaging practices.

Through the use of machine learning, materials science and manufacturing partnerships, the company is taking a science-based approach to reinventing its packaging options.

Amazon acknowledges the need for additional packaging to guarantee the safe delivery of products. However, the company is dedicated to optimising packaging by using lighter, right-sized options that reduce waste and carbon emissions.

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In line with its sustainability goals, Amazon strives to utilise materials that are curbside recyclable and have a lower carbon footprint. Collaboration with industry peers plays a vital role in creating scalable solutions across the packaging supply chain.

Delivery packaging breakdown

In 2022, Amazon set out to maximise the use of low-waste packaging while simultaneously achieving year-over-year reductions in the volume of higher-waste packaging options.

The breakdown of their delivery packaging revealed that 11% of shipments were delivered with no additional Amazon packaging. Almost half – 49% – of shipments were delivered in flexible packaging, while 40% were delivered in corrugated boxes.

This breakdown demonstrates Amazon’s efforts to adopt packaging methods that minimise waste and prioritise recyclable materials.

Eliminating packaging where possible

To eliminate unnecessary packaging altogether and reduce the weight of deliveries, Amazon has introduced the Ships In Own Container (SIOC) programme.

This allows eligible items to be shipped in the original manufacturer’s packaging without any additional Amazon packaging. By expanding the SIOC program, Amazon believes that numerous products can be shipped without the need for added packaging.

The company actively identifies, evaluates and certifies items already packaged in materials suitable for shipping, encouraging selling partners and vendors to re-engineer packaging to meet SIOC standards.

Improving packaging materials

Amazon is also dedicated to improving the materials used in its packaging to facilitate easy kerbside recycling by customers. They are phasing out flexible bags containing both plastic and paper in favour of recyclable alternatives.

One of their innovations, the paper-padded mailer, offers the same recyclability benefits as corrugated boxes while taking up less space during transit and in recycling bins.

By expanding the use of paper-padded mailers and replacing harder-to-recycle mixed-material padded bags, Amazon aims to enhance recyclability.

Advancing packaging technologies

In 2022, Amazon joined the US Department of Energy’s BOTTLE Consortium to develop technology that enables bio-based and biodegradable plastic recycling.

The consortium focuses on chemical upcycling strategies for plastics, aiming to keep them out of landfills and the environment.

Amazon’s team of materials scientists and experts actively participates in this collaboration, aiming to achieve a net zero carbon lifecycle for plastics.

Optimising packaging selections through machine learning

Amazon also faces the challenge of identifying the optimal packaging solution for each unique order, given its millions of products and endless order combinations.

To tackle this challenge, Amazon employs machine learning algorithms to determine the most efficient packaging option for each order. These cutting-edge technologies help identify the appropriate packaging type, from bags to boxes, based on the level of protection required.

By prioritising lightweight flexible paper bags and envelopes, Amazon can significantly reduce the weight of packaging.

Machine learning also aids in optimising shipments, reducing empty space in boxes, and ultimately decreasing the number of vehicles needed for delivery.

Amazon’s focus on sustainable packaging extends beyond individual facilities. By using PackOpt technology, a web-based tool, Amazon determines the optimal selection of cardboard box options at each facility based on unique order patterns.

This optimisation has resulted in an annual reduction in cardboard waste of 7% to 10% in North America, saving approximately 60,000 tons of cardboard annually.