Energy & Environment

Amazon’s plastic waste increased by 18 percent in 2021: report

The Amazon logo is displayed on a screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite, July 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Amazon generated 709 million pounds of plastic waste in 2021, an 18 percent increase from 2020, according to a new report from environmental group Oceana.

About 26 million pounds of the company’s plastic waste flowed into the world’s waterways and oceans last year — up from 23.5 million pounds in 2020 — despite Amazon’s repeated pledge to reduce its plastic pollution from harming aquatic life, the group said.

The amount of total plastic waste created by the e-commerce giant is enough to circle the Earth more than 800 times in the form of air pillows, Oceana estimated in its report released Thursday.

Asked about the report, Amazon said “Oceana’s numbers are exaggerated and inaccurate.”

In a blog post on Tuesday, Amazon said it produced 214 million pounds of plastic waste in 2021, but that number does not include waste generated by third-party sellers, which Oceana said it included in its estimate.

Amazon countered that the majority of ordered items are shipped are through Amazon Fulfilled, when packages are distributed from Amazon warehouses.

“We also work with our selling partners to offer incentives for packaging designed and tested to ship to customers in the manufacturer’s original packaging without the need for additional Amazon packaging,” the company said.

The standard plastic used by Amazon is plastic film, the type used in plastic bags. Plastic film is recyclable — but is often not recycled by consumers because it is not accepted by local county and municipal facilities.

Plastic film is the most common plastic found in waterways, according to Oceana. It can entangle sea critters in the ocean and kill marine life.

Matt Littlejohn, Oceana’s senior vice president for strategic initiatives, said “the type of plastic used by Amazon for its packaging is a threat to the oceans.”

“It’s time for Amazon to lead and end its reliance on a material that is devastating the world’s oceans and make a company-wide plan for reporting and reducing its plastic packaging footprint,” he said in a statement to The Hill.

Last year, Amazon criticized Oceana’s 2020 plastic pollution report for using industry reports and market share data, adding the organization’s estimate was 300 percent higher than company data.

The company explained it has a dedicated team pushing to reduce its plastic waste footprint, citing goals to reduce its paper-and-plastic mailer to a fully paper-padded one and increased efforts to use lighter and smaller packaging boxes.

The e-commerce company said it has greatly reduced the amount of plastic used in its packaging, eliminated more than 1.5 million tons of packaging materials it would have otherwise used since 2015.

“While we are making progress, we’re not satisfied,” the company wrote in the blog post. “We have work to do to continue to reduce packaging, particularly plastic packaging that’s harder to recycle, and we are undertaking a range of initiatives to do so.”

The e-commerce industry as a whole produced 3.4 billion pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2021, a number that is expected to more than double in 2027, according to Oceana. The most plastic waste is produced in China and the U.S.

Amazon’s share of plastic waste has grown in world markets in recent years, by Oceana’s estimates. In 2020, 39 percent of plastic waste generated in the U.S. was from Amazon, which increased to 41 percent in 2021, with a similar increase in other countries.

Oceana has pointed out that more than 740,000 Amazon customers have asked the company to provide plastic-free packaging.

The amount of plastic waste in the world has become a leading concern for environmentalists and citizens across the world. Nearly a quarter of Americans want Congress to prioritize addressing plastic waste.

Studies this year revealed just 5 percent of plastic waste generated in 2021 was recycled, with the rest heading to landfills or waterways.

Plastic is actually becoming so ubiquitous that microplastics were found in human blood for the first time this year.

Tags Amazon Matt Littlejohn Oceana Plastic waste pollution

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