Amazon still has a serious plastic waste problem in the US

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Despite making pledges to cut down on plastic packaging, a new report from the nonprofit conservation organization Oceana estimates that Amazon’s plastic waste has continued to grow in the US.

The company created 208 million pounds of plastic waste from its packaging in the US in 2022 alone, which Oceana says is enough trash to circle Earth more than 200 times in the form of plastic air pillows. That’s a nearly 10 percent jump from the amount of plastic waste it generated the year before, according to the report.

The US is a worrying outlier for Amazon, Oceana says. Globally, the e-commerce giant says that it reduced its use of plastic packaging 11.6 percent in 2022 compared to the prior year. But the US is the company’s biggest market, and Oceana argues it’s where Amazon needs to make a lot more progress.

“Why are U.S. customers being left behind?”

“Why are U.S. customers being left behind?” Matt Littlejohn, Oceana’s senior vice president for strategic initiatives, said in an emailed press release.

There’s not much transparency on how much plastic waste Amazon pumps out from place to place. Its latest sustainability report, which covers 2022, doesn’t break the data down by country. It also doesn’t report on all the plastic waste generated by orders fulfilled by third-party sellers. So Oceana relied on market data from firms Mordor Intelligence and Euromonitor to conduct its analysis, and then made adjustments based on public statements Amazon has made about new measures meant to reduce waste.

In an email to The Verge, Amazon vice president of mechatronics and sustainable packaging Pat Lindner called Oceana’s analysis a “misleading report with exaggerated and inaccurate information about our plastic packaging” and pointed to the company’s “multi-year effort to eliminate plastic delivery packaging from our US automated fulfillment centers.”

Plastic film bags used for packaging generally aren’t accepted in curbside recycling programs. Because this type of plastic is trickier to rehash than bottles, consumers who want to steer it away from landfills and incinerators would need to take it to designated drop-off locations in the US.

In July of last year, Amazon appeared to make a vague commitment to ditch some of its iconic plastic packaging altogether. “We are phasing out padded bags containing plastics in favor of recyclable alternatives,” the company said in its sustainability report at the time. But it didn’t set a timeline for when that would happen.

Oceana wants to see the company phase out plastic packaging in its home base, the US. It’s also calling on Amazon to shrink the total amount of plastic packaging it uses by a minimum of one-third by the end of the decade. 

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