Packaging in a warehouse
Cardboard packaging

Has Amazon Reduced Packaging?

With Amazon quickly growing to dominate western markets – having recently broken $239 billion gross sales – they’ve had to contend with the elephant in the room: their waste.

Their dominance in sales & revenue has stemmed largely from their control over most aspects of the logistics chain – from warehousing, to packaging, to delivery. This has enabled them to make huge efficiency gains, but also means that they’re directly responsible for their waste.

Allegedly, Amazon produced 321 thousand tonnes of plastic waste due to single-use packaging in 2022 – so what are they doing about it?

Amazon’s plastic waste is from parcel packing

The bulk of the plastic waste in the process comes from their use of air-pillows – inflated plastic bubbles that help cushion the contents of a parcel. The benefits of these are essentially the same benefits as most plastic products: they’re lightweight, they don’t degrade in storage, and they’re cheap.

But these benefits are the exact opposite when these bits of plastic end up in landfill or anywhere else in the world.

Why so much waste?

Amazon’s waste, historically, has been in four main categories:

1. Inefficient use of delivery boxes
2. Difficult or non-separable materials
3. Unnecessary packing material
4. Volume of deliveries

Let’s look at these in some more detail before exploring if or how Amazon has reduced them.

1. Inefficient use of delivery boxes

Most people have seen tweets or other social media posts of people complaining about receiving a small item in an unnecessarily large box. Each time this happens, more packing material needs to be used to keep the item(s) safe in the box. It’s also not uncommon to find plastic bags or plastic boxes within the delivery box.

2. Difficult (to recycle) or non-separable materials

Other than air pillows, the main blame here lies with plastic parcel bags – the sort called “mailers” that you get clothes delivered in. These are very difficult to recycle and aren’t accepted in most household recycling schemes in the US, UK, or Europe – so almost always end up in landfill.

The plastic-lined tape frequently used to secure the boxes is also almost impossible to recycle and doesn’t biodegrade.

3. Unnecessary packing material

As something of a continuation of the first point, boxes are often sent within boxes – but don’t need to be. It’s efficient from a warehousing perspective but quickly creates mountains of waste.

So are they doing anything about it?

According to Amazon, of course, they are. At least in the UK and US, they’ve changed a huge portion of their delivery parcels to boxes and paper-based envelopes – and they’ve swapped most plastic-based void filler for paper filler.

They even claim to have optimised the box-sizing algorithm to better fit combined items into the same box.

Changing to mostly-recyclable materials is a great change – we’re big fans of paper – but this has to be balanced against the hugely increased volume of sales since the pandemic. Amazon surged to become the dominant fulfilment and logistics provider for almost all retail during lockdowns, meaning that the amount of packaging produced is still significant.

But the volume doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it’s biodegradable. In an ideal world, all packaging would be perfectly collected and recycled – but in the real world, it’s best for the packaging that isn’t recycled to at least have a minimal impact on the environment.

Thinking about reducing your packaging waste?

If you’re thinking of reducing your packaging waste, let’s talk – we offer a range of innovative paper-based packaging solutions: 100% recyclable, 100% biodegradable, and they’re pretty too!

14 March 2023