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Report uncovers Amazon's failings with packaging commitments: 'The company has made great progress, but it's just not enough'

"The [plastic] crisis is so significant that we need change now."

"The [plastic] crisis is so significant that we need change now."

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Plastic is bad for the environment at every stage of production and use. Amazon has reported progress in switching from plastic to affordable, eco-friendly cardboard shipping materials. 

However, a new report from Oceana revealed that the company is only taking those steps when pushed, and it still has a long way to go, Grist said.

What's happening?

In July 2023, Amazon released its sustainability report for 2022. The company revealed that it had decreased its single-use plastic packaging by 11.6% compared to 2021. That largely came from switching out plastic mailers for cardboard boxes and paper padding.

However, a new report from Oceana estimates that within the U.S., Amazon actually generated about 10% more plastic trash in 2022 than in 2021, Grist revealed.

Amazon declined to provide Oceana with country-specific numbers for its report, so Oceana based its estimate on the total size of the U.S. market, Amazon's market share, and details from Amazon's policy changes reducing plastic usage.

However, even that conservative approach resulted in an estimate of a whopping 208 million pounds of plastic trash. Worse, most of it is plastic film, a form of plastic that is almost impossible to recycle.

"The crisis is so significant that we need change now," Dana Miller, director of strategic initiatives at Oceana and co-author of the report, told Grist.

Why is plastic trash important?

A recent study revealed that there are 170 trillion pieces of plastic trash in the ocean — most of them microplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic have been linked to severe health issues such as cancer, although research is still being conducted on their full impact.

Microplastics mostly occur when larger pieces of plastic — like, say, an Amazon mailer — break down. More plastic shipping materials means more trash that will find its way into our environment and water supply.

If you think recycling this plastic is the solution, think again. Plastic film can't go in your blue bin, Grist reported, and when it does get turned in at specially designated recycling programs, it usually ends up in illegal dumps or polluting incinerators instead of actually being recycled.

Grist also explained that plastic film often ends up in the ocean along the coast, where it kills more marine life than any other kind of plastic.

What's being done about plastic trash?

Grist reported that the areas where Amazon did reduce its plastic use — including India and the EU — were areas that implemented or threatened to implement laws against using plastic bags. Legal restrictions may work where appeals to morality haven't.

"In the U.S. they are not making the same sort of commitments," Miller said. "The company has made great progress, but it's just not enough."

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