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New investigation uncovers disconnect in Amazon's claims about its recyclable plastic packaging: 'They're absolutely lying'

"It was never true."

"It was never true."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new investigation into recyclability claims of Amazon's plastic packaging has revealed that only a small fraction of it actually gets recycled, Grist reported.

What happened?

Nonprofit groups Environment America and U.S. Public Interest Research Group placed tracking devices on 93 bundles of Amazon plastic packaging marked for store drop-off. They then deposited them at retailers marked for drop-off — including popular supermarkets Safeway, Sprouts, and Whole Foods — in 10 states.

Although about half of the trackers died before reaching their final destinations, of the ones that survived, 13 were sent to a landfill, two to a waste incinerator, and three to the Port of Los Angeles, which suggests they were sent to other countries for disposal. 

Meanwhile, only four made it to material recovery facilities that sort plastics for recycling. The investigation team was able to contact three of these facilities. Two of them said they do not accept Amazon packaging, and the third said it does not accept plastic at all.

Why is this investigation concerning?

This is part of a larger trend. For instance, a 2023 Bloomberg investigation found that about 40% of bundles of wrappers and packaging marked for store drop-off ended up in United States landfills. Additionally, just four of the 30 made it to facilities that can recycle plastic.

"They're absolutely lying with these labels," Jan Dell, a chemical engineer and founder of the environmental nonprofit The Least Beach Cleanup, told Grist. She added that the system has "never worked; it was never true." 

This is bad news, as alternatives to recycling are dangerous to human health and the environment. 

For instance, incineration of plastic results in the release of toxic metals like lead and mercury, as well as other toxic substances into our air, water, and soil, according to the Center for International Environmental Law. Meanwhile, the organization states, plastic in the environment leads to hazardous chemicals leaching into the environment — and groups such as the Conservation Law Foundation argue that all landfills can leak.

What can I do to help with plastic waste?

The best way to reduce plastic waste is to cut how much you use. You can help by investing in more durable products like metal razors and reusable water bottles. Other ways to ditch single-use plastics include purchasing shampoo bars instead of bottled shampoos and trying out non-plastic sandwich bags.

You can also educate yourself about greenwashing, or the practice that companies sometimes use to make themselves seem more eco-friendly than they really are. 

Meanwhile, some governments are trying to keep difficult-to-recycle plastic bags out of the environment: New Zealand has banned both plastic shopping bags and produce bags, while California became the first U.S. state to ban plastic produce bags at supermarkets.

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