Amazon’s New Streamlined Packaging is Not Easily Recyclable

Connector Winter 2019

Over the past year, Amazon has reduced the portion of shipments it packs in its cardboard boxes in favor of lightweight plastic mailers, which enable the retailing giant to squeeze more packages in delivery trucks and planes.

But environmental activists and waste experts say the new plastic sacks, which aren’t recyclable in curbside recycling bins, are having a negative effect.

The problem with the plastic mailers is twofold: They need to be recycled separately, and if they end up in the usual stream, they gum up recycling systems and prevent larger bundles of materials from being recycled. Environmental advocates say Amazon, as the industry giant, needs to do a much better job of encouraging consumers to recycle the plastic mailers by providing more education and alternative places to bring that plastic for recycling.

“We are continually working to improve our packaging and recycling options, and have reduced packaging waste by more than 20 percent globally in 2018,” Amazon spokeswoman Melanie Janin said. She added that Amazon provides recycling information on its website.

For the past 10 years, Amazon has whittled away at unnecessary packaging, sending the product in its original box when possible or in the lightest packaging possible. Amazon’s Janin said that the company shifted to lightweight plastic mailers in the past year as part of a larger effort to reduce packaging waste and operational costs. Janin wrote that Amazon is “scaling capacity of a fully recyclable cushioned mailer that is recyclable in paper recycling streams.”

One of the few Fortune 500 companies not to file a corporate social responsibility or sustainability report, the Seattle-based corporation said its “Frustration-Free” packaging program reduced packaging waste by 16 percent and eliminated the need for more than 305 million shipping boxes in 2017.

Another problem with the new padded plastic mailers is that Amazon and other retailers affix a paper address label that renders them unfit to be recycled, even at a store drop-off location. The label needs to be removed, separating the paper from the plastic, for the material to be recyclable.

For now, those padded plastic Amazon mailers can be recycled once consumers remove the label and bring the mailer to drop-off sites found outside some chain stores. Clean, dry and in aggregate, such plastic can be melted and made into composite lumber for decks.

Only 4 percent of plastic film accrued by U.S. households is recycled through collection programs at grocery and big-box stores, according to a 2017 Closed Loop report about U.S. recycling. The other 96 percent becomes garbage, even if put into curbside recycling, and ends up in landfills.

Source: The Washington Post