Amazon focuses on packaging sustainability

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Amazon packaging
Amazon is reducing waste and carbon emissions from its packaging.

Amazon continues looking for ways to minimize carbon emissions, increase recyclability, and reduce waste in its packaging.

Over the last several years, Amazon says it has developed and invested in technologies, processes, and materials that have helped reduce the weight of the packaging per shipment by 38% and eliminated the use of more than 1.5 million tons of packaging materials since 2015, despite the number of its shipments having substantially increased since that time.

In 2021, Amazon says it reduced average plastic packaging weight per shipment by over 7%, resulting in 97,222 metric tons of single-use plastic being used across its global operations network to ship orders to customers.

Amazon launches multiple packaging efforts

The company is continuing to follow a number of initiatives to reduce packaging, particularly plastic packaging. In November 2021, Amazon unveiled new sustainable insulated packaging, made from recycled paper and curbside-recyclable, for delivery of select grocery products in time for Thanksgiving.

Amazon is also working toward making all of its shipments net-zero carbon through Shipment Zero, with a goal of delivering 50% of all shipments with net-zero carbon by 2030.

And in January 2022, the company revealed it is using machine learning (ML) approaches and a combination of natural language processing and computer vision to determine how to use the right amount of packaging for the hundreds of millions of products it ships.

According to Amazon, these tools have helped it reduce per-shipment packaging weight by 36% and eliminating more than a million tons of packaging, equivalent to more than 2 billion shipping boxes, over the past six years. To make a prediction about whether a given product could be safely shipped in a particular package type, Amazon built an ML model based largely on text-based data from online product listings such as item name, description, price, and package dimensions.

Also in November 2021, Amazon debuted new curbside recyclable packaging made from recycled paper. Deliveries of chilled and frozen food products from the company’s Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market brick-and-mortar grocery chains now arrive insulated in packaging designed to be convenient for customers to recycle at home.

According to Amazon, moving to all curbside-recyclable insulation packaging will reduce material waste, and each year will replace approximately 735,000 pounds of plastic film, 3.15 million pounds of natural cotton fiber, and 15 million pounds of non-recyclable mixed plastic. 

Amazon takes holistic approach to packaging

These initiatives build on Amazon’s “Frustration-Free Packaging” program, which is designed to reduce packaging and provide customers with easy-to-open, recyclable packaging. More than 2 million products qualify for the program and more than 8% of the retailer’s shipments were delivered in 2021 without additional Amazon packaging.

Amazon also works with its selling partners to offer incentives for packaging designed and tested to ship to customers in the manufacturer’s original packaging, without the need for additional Amazon packaging. And where plastic packaging is still currently in use, the company is using less material and more recycled content.

For example, Amazon says that increasing the recycled content of its plastic film bags for outbound packaging in the U.S. from 25% to 50% contributed to avoiding over 30,000 tons of plastic use in 2021.

“Compared to electric vehicles, green hydrogen, or the next generation of photovoltaics, packaging may seem rather mundane,” Amazon said in a corporate blog post. “But as you consider practical ways to minimize carbon emissions, eliminate waste, and increase recyclability, packaging is critical. It’s the type of challenge that we thrive on at Amazon, and our dedicated teams are problem-solving how to execute solutions in different countries with varying complexities, simulating deliveries to discover ways to reduce packaging while protecting the product, and exploring innovative materials.”