Amazon's Trash | The behinds of a large corportation
Written by Julia Greenberg
Amazon has taken the world by storm within the last decade, and the reporting industry within the last year. Blue Origin's launch from Van Horn, Texas, is the newest edition of Jeff Bezos’s ‘accomplishments’ in the last year. One of his more notable accomplishments would have to be the worth ethic of amazon workers, however, this article will be based upon the actual packages themselves (not from Amazon Fresh). Why does Amazon, a company that does the exact opposite of the rainforest but with the same name, use plastic packaging? What are the effects on the environment and how can these be solved?
The reason why we’ve guessed Amazon has chosen to use plastic packaging in the first place is because of its versatility in the elements, and the lightness of it. The problem with using plastic packaging is that just within 2019 itself, an estimated 22.4 million pounds of Amazon’s packaging ends up in our oceans. In 2019, Amazon shipped out 7 billion packages. A total of 465 million pounds of waste from that plastic, and 22.4 million of those pounds end up in the ocean. However, the perpetrators themselves deny those numbers and instead say they account for 116 million pounds in the oceans. The problems that lie here aren't just that there’s trash floating in the ocean, but that animals are getting to it (see The Last Straw to learn more about plastic in the ocean).
The common “Save the turtles!” is often used in relation to plastic straws, but the harm of this is that it downplays the other types of plastic found in the ocean. Activists and people just doing their part focus solely on that 1% (plastic straws) instead of focusing on the bigger picture. Of course, as mentioned in that article, we don’t want to dismiss the efforts of these activists, or completely get rid of the idea that straws are bad. But getting rid of plastic straws doesn’t solve the bigger picture and negatively impacts people with disabilities. So while plastic straws are an issue, so are the inflatable little pillow bags that Amazon uses in shipping (it's not just the outer packaging!) The Verge writer Justine Calma writes that “[i]n 2019, a whale off the shores of the Philippines was found with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach. And when humans eat fish that have ingested microplastics leftover from our trash, that plastic can end up in our bellies, too.” (Calma). So not only does plastic cause harmful impacts on ecosystems and the creatures living in them, they affect us too!
Is there any way to help our oceans and stop Amazon from delivering packages with plastic packaging? The first step is to recognize why Amazon does it. The plastic outer packaging is good for places that get an abundance of rain or a multitude of different weather conditions. Plastic reflects the water and the contents inside remain safe and sound. So in order to come up with a solution to the plastic problem, we have to think about keeping the contents safe and dry, and weather conditions. Outside paper packaging (not cardboard boxes or the Amazon Fresh orders) is a very extremely rare condition. When interviewing a member of our team, we found that they have only ONCE ever had a package that was completely recyclable/compostable. It was basically a smaller version of the Amazon Fresh bags (when Amazon actually decides to keep their paper). Obviously, this is a lot better than plastic, but it would not be able to protect the contents from weather conditions. There aren’t really any options as of right now (July 2021) on any replacements that would be good substitutes for plastic. At the moment, people can “visit plasticfilmrecycling.org, enter their zip code, and take a trip to the nearest drop-off center that’s willing to accept their “flexible plastics,” which must be processed separately because they get caught in recycling machines.” (Petsko). So many people order packages, and many people who can afford it will go with the same day or the fastest shipping possible. Not only does this put a strain on the Amazon workers, but it also means that because of the 1-day shipping, people can just order the thing they need right then. This means that if they do that every day (discover they need something), the number of plastic packages add up.
However, there's a fault to the system of ordering a bunch of things at the same time too: they often (if not always) are not all shipped in a cardboard box (and if they were it's highly possible that the plastic packaging pillows would be used if the contents are fragile in any way), and don’t always come at the same time. A horrific example, however, of a large order of a variety of things comes from one of our own staff members. “I had ordered a bunch of stuff because I had some gift cards and decided to put them to good use. The issue here was that I got the majority of everything I ordered at the same time. But because they weren’t all from the same company, I got about 5 different plastic packages. Out of those (which weren’t even the total number of packages once I had gotten everything I had ordered), only 1 was that totally recyclable/compostable packaging.” And they surely cannot be alone. They also recounted the time their mom had ordered 3 things from the same company (same thing, different versions/colors of it). Two out of the three packages were delivered the same day and were in 2 different plastic packages.
So what can be done? Going back to helping the ocean and stopping Amazon from plastic packaging, there is surely more than one conclusion to be drawn. However, the one we’re going to focus on is overconsumption. Amazon, for many, is such an accessible thing. Need a pack of toothbrushes but don’t have the time to go out/are too lazy? Amazon. Need to send a gift? Amazon (wrapped too of course). Need groceries but don’t want to go out? Amazon. It’s too accessible. And that’s probably the way it was designed too. So many people use Amazon. It would be almost impossible to be able to 1, get rid of Amazon (very, very unlikely to happen) or 2, make them less accessible (also very unlikely). Our recommendation? Try not to use it as much, or advocate in your area for cleaner, greener packaging.
But here’s another thing to think about: lessening your use of Amazon (if it got to the point where a good amount of people were doing the same) could mean less pay for the labored workers. So is lessening your use of Amazon actually a good choice? While there isn’t information on how Amazon workers would be affected by people cutting their orders in half perhaps, there is information on how the sellers who make homemade items and sell them fare. During the pandemic especially, limited things were told to be sold (medical items only basically). This meant that these artists and sellers weren’t selling as much as they usually would be, which meant they didn't have as much money since they couldn’t sell as much, and they wouldn’t have as much money to pay their $39.99 monthly fee to sell off of Amazon. While surely some discovered they would just have to make more of the things that were actually accepted to be sold, the consequences of buyers cutting their purchasing off of Amazon in half could possibly mean job loss (for both the laborers and the artists/sellers). Since it would most likely be that people would spend less time on Amazon (this could benefit local businesses), it would mean that the handmade craftspeople wouldn’t get as much, if any sales (meaning not being able to pay the monthly fee or make a living). It would also mean that since Amazon wouldn’t be making as much money, it’s possible that the workers would get paid less, and some may quit or be fired in order for the higher-ups to get money.
Our suggestion is for you to advocate in your area, whether that be your city, town, country, or district, for amazon, and other companies, to go greener with eco-friendly packaging. Maybe YOU have some ideas for greener packaging. If you do, feel free to let us know at our discord! We would love to hear your ideas, and what you’re doing in your area!
Calma, Justine. “Amazon Generates Millions of Pounds of Plastic Waste.” The Verge, The Verge, 15 Dec. 2020, www.theverge.com/2020/12/15/22174990/amazon-packaging-millions-pounds-plastic-waste-oceans-pollution-oceana .
Petsko, Emily. “Opting out: Amazon Shoppers Would CHOOSE PLASTIC-FREE Packaging If They Had a Choice.” Oceana, 2020, https://oceana.org/blog/opting-out-amazon-shoppers-would-choose-plastic-free-packaging-if-they-had-choice .
Semuels, Alana. “How the Coronavirus Helped Grow Amazon's Profits and Power.” Time, Time, 28 July 2020, https://time.com/5870826/amazon-coronavirus-jeff-bezos-congress/ .
13, Stefanie Valentic | Jan. “How Much Does Amazon and E-Commerce Contribute to Plastic Pollution?” Waste360, 13 Jan. 2021, www.waste360.com/plastics/how-much-does-amazon-and-e-commerce-contribute-plastic-pollution#:~:text=Plastic%20packaging%20shipped%20with%20the,in%20waterways%20and%20marine%20ecosystems .