Report: Amazon’s plastic packaging waste jumped 18% to 709 million pounds in 2021 - Oceana

Report: Amazon’s plastic packaging waste jumped 18% to 709 million pounds in 2021

Up to 26 million pounds estimated to end up in the world’s waterways & oceans, yet Amazon ignores calls by shareholders and customers for company-wide action

Press Release Date: December 15, 2022

Location: Washington, DC

Contact:

Gillian Spolarich 202-467-1909

Washington, Dec. 15, 2022: Today, Oceana released a new report “The Cost of Amazon’s Plastic Denial on the World’s Oceans” revealing that Amazon, the largest retailer in the world, generated an estimated 709 million pounds of plastic packaging waste last year, stemming from billions of packages purchased through the company’s e-commerce website. This is an 18% increase over Oceana’s 2020 estimate of 599 million pounds and enough plastic to circle the Earth more than 800 times in the form of air pillows. Oceana found, based on data from a peer-reviewed study on plastic waste pollution published in Science in 2020, that up to 26 million pounds of this plastic waste will end up in the world’s waterways and seas. The type of plastic used by Amazon – plastic film – can be damaging to marine life.

“The science is clear, the type of plastic used by Amazon for its packaging is a threat to the oceans. Customers and shareholders are calling for the company to act. It’s time for Amazon to, as it has on climate, step up and commit to a global reduction in its use of plastic packaging,” said Matt Littlejohn, Oceana’s Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives. 

Amazon refuses to outline a plan and commit to a company-wide reduction in plastic use. In doing so, the company is ignoring its shareholders. At its Annual General Meeting in May 2022, nearly 49% of Amazon’s shares – totaling 181 million shares – voted in favor of a resolution asking the company to address its growing plastic packaging problem. This is the most support that a shareholder-led resolution has received in Amazon’s history. At least 53 shareholding companies declared (publicly or to investors) their intention to vote in favor of the resolution, including the world’s largest asset manager, Blackrock. 

Despite Amazon’s commitment to transparency for its other sustainability efforts (such as its climate initiative), until days ago, the company has not been transparent about its global plastic packaging footprint. On Dec. 13, 2022, Amazon released a blog which stated, “[i]n 2021, we reduced average plastic packaging weight per shipment by over 7%, resulting in 97,222 metric tons [just over 214 million pounds] of single-use plastic being used across our global operations network to ship orders to customers.”

Oceana acknowledges this step towards increased transparency. The reported figure, however, represents only part of the company’s global plastic packaging footprint. In contrast to Oceana’s estimate, Amazon’s disclosure excludes orders made on Amazon’s e-commerce platforms that are fulfilled through third-party sellers and it is unclear how much of Amazon’s total sales this represents. When Oceana inquired, Amazon declined to disclose this information. While Amazon claims to have reduced average plastic packaging weight per shipment by over 7% in 2021, it has not disclosed by how much its global plastic packaging footprint grew from 2020 to 2021. Amazon’s sales are reported to have grown by 22% in this time period. As sales increase, the company’s plastic footprint grows too. Oceana estimated a plastic footprint growth of 18%, accounting for the plastic reduction measures Amazon has taken in some countries (such as India).

The world’s oceans are being devastated by plastic, including the type of plastic used by Amazon in its packaging. Studies have estimated that individuals from 55% of seabird species, 70% of marine mammal species, and 100% of sea turtle species have ingested or become entangled in plastic.[1] Plastic film, according to scientific reports, can be lethal to marine animals if it lands in the oceans.[2]

Regrettably, Amazon appears to be in denial that its plastic packaging is a problem for the seas. The company, in response to Oceana’s last estimate, referred to a scientific study from 2021, noting that “[t]he latest peer-reviewed scientific research finds that the majority of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean comes primarily from takeaway food and drink, and fishing activities.” What Amazon neglected to highlight was that the authors of this study also found that the type of plastic used by Amazon, plastic film, was the most common form of marine plastic litter found in nearshore ocean areas. Items made from film-type plastics such as bags, wrappers and industrial packaging were the first, fourth, and eighth most common types of litter found across all environments surveyed.

Amazon is often cited as one of the most innovative companies on the planet and has demonstrated its ability to create viable solutions to replace and reduce its plastic packaging. Examples of this are its development of a paper-padded mailer and use of returnable packaging in markets like India. The company has even, according to Amazon and local accounts obtained by Oceana, moved away from all plastic packaging use for shipments originating from its own fulfillment centers in Germany, which is the company’s second largest market.

It is clear that Amazon can solve its plastic problem. Yet, it is choosing not to commit to do so on a global scale, despite the severe cost of plastic pollution to our oceans and planet.

To tackle its growing plastic problem, Oceana calls on Amazon to:

  • Make a company-wide commitment to reduce the total amount of plastic packaging it uses by at least 1/3 below current (2022) levels by 2030.
  • Publicly report on the company’s plastic packaging footprint for all products sold through Amazon’s website and independently verify this data.
  • Publicly report on and take responsibility for the full climate impact of all products sold through Amazon’s website and all packaging used to ship these items.

To find out about Oceana’s campaign to reduce plastics, go to oceana.org/plastics.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit www.oceana.org to learn more.


[1] Kühn S and van Franeker JA (2020) Quantitative overview of marine debris ingested by marine megafauna. Marine Pollution Bulletin 151:110858. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.110858

[2] Morales-Caselles et al. (2021) An inshore-offshore sorting system revealed from global classification of ocean litter. Nature Sustainability 4, 484-493 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00720-8; Roman et al. (2020) Plastic pollution is killing marine megafauna, but how do we prioritize policies to reduce mortality? Conservation Letters 14(2): e12781 https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12781