Shareholders and Investors Set to Vote on Amazon’s Other Looming Problem – Plastics
Press Release Date: May 11, 2021
Location: Washington, DC
Amazon’s other big problem – its staggering plastic use – is set to feature at the company’s upcoming annual general meeting (AGM) later this month, when shareholders will be asked to vote on a resolution requiring the e-commerce giant to issue a report by year end quantifying its use of single-use plastics.
Amazon’s plastic use has been under the spotlight since the publication of a ground-breaking report, which exposed the scale of the company’s plastic problem, by Oceana in December 2020. The report found that Amazon generated an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019, including enough air pillows to circle the Earth 500 times. The report also calculated Amazon’s plastic packaging impact on the oceans, finding that up to 22.44 million pounds entered freshwater and marine ecosystems in 2019.
Since then, there have been growing calls for Amazon to address this issue. A group of U.S. Senators, led by the chamber’s second-highest ranking Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), have written to Jeff Bezos urging him to reduce Amazon’s plastic packaging. In late April, a global coalition of more than 140 environmental and community groups joined forces to call on founder and current CEO Jeff Bezos and future CEO Andy Jassy to shift to plastic-free, reusable packaging.
Oceana has written to Amazon’s top investors – including Blackrock, Fidelity, and Vanguard – urging them to support the resolution when it comes before the AGM on May 26. This comes as investment funds continue to put a sharper focus on sustainability across portfolios. Blackrock has stated that it is “integrating ESG into our investment processes.”
Oceana’s Senior Vice President Matt Littlejohn said Amazon cannot continue to ignore this problem: “This resolution reflects the growing momentum and concern about Amazon’s plastic footprint and the lack of a clear effort to measure, commit to specific reduction goals, and take steps to reduce its huge plastic problem. The company refuses to take the necessary first step – which is to report on its plastic use. As a former employee of Jeff Bezos wrote:
More than anyone I’ve ever met, Bezos knew that things don’t improve unless they’re measured. At Amazon, everything that can be measured is.
In its response to shareholders, Amazon says it will review and address the ‘concern for reducing plastic pollution.’ We don’t need the company to ‘show concern’ about their plastic problem, we need them to apply their well-deserved reputation as a company that makes change happen quickly and do something about it. The resolution is a first step: a simple request that Amazon measures and makes public its plastic pollution footprint so it can solve this problem.”
Oceana’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Anne Schroeer, urged shareholders to push back: “Amazon is asking its shareholders to vote against the plastics resolution. That’s no surprise; the report would make ugly reading for Amazon and will only increase the growing pressure on the company from legislators, activists, and their customers.
Shareholders have a great opportunity to send the company a resounding message on the need to reduce its plastic footprint, which is having a devastating impact on our oceans. Amazon cannot continue to publish vague numbers on its plastic use, while telling its customers they want to do better. How can Amazon claim it wants to reduce plastic waste when the company won’t tell us how much it’s producing in the first place? The company has already demonstrated, in India, that it can create innovative plastic-free alternatives and other packaging solutions that can help to reduce carbon emissions. Now is the time for Amazon to be a global leader in addressing this problem that is devastating the world’s oceans.”
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-third 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.
Notes to Editor:
In its letter to investors, Oceana outlined 5 reasons to vote yes to the plastic report resolution.
1. The company faces growing concern and demand to formally measure and take action to reduce its plastic footprint as evidenced by
- An April op-ed in The New York Times calling for Amazon to take action.
- 140 environmental groups urging Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy to reduce its plastic footprint in April.
- A letter to Amazon asking them to “Reduce Plastic Use In Your Packaging To Protect Environment” from U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
- A Change.org petition with over 738,000 signatures calling for the company to take action.
- A poll by Oceana that surveyed 4,253 Amazon customers in the U.S., UK, and Canada, which found that more than 85% were concerned about the impact of marine plastic pollution on the oceans and were interested in plastic-free options from Amazon and other e-commerce companies.
- A growing number of governments around the world are taking action to reduce plastic pollution.
2. Amazon is a major generator of plastic packaging waste
- In December 2020, Oceana analyzed e-commerce packaging data and found that Amazon generated an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019. This includes air pillows, bubble wrap, and other plastic packaging items added to the approximately 7 billion Amazon packages delivered in 2019. The report also found that Amazon’s estimated plastic packaging waste, in the form of air pillows alone, would circle the Earth more than 500 times.
- By combining the e-commerce packaging data with findings from a recent study published in Science, Oceana estimated that up to 22.44 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste entered and polluted the world’s freshwater and marine ecosystems in 2019, the equivalent of dumping a delivery van payload of plastic into the oceans every 70 minutes.
- Amazon’s revenue increased by 38% in 2020 and Oceana assumes, based on the model used for its report (and in the absence of data provided by the company), that the company’s plastic use also increased dramatically.
3. The company’s response to its plastic problem does not adequately address the issue of plastic pollution and requires action by the company’s shareholders
- Amazon has neither published its plastic footprint yet, nor has the company made any type of commitment to reducing the overall use of plastic packaging in its operations, in contrast to other large consumer goods and retail companies who are, like Amazon, members of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Network.
- The main plastic used by Amazon for its packaging is plastic film, the plastic used for bubble wrap, air pillows, and plastic mailers, which the company notes “is a difficult material to process and recycle, and is not accepted by most curbside recycling programs.” Only about 4% of plastic film overall is recycled.
- Company packaging executives have said that they are increasing the use of mailers (the vast majority of which are made from plastic) from 27% of all customer packaging to 47%. The company appears to be potentially increasing (and not decreasing) its use of plastic packaging. The company should set the record straight with a clear accounting of its plastic packaging footprint.
- The company says, in its recommendation for voting on Item 8, it will, by increasing the recycled content used in packaging (for plastic film bags and plastic padded bags), potentially “eliminate more than 25,000 tons of new plastic each year,” but does not explain if and how this change will reduce its plastic packaging use, waste, or impact on marine pollution (recycled plastic, just like new plastic can go to the landfill unless it is collected and retained).
- Amazon says it will launch plastic film recycling at more than 55 fulfillment centers across its network but does not say if or how customers can send their used plastic packaging back to Amazon for recycling and if this will make a material difference in reducing plastic waste.
- Amazon does not mention in its note to shareholders in opposition to Item 8 that the company has already committed to and implemented a plastic-free packaging program in India.
4. The plastic crisis in the oceans requires urgent action by corporate leaders like Amazon
- Globally, scientists now estimate about two garbage trucks’ worth of plastic enters the ocean every minute. That’s 33 million pounds every year.
- Plastic waste is expected to quadruple by the year 2050, and if nothing changes, the amount of plastic entering the ocean is projected to triple by 2040.
- Recycling won’t solve this crisis. Only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled.
- Studies estimate that 90% of all seabirds and more than half of all sea turtles – 52% to be exact – have ingested plastic. A recent report by Oceana found nearly 1,800 cases of plastic ingestion and entanglement by sea turtles and marine mammals from 2009 to 2020 in a survey of 13 different U.S. government agencies and marine life organizations. Eighty-eight percent of the affected animals were species listed as threatened or endangered by extinction under U.S. law.
5. Plastic is made from fossil fuels and is a significant contributor to climate change
- If plastic was a country, it would be the planet’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
- Studies have shown that the plastic industry contributes to climate change by using fossil fuels, including petroleum and natural gas, to create plastic, which emits greenhouse gases at every stage of its lifecycle, from production and transportation to disposal.
- Plastic production is forecasted to increase as are plastic’s effects on our climate. By 2030, plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions are expected to reach an emissions level roughly equivalent to 295 coal plants.
- A recent report found that CO2 emissions from the disposal of plastic through the open burning of plastic waste from a leading consumer goods company in low-income countries were as high as three-quarters of its global transport and distribution emissions.