By Rachel Koning Beals
Amazon.com says it plans to cut the use of plastic packaging in Germany, shifting its model under pressure from a European economic giant that has largely embraced environmental policies .
It’s the latest effort by the company to rethink its packaging, including a recently announced U.S. effort to create recyclable insulated protection for keeping refrigerated groceries cool during delivery times.
Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -8.43% said this week that its German logistics center will replace all single-use plastic packages with paper-based bags or cardboard boxes by the end of the year.
Exceptions include when third-party sellers provide products in packaging that can be relabeled for delivery, and when couriers are asked to leave products in outdoor locations during rainfall, the company said.
Environmental groups in Germany have long urged Amazon, as one of the biggest online retailers, to lead the way in reducing unnecessary waste.
The Ocean Conservancy says its global trash-collection campaigns that began in 1986 have collected over 357 million items from beaches and waterways.
Analysis of the 17 most commonly collected items — including cigarette butts, plastic wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic bottle caps, straws and stirrers — found that the bulk of the trash collected by volunteers isn’t recyclable in most circumstances.
Historically, Amazon has been dinged by environmental groups for its packaging and what have been limited recycling opportunities.
Advocacy group Oceana, in a report titled “Amazon’s Plastic Problem Revealed,” drew from e-commerce packaging market data as well as a peer-reviewed report published in the journal Science. It found that plastic packaging shipped with the 7 billion packages Amazon delivered in 2019 generated 465 million pounds of waste. As a result, Oceana estimated that 22.4 million pounds of that plastic packaging ended up in waterways and marine ecosystems.
The plastic film typically used in Amazon packaging is not recyclable. Municipalities and materials recovery facilities largely are not able to sort and process polyethylene plastic film as part of curbside recycling programs, Oceana says.
For at least a portion of its delivery packaging, Amazon is looking to make a change.
The company is rolling out recyclable grocery delivery packaging in the U.S. that will maintain the temperature of cold and frozen products throughout the delivery window.
Amazon says its new, select packaging for groceries is made from recyclable materials and is “curbside” recyclable for the consumer. Amazon began developing the packaging in 2019 to improve on the sustainability of plastic liners and bubble-bag insulation, the company says.
The new packaging, which will be used for Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh deliveries, utilizes recycled paper tissue layering that is commonly used in the moving and packing industry, Amazon says.
Joe Rake, a senior program manager on the grocery delivery packaging team at Amazon, said they could not find a solution on the market that would meet the company’s needs for thermal and sustainable design, so Amazon has designed its own packaging.
The company has also made a push toward more renewable energy sources as a way to reduce its large carbon footprint. That includes a major investment in newly trading electric-vehicle company Rivian /zigman2/quotes/230726939/composite RIVN -4.69% .
In its annual sustainability report released in June, Amazon said its activities emitted the equivalent of 60.64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020. That was up from 2019, when it reported 51.17 million metric tons, an increase of 15% year over year.
Shares of Amazon are up 8.9% in the year to date, while the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.04% is up 24% in the same stretch.