Amazon hits plastic reduction milestone

Amazon has replaced 95% of the plastic air pillows from delivery packaging in North America with paper filler, and is working toward full removal by end of year.

The initiative is part of the online retail giant’s multi-year effort to remove plastic delivery packaging from its North America fulfillment centres. To date, this will be Amazon’s largest plastic packaging reduction effort in North America and will eliminate the use of nearly 15 billion plastic air pillows annually.

New recycled packaging equipment in Amazon fulfillment centres.

“I’m proud of the cross-Amazon collaboration to make a positive impact on the customer delivery experience with easier to recycle materials. It’s a great example of how we thoughtfully test and scale new solutions to protect our customer experience,” said Pat Lindner, VP of mechatronics and sustainable packaging.

“We are working towards full removal in North America by end of year and will continue to innovate, test, and scale in order to prioritize curbside recyclable materials.”

Last October, Amazon announced its first U.S. automated fulfillment centre to eliminate plastic delivery packaging, including the transition from plastic air pillows to paper filler. This work in Ohio allowed the company to test and learn and move quickly on transitioning to paper filler for 95% of shipments in less than a year.

Amazon procurement teams collaborated with suppliers to source paper filler made from 100% recycled content, while also coordinating the transition across hundreds of fulfillment centres. This included working with thousands of employees to change machinery as well as to providing employee training on these new systems and machines.

Paper filler was found to offer the same, if not better, protection to products than plastic air pillows. The paper filler is also curbside recyclable, making it easier for customers to recycle, and is made from 100% percent recycled content.

Fulfillment centre staff are onboard with the switch. “I’m so excited we’re changing over to paper. It’s not only easier to work with, but the machinery gives us more space so it’s easier to pack orders. And I’m proud to be a part of a change that allows customers to recycle at home,” said Christian Garcia, fulfillment associate at a fulfillment centre in Bakersfield, California.

This effort builds on Amazon’s ongoing investment in reducing packaging and increasing curbside recyclability across all its operations, while ensuring products get to customers undamaged. In 2022, 11% of all packages shipped by Amazon globally were without added Amazon delivery packaging through the Ships in Product Packaging program. Amazon tests and certifies products to ensure they can safely ship in their own packaging.

In other initiatives Amazon has teamed up with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop new materials and recycling programs. The company is also developing new technology with Glacier, a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics company, to use AI-powered robots to automate the sorting of recyclables and collect real-time data on recycling streams, which can help reduce landfill waste and increase the use of recycled materials in packaging.