26 August 2019 Business

Amazon under fire for switching to hard to recycle plastic envelopes

Amazon is being criticised for ditching cardboard packaging in favour of plastic envelopes that cannot easily be recycled.

Amazon has come under fire for increasing use of plastic packaging at a time when supermarkets are successfully cutting back on their use of plastic packaging.

Consumer groups turned their ire on the online retail giant for switching from board packaging to plastic for shipping smaller items. Previously the company had been targeted for packing small items in oversized outer cartons with first plastic fills and then excessive amounts of paper fill. It replaced the smaller boxes with the padded envelopes earlier this year, sparking the barrage of complaints now directed at the business.

As well as consumer groups, there has been criticism from leading environmental NGOs, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace UK among them.

In response Amazon says that the SmartPac envelopes are recyclable, though not necessarily in domestic waste streams. In a statement Amazon says: “Over the past ten years our sustainable packaging initiatives have eliminated more than 244,000 tonnes of packaging materials, avoiding 500 million shipping boxes. SmartPac mailers are kerbside recyclable in some cities, and in all store drop off locations.”

However, it admits that the material is not widely recyclable. This has led to a swing away from using plastic for mailing from other online retailers and publishers.

Others have pointed out that pulp and fibre based alternatives for shipment of small items are available.

A spokesman for the Confederation of Paper Industries explains: “Not only is paper and cardboard a uniquely renewable, recyclable and re-usable resource, it's also strong and flexible enough to keep goods safe while in transit making it the perfect packaging material.

“Many supermarkets, shops on the high street and online retailers have been making the switch from plastic to cardboard for their packaging recently and it's a trend we would like to see continue.”

Amazon was among the 181 companies that have signed a pledge in the US for business to embrace sustainable practices, namely to put responsibilities to a wider group of stakeholders: staff, suppliers, communities and customers as well as to its shareholders.

By Gareth Ward

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