By Ashley Blacow-Draeger
Imagine if the earth had rings as big as Saturn’s, but they’re made of plastic – in the form of those air cushions packed in boxes that you get when you order online. An Oceana analysis of e-commerce packaging data found that the estimated plastic packaging waste generated by the 7 billion packages Amazon shipped in 2019 alone was equivalent to more than 20 million miles of plastic air bags. That is enough to orbit our blue planet 470 times at the height of the space station.
While this is a resourceful analogy, the sheer amount of unnecessary plastic packaging that circulates online shipping these days is frustratingly real.
The vast majority of e-commerce packaging is single-use, meaning it is almost always disposed of after a package is opened. Most plastic waste is neither reused nor recycled, it ends up in landfills, is incinerated, or ends up in the environment where it will persist for years. Thirty-three billion pounds of plastic enter the world’s marine environment each year, devastating our shared ocean and coastal ecosystems. Plastic pollution poses a health risk and costs our cities and counties millions of dollars to clean up annually. Flexible plastic – the category of plastic used for e-commerce shipments – is known as the deadliest type of plastic for marine animals today.
Single-use plastic packaging related to e-commerce purchases generated nearly £ 2.1 billion in plastic packaging worldwide in 2019 alone – and £ 469 million in the US. With sales in the e-commerce marketplace skyrocketing recently and more consumers buying online orders, I am not alone in my concern about the impact of single-use plastic packaging on our environment and local communities.
A new public poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 93% of Californians believe plastic and marine litter are a problem. In a survey of Amazon customers commissioned by Oceana, 85% are worried about plastic pollution, 71% would use optional / alternative plastic-free packaging if offered, and 43% said they were concerned about the extra plastic packaging Those who received them felt disrupted to speed up online shopping in the context of the pandemic.
The convenience of e-commerce shopping and the desire to protect our environment shouldn’t be an either-or decision. Practical alternatives to single-use plastic packaging are available. And Amazon has already taken steps to address its single-use plastic problem in other countries, so why not here? After the company announced it would switch to paper cushions instead of plastic air cushions and bubble wrap at its fulfillment centers in India, the e-commerce giant made the switch in less than a year and recently announced that it would be increasingly paper-based. used shippers across Europe by the end of this year.
During Amazon’s 2021 annual general meeting, more than a third of the company’s shareholders voted for a resolution – the second most “yes” vote of any of its shareholder resolutions – that the company must submit a report quantifying its single-use plastic use. As the world’s largest e-commerce company, Amazon should set the bar by listening to its customers and investors and taking meaningful steps to reduce the use of single-use plastic packaging here in the US
Consumers continue to call for plastic-free choices, including nearly a million California voters who signed a petition certified last month to put a plastic-free California initiative on the November 2022 ballot. If this citizens’ initiative is accepted by the voters, it calls on the manufacturers to comprehensively reduce single-use plastic packaging. This follows a bill to reduce plastic packaging waste in e-commerce that stalled in the California legislature in June when the state assembly did not have enough members willing to join the environment and most Californians.
When my 1 year old son grows up and starts learning about our blue planet, I want him to experience a healthy, clean ocean untouched by the devastating effects of plastic pollution. Let’s bring the ship to plastic pollution for the next generation.
Ashley Blacow-Draeger is the Pacific Policy and Communications Manager for Oceana, the largest international advocacy group dedicated exclusively to marine conservation. She lives in Santa Cruz County with her husband and son.