Amazon customers want plastic-free options, says survey

94 per cent of Amazon shoppers in the UK are concerned about plastic pollution, as a new campaign is launched to get the online retail giant to offer its customers plastic-free packaging options.

The campaign was launched today (14 July) by international ocean conservation organisation Oceana, following the release of public opinion research carried out by YouGov in the UK revealing the level of concern shoppers had over the use of plastic in Amazon’s packaging.

In particular, UK customers are overwhelmingly in favour of reducing plastic consumption when shopping online, with 81 per cent of those surveyed agreeing that a plastic-free checkout option should be available, and 52 per cent being willing to shop elsewhere if this is not offered.

Respondents to the survey also highlighted the extra packaging they were receiving during the Covid-19 pandemic as people turned to online shopping during lockdown. 61 per cent said that they were shopping more online due to the Covid-19 outbreak, with 56 per cent saying they were bothered by the extra packaging they were receiving during the outbreak.

Amazon shipped around seven billion packages worldwide in 2019, equivalent to around one package for every living person on earth, much of which contained plastic. To encourage Amazon to offer plastic-free alternatives, Oceana is encouraging shoppers to add their name to a petition, which has nearly reached its target of 500,000 signatures already.

Commenting on the Matt Littlejohn, Senior Vice President of Oceana, said: “Jeff Bezos and Amazon say they are 'obsessed' with meeting the needs of their customers. It’s clear from the results of our survey that what Amazon customers want is for the company to do the right thing and offer plastic-free options at checkout.

“British consumers want to end the plastic disaster and Amazon can make a difference for its customers and the oceans by doing this: this is a company that, according to recent news reports, shipped approximately seven billion packages in 2019, many of those packed with plastic.

Those supporting the campaign called on Amazon to live up to its reputation for innovation – its packaging and materials lab has created a range of lightweight plastic-free packaging and the company has eliminated non-recyclable plastic in packaging in its India fulfilment centres – and shift to plastic-free.

“Amazon has the technical ability, with its fulfillment centres, to offer plastic-free alternatives to its customers, reduce plastic and help protect the oceans and environment”, said former Amazon executive and consultant Rachel Johnson Greer. “It is really a question of will.”

Littlejohn added: “This is a company led by a CEO Jeff Bezos who is investing in space exploration and that is testing using drones to deliver stuff to our houses. They surely have the ability to figure out how to offer plastic-free alternatives.”

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, a plastic pollution campaign group, welcomed the results of the survey, saying “2020 will be the defining year” for public recognition of the need to do the right thing for the planet, particularly with regard to plastic waste. 

"Packaging is one of the worst culprits and it has never made sense to use a toxic indestructible material such as plastic for such temporary purposes,” said Sutherland. “We applaud this research that irrefutably proves that we, the shoppers, no longer want the plastic guilt. It’s time brands and retailers listened to their customers or they will become future dinosaurs, living in our polluting past."

In response to Oceana's campaign launch, a spokesperson for Amazon said: "Amazon continues to innovate and find new ways to protect the environment by developing fully recyclable packaging that also helps minimise carbon emissions. Amazon is also moving to packaging material options that are fully compatible with paper or plastic recycling streams. In North America, Amazon is currently working to double the number of fully recyclable cushioned packages that are recyclable in paper recycling streams in place of plastics and other packaging, and in Europe we are expanding our use of paper mailing bags and paperboard envelops.

"Since 2015, sustainable packaging initiatives at Amazon including Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP) have eliminated more than 880,000 tonnes of packaging materials—the equivalent to 1.5 billion shipping boxes – by promoting easy-to-open, recyclable packaging and shipping products in their own packages without additional shipping boxes. Our packaging programmes have reduced packaging weight per shipment by 33 per cent since 2015. We have identified collection agencies to help us collect plastic waste generated from usage across the Amazon fulfilment network. We expect to recycle more 7,000 tonnes of plastic film per year globally, in addition to the 1,500 tonnes of plastic already being recycled annually in Europe.

"We are also exploring alternative solutions for less common materials that cannot be recycled. We are looking across our entire operations network to incorporate more of our own recycled plastic in products, packaging, and operational processes.

"As the first signatory of The Climate Pledge, we are committed to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement ten years early. That means we’ll be a net zero carbon business by 2040, and 50 per cent of our shipments will be net zero carbon by 2030."

Public demand for plastic reduction and concern about plastic pollution is tangibly high – a survey by fibre-based packaging company DS Smith last year found consumers were willing to pay more for reduced plastic packaging options – and the UK Government has responded with policy proposals to tackle high levels of plastic packaging waste and reduce its environmental impact.

The government announced earlier this year that the new Plastic Packaging Tax would be set at a rate of £200 per tonne of plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled content in a bid to incentivise the uptake in recycled material development of recycling infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the proposed extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging included in the Resources and Waste Strategy and Environment Bill will see packaging producers cover the costs of recycling or disposal, incentivising these producers to improve the recyclability of their packaging.

Businesses have also been responding to public concern, with businesses from across the supply chain forming the UK Plastics Pact, which is run by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), setting out plans to eliminate ‘unnecessary’ single-use plastic packaging by 2025.

You can sign Oceana’s petition asking Amazon to offer plastic-free packaging options on the website.