Multinational e-commerce giant Amazon is continuing its move towards more sustainable packaging, this time by switching to 100% recyclable paper bags, cardboard envelopes, and boxes for its European deliveries. The company eliminated single-use plastic bags for packaging in Europe in 2019, and this July did away with its ubiquitous blue and white plastic mailer in the United States.
Last year alone, Amazon used 85,916 tonnes of single-use plastic around the world to ship products to customers. Its switch to paper and carboard has been more prominent in Europe, where packaging regulation has put pressure on companies to eliminate single-use plastic packaging earlier on. Nevertheless, plastic is still used in preparation materials like bubble wrap and bags to protect customer orders in specific weather conditions. Amazon said in a statement today that its scientists have been working on finding low-carbon alternatives to virgin plastic that are both waterproof and flexible enough for e-commerce deliveries.
To that end, Amazon is partnering with Italian bioplastics manufacturer Novamont, which was recently acquired by Versalis, a chemical subsidiary of Italian oil giant Eni. They are piloting the use of bags made of bio-based and biodegradable materials obtained from starch and vegetable oils in Italy and Spain. Customers can place these bags in their local compostable waste collection streams or compost them at home, as the materials are certified to be both industrially and home compostable. The bioplastics can also be recovered through recycling. Together with Novamont, Amazon is testing new models to collect these bags from customers and recycle them using mechanical and chemical recycling technologies.
“New technologies mean it’s possible to turn old bio-based bags into new bags indefinitely,” Amazon said in a statement. “We’re trialling these bags in different parts of the business in order to learn about the performance of this type of material in different applications.”
Despite these efforts, critics point out that the packaging pollution problem cannot be solved by switching between single-use materials, but rather by focusing on reduce and reuse initiatives. In this respect, Amazon said it is testing reusable packaging bags in the UK and France. The bags are designed to be durable and sealed with Velcro, so they can be reused multiple times.
Since January 2023, France has mandated on-site food services to provide food and beverages in reusable containers.