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caption: A variety of Amazon packages are shown on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, at an Amazon Packaging Lab in Seattle.
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A variety of Amazon packages are shown on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, at an Amazon Packaging Lab in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Millions of Amazon mailers at heart of anti-plastic vote

Amazon is facing vote from its shareholders and environmentalists this week over its use of plastic packaging.

Update 05/26/2022: Amazon shareholders have voted to reject the proposed resolution on plastic packaging. The sponsors, Oceana, said in a statement: "It’s time for the company to be transparent about its plastic packaging use and commit to quantifiable and time-bound company-wide goals to reduce it.”

Original story below.

Seattleites may have caught wind of the campaign around Amazon already, through billboards and yard signs featuring turtles caught in plastic. The message: stop using its flimsy plastic packaging that too easily ends up in marine ecosystems.

Amazon began its annual investors meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. It was expected to advise shareholders to vote "no" on a resolution that would require the corporation to cut down plastic pollution.

The resolution would require the company to take two steps it never has before on plastics. Those are: disclose how much plastic packaging it uses, and strategize how to move away from the thin, landfill bound packaging it uses now. The backers say there is hope for this to pass.

"In India, legislation was passed that required Amazon to move away from plastic packaging, and they've since done so," says Sara Holzknecht with the group Oceana.

Oceana has researched Amazon's use of plastic packaging worldwide and is backing this resolution. They also helped run the public campaign that had Seattle homeowners placing yard signs with a plea to Amazon.

Holzknecht says Amazon is one of the largest corporate users of flimsy plastics, which are hard (if not impossible) to recycle curbside. She says its partly a business case for the corporation.

"Amazon, with its resources, is certainly an industry leader in a lot of ways and could be innovating away from plastics and away from paper mailers."

Again, she says, it has already made innovations in India when it was legally bound to.

A report from Oceana estimates that up to 22 million pounds of Amazon's plastic packaging ended up in marine ecosystems in 2019. Another way of putting it, says Holzknecht, is that in 2020 alone "the company used enough plastic to encircle our globe nearly 600 times in the form of plastic air pillows.”

Amazon executives argue the company is already committed to addressing plastic pollution. But, Amazon is lobbying shareholders to vote no.

Amazon executives say, in a letter to investors, they share the concerns outlined in the resolution and are engaged in efforts to develop recycling infrastructure. In addition, the company says it plans to replace its mailing envelopes with a recyclable padded mailer by the end of this year in the U.S.

The resolution, if passed, would require the company to strategize how it could reduce plastic use by at least one-third.