Amazon shipments increase plastic pollution by 29% in 2020: study

Environmental group calls on Ottawa to include plastics from Amazon shipments in ban

Amazon parcel deliveries have resulted in a 29% increase in plastic pollution in one year, according to a new study.

According to a report by conservation organization Oceana, 271 million kilograms of plastic were produced by Amazon shipments in 2020, up from 211 million kilograms in 2019.

More than a third of this waste has entered oceans, rivers and lakes, according to the report, with most of the plastic coming in the form of lightweight plastic films, such as bubble wrap.

“This amount is roughly equivalent to the value of a plastic delivery van dumped into major rivers, lakes and oceans every 67 minutes,” the report notes.

Oceana Canada plastics activist Ashley Wallis said Amazon’s “alarming rate” is increasing its plastic footprint at a time when the United Nations considers plastic “the greatest threat to the global environment after the climate change”.

Imagine the cushion of air filling the space your new toaster can’t in Amazon packaging – 271 million kilograms of this plastic is enough to circle the planet over 600 times.

In an Amazon statement, a company spokesperson called the report “seriously flawed.”

“They overestimated our plastic use by more than 300% and use outdated assumptions about the sources of plastic waste entering our oceans,” the Amazon spokesperson wrote, highlighting the effects of plastic waste from plastic containers. take out food and drink and fishing activities.

The spokesperson added that Amazon is making “rapid progress in reducing or eliminating single-use plastics from packaging materials around the world.”

In North America, the company says it is looking to double the number of padded packaging that can be fully recycled with paper and increase the recycled content in single-use plastic film bags by 25 to 50 percent by 2021.

While criticizing what he slams as Amazon’s “futile recycling promises,” Oceana says much of the inaction in Canada lies with federal authorities.

Last year, Ottawa announced it would ban single-use plastics by the end of 2021. But that plan has since been delayed until 2022 as the government works to draft new regulations and preparing the industry for change.

The proposed ban covers six types of single-use plastics: plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and food items made from hard-to-recycle plastics.

But that covers less than one percent of all plastics produced globally. And that doesn’t include plastics used in Amazon shipments, according to Oceana.

The conservation group is calling on the Canadian government to enact a “strong national ban” beyond its current ban on plastics.

Dozens of countries around the world have already banned single-use plastics. Amazon plans to end its use of single-use plastic packaging in Germany this year. Scaling up this plan around the world could lead to a significant drop in plastic pollution.

“Amazon has shown that it can reduce its plastic footprint, but in Canada, whether or not it depends on federal leadership,” Wallis said in a press release.


It is estimated that 11 million tonnes of plastic currently enter the ocean each year, accounting for 85% of all marine litter. If current levels of growth do not change, it is expected to triple over the next 20 years. By 2040, that would equal 50 kilograms of plastic per meter of coastline worldwide, according to a United Nations Environment Program global assessment of plastic pollution.

The consequences are far-reaching for animals, humans and shorelines.

A variety of lives are killed or maimed by plastics each year: Getting trapped in ghost fishing gear is one of the leading causes of death among North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered in the world ; seabirds eat plastic because it smells and looks like food; and sea turtles often mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish, filling their stomachs and slowly spreading them.

Humans are not immune to the pervasive impacts of plastics. Research has shown that microplastics are inhaled, absorbed through the skin, and consumed through food and water, all ending up in our lungs, liver, kidneys, and even our placentas.

Researchers at the University of Hull in England published a first-of-its-kind study last week on the impacts of microplastics on human health. Examining contaminated drinking water, seafood and salt, the researchers found that “cell death and allergic reactions” were potential effects of ingesting or inhaling high levels of microplastics. More research into how the body excretes plastics is needed to understand the true level of risk, the authors noted.


Since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have increasingly turned to online shopping, leading to record sales for delivery giants like Amazon. In Canada, StatsCan estimates that e-commerce sales climbed nearly 111% between May 2019 and May 2020.

In November, Amazon CEO Dave Clark told CNBC the company was on track to become the largest delivery service in the United States by early 2022 at the latest.

All these deliveries and the plastic that goes with them must be taken into account, says Oceana. It calls on Amazon to conduct an independent audit of its plastic footprint, increase the number of items shipped in reusable containers and eliminate plastic packaging.

Bryce K. Locke