How we reduce packaging waste
Our customers want right-sized, recyclable packaging that minimises waste and ensures damage-free delivery. We work to reinvent and simplify our sustainable packaging options using a science-based approach that includes lab testing, machine learning, materials science and manufacturing partnerships to scale sustainable change across the packaging supply chain.
Sustainable packaging initiatives
Our sustainable packaging initiatives reduce waste and make it easier for customers to take products out of their packages. Since 2008, initiatives including Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP) have eliminated more than 665,000 tons of packaging materials—more than 1.18 billion shipping boxes—by promoting easy-to-open, recyclable packaging and delivering products in their own packages without additional shipping boxes.
To certify products under FFP, we work with manufacturers worldwide, helping them innovate and improve their packaging functionality. By testing products in a dedicated, state-of-the-art lab in Seattle and in our fulfilment centres across the globe, we identify specific steps that manufacturers can take to improve their packaging and ensure that customers’ products are protected all the way to their final destination.
We started small with just 19 products enclosed in hard plastic cases known as ‘clamshells’ and secured with plastic-coated wire ties, which are commonly used in consumer goods packaging. Today, more than 1.3 million products qualify under FFP, including the Philips Norelco OneBlade razor, which now takes up 80 % less packaging volume than its original design.
Using machine learning to optimise packages
How big a box is needed for a given product? Is an Amazon box needed at all? To better understand the answers to those questions, we use machine learning algorithms to arrive at the best possible packaging choices for deliveries. That means identifying which products are suitable for envelopes, and moving from a box to a mailer for smaller items. Mailers use less material than their box equivalent, weigh less and are more efficient to ship, reducing carbon in small amounts to create a larger impact across our network.
In cases where the protection of a box is needed, algorithms help us continuously optimise box choices to fit our ever-changing catalogue. Computer-aided engineering is also helping us redesign boxes to use less material while making sure that customer orders are protected.
These improvements help reduce volume per shipment, which means less unnecessary packaging and more efficient use of all forms of transportation.
In 2018, we launched a fully recyclable paper padded mailer made of four layers of paper and a water-based cushioning material that protects products during shipping, ensuring that customer deliveries arrive undamaged and in sustainable packaging. The cushioning material—created with components commonly found in the glue used to make cardboard—was specifically designed to easily separate from the paper in the same way that print inks and other paper coatings are removed during the paper recycling process.
Engaging with vendors and industry
We work with top brands to reinvent their packaging for waste reduction in e-commerce, and vendors have worked to improve product packaging so products can be shipped in their own container. The toy maker Hasbro, for example, redesigned the packaging for its popular toy, Baby Alive, reducing both the amount of material used and the overall package size by more than half. The pet food company Hill’s Pet Nutrition reworked its packaging to make bags of kibble less likely to break and spill during shipment; testing at Amazon validated the redesigned packaging.
We are working across the packaging industry, using new analytics and test methods, new materials and new ways to build enclosures that protect customer products. With packaging suppliers, for example, we have developed solutions for liquid dispensing systems on hard-to-ship items, such as household cleaners and personal care products, preventing spills and the need for extra packaging to contain spills if they happen.
Amazon is a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), an industry working group dedicated to a more robust environmental vision for packaging. SPC uses strong member support, an informed and science-based approach, supply chain collaborations and continuous outreach to design packaging that encourages a sustainable flow of materials. Amazon has also joined the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA), an organisation focused on the specific concerns of transport packaging. ISTA is a nonprofit, member-driven association that sets the standards for optimising the resources in packages that are designed to be survivable, sustainable and successful.