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Amazon eliminates plastic in e-commerce packaging at its first US automated fulfillment center

#Amazon eliminates plastic in e-commerce packaging at its first US automated fulfillment center

19 Oct 2023 — Amazon has converted automated machinery at its Ohio, US facility to create 100% paper-based e-commerce packaging. According to the corporation, the transition eliminates the need for plastic lining without compromising on weight, durability and size. 

Amazon says its engineers have been researching and experimenting with the development for years. The conversion is based on rebuilt machines, improving made-to-fit technology and transitioning from plastic air pillows to paper fillers. 

“This is a major milestone for our US fulfillment centers. I’m incredibly proud of the teams that developed new technologies to eliminate plastic packaging,” says Pat Lindner, vice president of Mechatronics and Sustainable Packaging at Amazon. 

“This is just the beginning, as we continue to discover more ways to eliminate and reduce plastic packaging for our customers.”

Amazon has historically used plastic air pillows when orders require additional packaging for product safety. This is a common practice in retail shipments, but these kinds of pillows require extra work for customers to pop them and then drop them off at recycling facilities. 

New machine developments have slashed Amazon’s packaging weights by up to 90%.“By transitioning to paper filler made from 100% recycled content, customers can simply recycle them in their curbside recycling bin,” says Amazon. 

Lightweighting through machinery 
Over the last several years, Amazon has significantly reduced packaging using machine learning. It claims these types of packaging are up to 90% lighter than similar rigid corrugated boxes. 

To lightweight and reduce its packaging formats, Amazon’s packaging engineers redesigned machines that previously created items using non-padded plastic bags. The machines now use a built-in sensor to identify the correct size for non-padded paper packaging of products, including clothes, kitchen supplies and sports equipment. 

A heat-sealing technology is then used to ensure items are securely closed. This process reduces empty space and excess waste and does not compromise product safety, says Amazon. 

In addition to updating the machines, Amazon developed a paper that stretches, is more weather-resistant than regular paper, and can be heat-sealed. All packaging elements were tested to ensure the package was curbside recyclable.

“We had machines that were creating durable, right-sized, light packaging, but it wasn’t curbside recyclable, so we took on a challenge and heavily invested in creating a new packaging that customers can easily recycle,” says Lindner.

“We look forward to testing this technology on a larger scale.”

Since 2015, Amazon says it has reduced per-shipment packaging weight by 41%, on average, representing more than 2.1 million tons of packaging materials avoided — the equivalent of more than 173 Space Needles. 

Edited by Louis Gore-Langton

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