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Amazon UK Goes ‘Against Progress’ With Single-Use Plastic Packaging

If you’re a stateside Amazon Prime customer, you may be familiar with the company’s blue-and-white plastic bubble envelopes protecting small-item orders—and you probably didn’t bat an eyelash. But customers and eco-activists in the United Kingdom are up in arms over the weather-proof mailers for one very important reason: it’s not easy to recycle them across the pond.

At a time when companies are swapping out single-use plastics and other environmentally irresponsible materials for packaging that leaves a lighter footprint on the planet, Amazon’s decision to roll out the mailers in a country that lacks sufficient recycling infrastructure smacks of wrong-headed, backward thinking, some critics say.

“Amazon is such a huge company that when they take a reckless decision to actually increase their plastic footprint, the impact of that decision is huge,” Louise Edge, who oversees Greenpeace’s ocean plastics campaign for the U.K., told The Telegraph.

Each mailer bears the logo and website URL for howtorecyle.info and indicates that the plastic packaging can be dropped off at stores that recycle similar single-use plastics like shopping bags. It’s common for U.S. stores—supermarkets, specifically—to offer these recycling capabilities, but consumers in the U.K. would be hard pressed to find a location that accepts the Amazon mailer. And the e-commerce leader admitted the envelopes “aren’t widely recycled across the U.K.,” per its Second Chance website where consumers can learn how to reuse and recycle mailing materials.

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Amazon regularly partners with packaging manufacturers to develop eco-friendly and sustainable options that “eliminate waste” and ensure customers receive their orders in perfect condition, an Amazon UK spokesperson told The Telegraph.

Edge, however, decried Amazon’s new stream of plastic waste that will likely pollute the oceans, contribute to towering landfills or burn in waste piles.

“Even if Amazon don’t care about the environmental harm they’re causing, we’re surprised they don’t care how bad this looks for their business,” she told The Telegraph. “Companies should be looking at options for reusable packaging and reducing plastic but Amazon are going against progress and against what customers want.”

Research from Mintel puts the single-use mailer problem in context. Some 86 percent of people in the U.K. use Amazon, 39 percent have access to a Prime membership and 26 percent hold memberships themselves. And they’re highly engaged with Amazon as 70 percent shop the platform once a month and 17 percent buy weekly, according to Mintel’s data.