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I’ve always loved the ocean and beach as far back as I can remember. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I grew up around water in the Seattle area and have fond memories of visiting beaches up and down the coast. Almost 20 years ago, I visited a remote part of Panama called the Pearl islands that was supposed to be one of the most hidden, untouched corners of the world. As soon as we began exploring the remote set of islands as contestants on the TV Show Survivor, I was bothered by the amount of plastic floating in the ocean and on the pristine shores. That’s when I realized plastic was such a tremendous and lasting issue, and at that moment I pledged to do my part to reduce pollution.
After doing work for eco brands also concerned with the issue, some of which had come up with some great solutions to plastic cleanup, I realized that it was the plastic distribution at scale that was the biggest problem. I started thinking about where plastic flows out into our planet at scale and where it was essentially not really necessary. I asked myself what was the one type of plastic nearly everyone still HAD to accept even unwillingly into their homes. Packaging!
So many of the proposed solutions I saw were complicated, incremental and put judgement back on that consumer who wasn’t able to readily adopt a zero waste lifestyle. Shopping only local or making everything at home – that’s a big ask of most consumers and not feasible at scale, especially now during COVID. Each of those tactics do reduce waste but, if the major distributor of much of the waste continues relentlessly pumping plastic into the homes of the millions who can’t or won’t make those changes, it’s a losing battle and we are running out of time .
There had to be a balance between convenience and conscience as a starting point. Rather than judge, I wanted to figure out how we could empower everyday people to make choices that were better for our planet. To reach scale, the solution had to be simple and accessible. It shouldn’t replace all the other efforts to reduce waste but it should be BIG and relatively swift to turn off the tap of plastic waste pouring into our homes and back out into the planet.
The waste of online shipping and the ease of altering online checkout kept coming back to me as the place we (I) could dig in. I’d spent years working in ecommerce and digital optimization and knew what goes into a company’s decision to change checkout. It comes down to money and customer demand. If I could make a case that plastic-free checkout was what customers wanted and that not adopting it would accelerate customer attrition and loss of revenue long term, I stood a chance.
The plastic-free choice at online checkout made sense as the thing to push for NOW but I knew I needed to grow the numbers to prove to Amazon that they were misaligned with their customers’ priorities.
According to Oceana’s scientists, 17.6 billion tons of plastic enter our oceans each year, which is the equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of plastic dumped in our oceans every minute.
So, in October, 2019, I started a Change.org petition for a plastic-free option at checkout on Amazon. Amazon is not the enemy but they are the single biggest shipper in our country, if not the world, and they still use a ton of plastic. Thousands of products on Amazon are shipped with plastic wrapping and cushioning materials without any choice for shoppers. Much of the plastic included in e-commerce shipping is not recyclable or is very difficult to recycle given the lack of facilities. 91% of all plastic ends up as litter, in landfills or incinerated, and only 9% of all plastic waste ever generated has been recycled. The numbers are staggering and continue to increase each year.
8 months later, the petition has hit 483,000 and continues to grow daily. At times, we’ve gotten over 70,000 signatures in one day. The petition’s growth has shown that Amazon customers care about our earth and feel an obligation to protect it. The bubble wrap, shrink wrap and Styrofoam that comes with every package is so excessive –Amazon reports it shipped more than 7 billion packages in 2019, so we’re talking about a lot of plastic. There are so many sustainable, eco-friendly options, and customers want the choice of placing an order without the plastic that comes with it. They want to take advantage of the convenience of Amazon, without such a great cost to the planet.
I’m excited to share that Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation organization, has opted to join in the effort and will be launching a campaign based on the petition to get Amazon to offer this choice to its customers and marketplace sellers. The goals are to provide eco options for marketplace sellers aside from the current “Bubble Wrap Non-Compliance,” which has strict demands on plastic bubble wrap use, and to provide a frictionless plastic-free packaging option for buyers at checkout. The current plastic-free options are very limited and very difficult to find.
Oceana is also conducting surveys and research to help quantify the potential loss for Amazon if they don’t pay attention to this consumer demand. They are engaging with Amazon’s executives to share their findings. I’m excited to see what they uncover and how Amazon responds.
I will keep you posted on our progress, and we look forward to building a more sustainable world together.
“Yes, we should aim for zero waste, all of us, sure – but what can we all do right now? We could all click a button at checkout that says essentially ‘no excess plastic for me’ and take a huge dent out of the billions of plastic film packages and fillers sent each year.”