As the world’s leading online retail site, Amazon is also one of the world’s biggest consumers of single-use plastics. They’ve made strides to reduce the amount of plastic they use, and recently announced plans to ditch their familiar blue and white mailers should boost those efforts considerably.
The chances are pretty good that you have received at least one blue and white plastic mailer from Amazon in the past. Even as this article is being written, Amazon trucks across the country are loaded with cheap, lightweight, easy-to-use mailers. But that will not be the case forever. Amazon says it is phasing them out in favor of more easily recycled paper mailers.
Single Use, Not Recyclable
As a company whose business is built on industrial plastic recycling, we get why Amazon has used the mailers for so long. They are extremely cheap to manufacture. They are light enough to not create excess weight problems during shipping, yet they are tough and durable. The biggest downside is that they are not recyclable.
In fairness, every plastic known to man is theoretically recyclable. When we say that plastic mailers are not, we are speaking in practical terms. The mailers are difficult to sort using automated means; they are difficult to clean when they get contaminated. And recycling them doesn’t produce an end product with high demand.
Even worse, the Chicago Tribune and other news outlets reported a couple of years ago that the mailers were getting stuck in municipal sorting machines, slowing down sorting and contaminating loads. Recyclers insisted at the time that the mailers were more trouble than they were worth.
Par for the Course
Truth be told, the Amazon plastic mailer saga is par for the course in the post-consumer plastics arena. The reason more than 90% of all post-consumer plastics never get recycled is that the process is too complicated and costly. That will not change until things are simplified and modified so that recyclers can actually make money doing it.
We do it in the industrial sector every day. Here at Seraphim Plastics, we buy things like plastic pallets and totes. We purchase plastic purge and cutoffs from manufacturers. We even buy bales of clean and sorted PET bottles. What do we do with it?
Every load of plastic we purchase is transported back to our facility for processing. We simply run a load through a series of grinders and magnets to reduce its size. What comes out at the other end is known as regrind. We sell that plastic regrind to manufacturers. It gets mixed with virgin plastic to make new things.
Process Makes a Difference
Industrial plastic recycling is proof of concept. It demonstrates that plastic can be recycled effectively. On the other hand, municipal recycling hasn’t been very worthwhile for decades. Why? It is all about the process. How an organization employs its process makes all the difference in the world.
In Amazon’s case, they have decided that the lack of a successful recycling process makes using their blue and white mailers no longer worthwhile. As they seek to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they produce and utilize, one of their most visible casualties will be the tried-and-true plastic mailer.
Rest assured that Amazon’s paper mailers will still get goods to you on time and undamaged. That much won’t change. In the meantime, we will continue doing what we do in seven states, including Tennessee, Arkansas, and Ohio. If you’re a business owner in any of those states, give us a shout if you have scrap industrial plastic you think we might be interested in. Maybe we can buy it from you.