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Packaging and Returns: Part of Amazon’s Sustainability Efforts

Amazon
Packaging and Returns: Part of Amazon's Sustainability Efforts

Amazon wants you to know it cares about the environment. “Sustainability is incorporated into every part of our business worldwide,” an executive stated in a recent interview published on its corporate blog.

Amazon faces challenges in many areas, from worker safety to competitive practices, and it works hard to get ahead of the issues to try and influence public sentiment.

The company has been working to get its message about sustainability to Europeans. On December 20th, it published an interview with Kara Hurst, Head of Worldwide Sustainability at Amazon, on its Day One blog.

Two issues Hurst discussed are of special interest to merchants: packaging and returns.

She said Amazon has been working on reducing waste in packaging for over a decade, and said the company reduced packaging waste by 25%, representing 665.000 tons of packaging, which is over 1 billion of boxes avoided.

“We always listen to our customers and explore ways to encourage Amazon suppliers to adopt sustainable packaging standards,” she said, and cited two Amazon programs: “frustration-free” packaging 100% recyclable, and Ship in Own Container (SIOC).

“We still have work to do but we’ve made significant progress over time.”

She was also asked about Amazon’s approach to reducing the destruction of returns.

“When we receive a returned product from a customer, the first thing we do is understand if we can re-sell this product back. We might need to repair or refurbish it and then we can resell it as an open box.

“To avoid waste, we launched a donation partner program through “Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) donations”, which reduces our overall operational footprint by making sure that products that cannot be sold are donated to those in need. We have a whole series of responsible actions on what the next steps are for these products.”

You can learn more about how Amazon handles returns in Europe in this July 8th post on Amazon’s blog about a company that has been handling returns management for Amazon for 17 years. Ralf Hastedt started Avides Media AG in his garage and now employees 180 people in five locations in Germany, England, and Poland.

It’s fascinating to hear Amazon describe how it handles returns:

“When a customer returns their goods to Amazon, they are inspected by an Amazon employee. Depending on the condition, Amazon then sells the products again as new or as used goods on Amazon Warehouse – or they go as a donation to the innatura charity platform.”

Amazon also sends some returns to Avides Media AG. Hastedt said his firm identifies, sorts, and inspects returned items and “bring them back into the goods cycle. Sometimes the products do not need much more than new packaging because they are unused and function properly.”

If products are damaged or have other defects, they go to a specialist company for repair. And some products, such as robotic vacuum cleaners, can be repaired directly by Avides employees.

While Amazon focuses on the environmental impact of reducing packaging and keeping returned products out of the landfill, it’s also good for its bottom line. It learned early on that efforts to reduce costs were also good for the environment, such as the story of how it removed light bulbs from vending machines in fulfillment centers to save money.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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