Why Amazon is bad for the planet (packaging, emissions, etc)

It’s come to my attention that some people may not understand why supporting Amazon is bad for the environment. So, I thought, let’s just break it down. To be honest, I didn’t really know the full reason, either. I just assumed that there is no way a company as large and exploitative as Amazon could be GOOD for the earth, so I quit buying from them about 2 years ago and finally canceled my Prime account within the last year.

But, Emma, Jeff Bezos donates so much money to the Earth, how could his company (I know, he doesn’t own it anymore, but he did at the time) be bad for the planet? First, donations are tax write-offs, second, he donates pocket change (compared to his wealth), and third, why bother donating money to plant trees when your company is ultimately destroying those efforts?

So, why is Amazon so bad for the planet? Let's dive into the environmental downfalls of Amazon:

Carbon emissions

In 2019 alone, Amazon’s carbon footprint increased by 15%. Their carbon footprint, keep in mind this is a business, is more than that of Norway, an entire country. Amazon also claimed themselves that its carbon emissions raised by another 19% in 2020. Keep in mind this was the peak of the pandemic when other businesses and means of transport had significantly lower carbon emissions.

Not to mention, this company THRIVES off of fossil fuels: vans, semi-trucks, etc. Sure, they claim they are on track to be carbon neutral by 2040, but we need better NOW. In just 2019, Amazon doubled its fleet of semi-trucks to 20,000.

We have to look at their 1-2 day shipping too. What does this mean? This means more planes and more trucks in order to guarantee your quick delivery. This means trucks are constantly going from factory to warehouse to mail centers to your home. Planes make cross-country and global deliveries faster, too. Sure, it’s nice to get stuff in a pinch, but think about how many more emissions are associated with a plane delivering your package vs a train or a ship.


With online shopping, we lose our ability to feel items, try them on, get an authentic look at them before purchasing. With this, comes excess returns. But, they’ll resell it, right? No, unfortunately not, at least not most of the time. To find out for themselves (and the rest of us), CBC Marketplace and Basel Action News teamed up to put GPS trackers in Amazon returns to see what happens to them.

After a few months, they found that only 4 had been resold while some remained in warehouses and some even ended up in the landfill. I suppose it depends on the quality of the item and how likely it is to resell. Regardless of where they end up, this bleeds into the carbon emissions section earlier: transporting to you, back to a warehouse, maybe to a new customer, and so forth. One of the items, a printer, traveled over 620 miles just to keep being moved and moved with no final destination.

For large companies like this, it can be cheaper to just trash items instead of trying to resell them. Reselling means sorting returns, reboxing them, maybe even resending them to distribution facilities while trashing them means one step and then asking the distributors to make a new one. So, think before you shop and think before you return an item. It might be best of the planet to try to resell it yourself.

Their packaging waste

A huge reason I wanted to stop using Amazon was their godforsaken packaging. I’m sure you know what I mean: you order, say, a tube of mascara and it comes in a box that could have shipped a pillow or pots and pans. Even with unbreakable items, since they use these too-large boxes, they stuff the boxes FULL with plastic: bubble wrap, foam peanuts, and plastic pillows. Even if you manage to get one of their mailer envelopes that seems to be made of paper, it is lined with bubble wrap.

But, yay, they switched to paper tape! And maybe this is just me being a pessimist, but the paper tape is SO hard to remove and if you don’t remove it, the box can’t be recycled. And, honestly, this is the smallest eco action they could have taken as a company, in my humble opinion. One report from Oceana discovered that Amazon generated 465 million pounds of just plastic waste in 2019.

Consumer impact

Before we get too far into this one, I am not saying we are to blame. At least, not individually. It’s not too far-fetched to say that Amazon became the online retail giant because of us and our desire for more. So, our choices to not shop from Amazon or shop from them less or even simply think through a purchase does have an impact on the planet and on businesses' supply and demand.

Of course, Amazon could choose electric vehicles, clean energy for their facilities, and so forth, but until demand those things from them, they are going to keep operating as is. As long as we (collectively) keep buying more and more stuff that might just end up in the returns and/or the landfill anyway, they are going to keep operating as is.

Climate change isn’t our fault, but that doesn’t mean our small actions are meaningless. They matter. Our choice to support greener business matters.

Where can I shop instead?

There are many great zero waste online shops that are your one-stop-shops for all your low waste swaps from water bottles to notebooks to dogs and kids. But, sometimes you're not looking for a zero waste swap, but an every-day item, what then? I recommend shopping second hand. This is a great way to keep an item out of the landfill, prevent new resources from being used, and also it's better for your wallet.

Check out this post here with 150+ zero waste items to buy from sustainable and ethical brands and scroll all the way to the bottom to check out some online zero waste stores such as Hippie Haven, Eco Girl Shop, Wild Minimalist, and more.

But what about second hand shopping? Here is a quick list:

- Depop

- ThreadUp

- Offer Up

- Goodwill

- Savers

- Salvation Army

- Facebook Marketplace

- eBay

- Craig's List

- Etsy

- Local, small thrift shops and charity shops

- No-buy groups

- As friends and family for hand-me-downs

I hope that this helps you curb your Amazon addiction, or at least lessen it. We have the power to make huge positive impacts, especially when our actions are combined.

As always, remember that your small actions have a big impact in the long run :)


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