Ryan Metzger sees a lot of recyclable material from the 1,500 Seattle-area households using Ridwell, a startup he helped launch to deal with hard-to-dispose of items. Increasingly, a lot of what he sees is stamped with Amazon’s logo.
As Amazon gears up for next week’s Prime Day, its fifth annual summer online shopping extravaganza, Ridwell is tagging along on the hype, looking to make a tiny dent in the mountain of packaging that will come with the many millions of products the tech giant is expected to ship.
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Ridwell normally collects everything from household batteries to bubble wrap every two weeks from subscribers who spend $10 to $14 a month on its service. For the two weeks from July 22 to Aug. 1, it will grab Amazon-related packaging materials from anyone who wants the disposal help in Seattle, free of charge.
“We see all these white and blue envelopes coming in, at the same time you read about how Prime Day is becoming a bigger and bigger thing,” said Metzger, referring to the mailers which are not supposed to go in curbside recycling bins. “We thought it was an opportunity for the community to come together and divert even more things from landfills and from jamming up recycling centers and stuff like that.”
Prime Day becoming “bigger and bigger” is a bit of an understatement. Prime members purchased more than 100 million products during Prime Day last year — setting another new record as the “biggest shopping event in Amazon history.” The deals also served to attract more new Prime members than any day in the company’s history.
More members. More shopping. More packaging.
“We thought, why don’t we just make it a way for people to get rid of the stuff when they have more of it, because of Prime Day,” Metzger said. “Just as Amazon’s [built] around convenience on getting things, we hope to be the same on getting rid of things. And that’s what we’re all about.”
A Ridwell web page offers details on how to sign up for the free pickup as well as what the company will collect — plastic Prime shipping envelopes, poly bags and air pillows. All of the plastic film goes to a collection facility in Kent, Wash., and is ultimately processed in Oregon and turned into material such as plastic lumber used in decking.
While the cardboard boxes that internet shopping and shipping were built on have certainly gotten their share of attention when it comes to waste, Amazon’s move toward more plastic mailers is getting increased attention now. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that while the bubble-lined envelopes take up less space in trucks and increase delivery efficiency, they are a headache if they wrongly end up in recycling bins and ultimately gum up a facility’s machinery.
For its part, Amazon promotes its sustainability and waste-reduction efforts rather vigorously, including around what it calls Frustration Free Packaging, which involves identifying products which can be shipped without being put in another Amazon box or envelope. The company says that over the past 10 years, these packaging initiatives have eliminated more than 244,000 tons of packaging materials, avoiding 500 million shipping boxes, and reduced packaging waste by 16 percent.
On its website, it directs customers on ways to recycle the packing materials it does use.
“Playing a significant role in helping to reduce the sources of human-induced climate change is an important commitment for Amazon,” the company said in a statement. Anticipated progress around electric vehicles, aviation bio fuels, and renewable energy have Amazon looking to reach a goal of net zero carbon for 50 percent of its shipments by 2030.
Metzger, who previously spent time at Microsoft, Zulily and Madrona Venture Group, applauds Amazon’s efforts to think about shipping in more environmentally responsible ways, including initiatives around choosing your delivery day so more of your items are grouped together, for instance.
“I think they have made good strides on the getting-stuff-delivered-to-me side,” he said. “Where we hope to compliment them though is sort of in reverse. I haven’t seen as many actions being taken there. They certainly have the scale to do it in interesting ways and have the creativity and innovative mindset to be able to do some interesting things.”
Metzger said Ridwell is getting a bunch of shares and sign-ups around its Amazon packaging pickup promotion. And while Prime Day has clearly become a go-to worldwide event for Amazon, piggy backing could pay off for the small Seattle startup that’s left to collect the trash.
“Hopefully in the future we’ll have a wider geographic reach and can serve even more people,” Metzger said. “We also really hope to bring more reusability into this process, too, where maybe one day we can bring a bunch of these Prime mailers back to Amazon and they can use them again.”