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Amazon Joins Consortium to Create Upcycling Strategies

Retailer helps BOTTLE accelerate path toward more sustainable plastics
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Amazon Joins Consortium to Create Upcycling Strategies
Amazon’s growing team of materials scientists and experts hopes to develop technologies and materials that will enable the full life cycle of plastics to be net-zero carbon.

Amazon has joined the BOTTLE (Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment) consortium — a key research initiative under the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) — to help reduce plastic pollution through innovation in materials and recycling.

Led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the BOTTLE consortium was launched in 2020 to spur innovation and advance new technologies to address plastic pollution by bringing together cutting-edge talent and capabilities from both the public and private sectors. The Kraft Heinz Co. is also working with the consortium.

According to the BOTTLE consortium, 5.7 billion metric tons of discarded plastic have never been recycled. Amazon joined the DOE-backed project to help further progress in developing new chemical upcycling strategies for today’s plastics and redesigning tomorrow’s plastics to be recyclable by design.

“Plastics are extremely versatile materials, and often they are still the best option available for a myriad of functions,” said Gregg Beckham, BOTTLE’s CEO and a senior research fellow at Golden, Colo.-based NREL. “Finding a way to better recycle single-use plastics while reducing and ultimately eliminating their use is a grand challenge of our time, and we’re committed to pursuing scientific advancement to this end. With Amazon’s innovation expertise, we’re excited to work together to find solutions that have the potential to have vast, positive impacts.” 

As part of the consortium, Amazon’s growing team of materials scientists and experts hopes to develop technologies and materials that will enable the full life cycle of plastics to be net-zero carbon. Amazon’s team will work with the consortium to create new energy-efficient technology that will break down different kinds of plastics and turn them into valuable materials that can be used to make the same types of plastics or new plastics. In cases where the materials don’t make it back into the recycling stream, the molecular structure of the new materials will be designed to biodegrade in natural environments.

One of the key materials scientists involved is Alan Jacobsen, who is part of Amazon’s science and sustainability team in Seattle. In a post on Amazon’s Science blog, he wrote: “An additional objective of the initial work we are doing with the BOTTLE consortium is to develop new plastics that could be made from the chemicals coming out of this new deconstruction process. In some cases, closed-loop recycling may make the most sense. In other cases, developing new polymers from the deconstructed materials may be a better option.

Amazon is no stranger to creating sustainable packaging options. In November 2021, the online retailer took a major step in making pickup and delivery better for the planet by launching curbside recyclable packaging. Grocery items from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market now arrive insulated in packaging made from recycled paper, permanently eliminating the need for plastic liners and bubble bag insulation. In addition to keeping grocery items chilled or frozen during delivery, the new packaging is also easier for customers to recycle at home.

Seattle-based Amazon is No. 2 on Progressive Grocer’s 2021 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods is No. 26 on PG’s list.

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