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Amazon wants to know where its packaging goes after leaving customers

Amazon Glacier package recycling

Amazon has joined hands with the robotics recycling startup Glacier to track the trash it generates and find out where the packaging goes after it leaves the customer. The e-commerce giant has co-invested in the Bay Area startup through its venture capital arm Climate Pledge Fund.

Co-founded by Rebecca Hu and Areeb Malik, Glacier uses AI-powered robots to automatically sort recyclable materials at facilities and collect real-time data on recycling streams from recycling companies and consumer brands.

Their long-term goal is to improve the sorting and recycling process to prevent valuable materials such as metals and plastics from ending up in landfills or oceans. For reference, one Glacier robot can save about 10 million items per year from ending up in landfills.

Glacier also has an AI model, which is capable of identifying over 30 categories of materials in real time. It can scan for a variety of items in different shapes and sizes, for instance, a broad PET plastic or a narrow toothpaste tube. Amazon plans to use Glaciers technology to know whether its packaging is going to a recycling stream or a waste stream.

The recycling robotics startup is also working on computer-vision technology to "identify everything in our recycling waste stream, from broader categories like cardboard to more specific items like cat food cans."

Amazon said it is piloting a project that uses Glacier's AI scanning technology to sort "novel biomaterials," adding that its long-term vision is to use packaging materials that are biodegradable and compostable.

According to Amazon's estimates, it used about 214 million pounds of single-use plastic in its packing in 2021 alone. However, estimates from the non-profit Oceana (via The Verge) suggest Amazon generated over 709 million pounds of plastic packaging waste globally in 2021, equivalent to the weight of about 70,000 killer whales.

In addition to recycling, Amazon said it's implementing other ways to curb the use of plastic in its packaging. The company launched a program to ship eligible products in manufacturer's packaging and started eliminating plastic packaging at its fulfillment centers.

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