Amazon teams with recycling robot firm to track package waste

Amazon generate a lot of trash. Precisely how much is a matter of some debate. In 2021, the company says it used 214 million or so pounds of single-use plastic in its packaging. Nonprofit ocean conservation firm Oceana, on the other hand, put that figure at approximately ~700 million pounds. That’s a huge gulf, but in either case, we’re talking about a lot of trash.

The company has been making strides on this front, as it stares down the face of an ambitious 2040 net-zero carbon emission goal. Take for example, its ongoing efforts to reduce package weights and replace plastics with paper products. Or, more recently, a new deal with Glacier.

This week, Amazon is announcing an investment through its Climate Pledge Fund and plans to implement the Bay Area recycling robotics startup’s technology to find out what happens to its packaging once it leaves consumers’ hands.

“Our investment in Glacier is really about creating a circular economy supply chain,” Nick Ellis, principal at Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, tells TechCrunch. “We want to do that sustainably, and that piece has always been a bit of a black box. Once that package ends up at our customer’s doorstep, what happens to it? Glacier finally allows us to see that last piece of the puzzle and understand is that packaging ending up in a recycling stream or a waste stream.”

Glacier’s offering revolves around two primary products. The first is a robot that is primarily deployed in recycling facilities to sort through different materials. On a very high level, it’s similar to AMP Robotics’ offering. The second is an AI scanner. The second is the one Amazon is piloting.

Image Credits: Glacier

“What it allows both facilities and brands like Amazon to do is understand what’s happening inside their facility or with their products — or generally in the ecosystem with plastics at large,” Glacier co-founder Areeb Malik tells TechCrunch. “We can install these cameras pretty easily and pretty broadly to develop a picture of what’s happening behind the scenes at our waste economy.”

Glacier says it’s currently working with customers in 10 states. Forming partnerships with companies and government agencies is a big part of that deployment, according to co-founder and CEO Rebecca Hu. “We’ve been very concerted in making inroads with brands and producers like Amazon and other Fortune 500 companies, as well as government agencies, whether that be the municipal government, like the City of Phoenix, which is currently working with us to understand its recycling stream. We’ve also received a pretty significant grant from the Michigan Department of Environment for further deployments of our technology. There’s a lot coalescing around the overall ecosystem.”

Amazon is a co-leader of the new $7.7 million round, along with New Enterprise Associates (NEA). Other investors include, AlleyCorp, Overture VC and VSC Ventures.