Quick delivery became a pandemic lifeline for many – but is the endless cycle of cardboard putting an undue strain on the planet, our infrastructure and workers?
The pandemic turned the US into a next-day delivery nation. Amazon, in particular, saw sales surge during the dark days of Covid. In the first three months of 2021, the company watched its total sales tick up by 44%, constituting $8.1bn in profit. Those sales were led by the 200 million subscribers to Amazon’s super-fast delivery service Prime as people demanded everything from desk chairs to bananas delivered the next day.
Amazon sold 44% more items during the pandemic, but the cost of fulfilling those orders increased by only 31%. This saving was one of scale – high-order volume allowed Amazon to operate even more efficiently. “It has run its warehouses closer to full capacity, and delivery drivers have made more stops on their routes, with less time driving between customers,” reported the New York Times.
During that period of lockdowns, Amazon’s quick delivery became a lifeline for many people. But as we approach a return to a more normal life, many of us are investigating the various habits and proclivities we unconsciously established during Covid. Do we want to go back to the office? Are we satisfied with our current employment situation? And is the endless cycle of cardboard arriving at our doorsteps putting an undue strain on the planet, on our infrastructure, and on the human spirit?
Amazon Prime ships about 1.6m packages a day. That operation is buoyed by a worldwide logistics team which rumbles all day and night. Isn’t that a little gluttonous? Or, as M Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, put it in an interview with NPR: “You don’t need a pair of socks to get to you swiftly. It probably makes just as much sense to get it to you efficiently.”
For Amazon workers, this means working at an extraordinary pace. Jacob, who joined Amazon two years ago, says he has logged a total of 30,000 miles, and 400 routes. He is frequently saddled with shifts that force him to deliver to “70 separate three-story buildings” with more than 350 packages. “I was logging over 120 flights of stairs on my Fitbit,” he tells the Guardian.
“Amazon constantly reminds us they put profits over their workers,” he says. “I ended up having a normal 200-plus stop day on Easter Sunday. Zero mercy shown.”
The physical toll bears out in the data. According to a survey of workers in a Long Island Amazon warehouse, 42% reported physical pain in their day-to-day duties – usually in the feet and lower back. (They also noted psychological pressures and a deterioration of their normal sleep schedules.)
“I do feel like the workload is unreasonable,” says another driver interviewed by the Guardian, who asked to remain anonymous. “There is no time to break. It is impossible to complete a route, and take your breaks, and be back to the station in time.”
In the past eight years there have been hundreds of accidents involving Amazon vehicles, including at least six deaths, which were documented in BuzzFeed News investigation in 2019. But it is difficult to know the exact figures, given the way Amazon outsources its delivery apparatus to a worldwide network of companies. In total, BuzzFeed identified at least 250 outsourced dispatchers who work with Amazon.
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