Online Shopping and Its Impact on the Environment

What are some of the environmental impacts of your online shopping habits? Going online to browse, shop, click, and buy is incredibly easy and convenient, but does that convenience come with an environmental cost. As Amazon takes over the world and kills the traditional brick-and-mortar shopping, it’s going to be important to consider online shopping’s environmental impact.

Demobilization of consumers

There are a few potential environmental benefits to online shopping. The demobilization of consumers decreases potential carbon emissions made by traveling cars. Furthermore, by moving business online, stores may no longer need print ads or catalogues, reducing the amount of waste those ads could produce. However, do these reductions off-set the other impacts shopping online could have on the environment?

Increased cardboard box and styrofoam waste

E-commerce sales are one of the fastest growing contributors to cardboard box waste. While cardboard is a recyclable product, a lot of it still ends up in landfills. To make matters worse, our current waste management systems can’t keep up with the rise in cardboard box demand. And it’s not just cardboard waste that is increasing, as there has been a huge increase of styrofoam and plastic packaging. While styrofoam is recyclable, the cost to recycle it is enormous. Moreover, styrofoam and plastic are some of the most common types of debris that end up in the ocean. Once it makes it into the ocean, the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces and makes a garbage murk. It should go without saying that this isn’t good for marine life.

Shipping

The distance your package has to travel to get to you is enormous. The increase of online shopping has significantly increased the amount of trucks on the road, and, as such , has increased greenhouse gas emissions.

For an estimated 1,300 Km driven, an average of 1Kg of Carbon is released into the atmosphere. One of the furthest routes available for a package to travel is just over 4000 Km in Australia. This route would be responsible for 3Kg of carbon emissions.

On the bright side, there are huge cost incentives for delivery companies to find the fastest routes and keeping fuel cost and carbon emissions low. Each delivery truck will be packed as much as possible to make the delivery journey.

The new 2 Day “Prime Shipping” that Amazon offers, however, is not beneficial to keeping carbon emissions low. In order to keep emissions low, a company needs time to take orders and fill the truck. If you order a package and choose a 2 day shipping option, the company looses its freedom to choose lower-carbon methods of transportation, instead choosing the fastest and most direct route to you.

At this point it is unclear weather the benefits to online shopping equal the downfalls. The reductions of packaging waste is needed across the globe for all products, not just for online shopping. When purchasing a product it is important to keep packaging in mind. When shopping online, it is clear, that rush deliveries are more likely to cause a higher carbon emissions, so if you don’t need it right away, don’t choose the rush option.

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