The impact of online shopping on the environment and how to mitigate it

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The appeal of online shopping is easily understandable. The convenience of ordering an item from anywhere at any time, with no need to leave your house or office, is a blessing for many people.

This is clear in the upward trajectory of online shopping across the globe. In the United States, for example, online shopping rakes in $517 billion, with one company Amazon accounting for 40% of that amount. Industry experts believe that Americans will spend nearly a trillion dollars ($930 billion) on online shopping by the end of 2021.

But this convenience comes at a cost: the environment.

A recent MIT study estimated that e-commerce has a 36% lower rate of carbon emissions compared to shopping in real life. However, even this lower rate is a serious cause for concern among environmentalists.

As consumers, it’s easy to get daunted by the magnitude of the environmental impact of online shopping and be satisfied with a slightly lower rate of carbon emissions.

But there’s a lot more you can do to help the environment.

In this article, we outline six things you can start implementing in your online shopping routines to reduce your environmental impact.

Don’t Take Multiple Delivery Attempts for Granted

Always try to be there when the delivery is scheduled to arrive to avoid further attempts later on.

Most delivery service providers like USPS and UPS offer text messaging alerts for this reason.

While decarbonizing the shipping industry is undoubtedly a worthy cause, no one can make that happen overnight. Accepting your packages when they arrive and avoiding multiple delivery attempts is a good start.

Combine Your Orders

Avoiding impulsive buying is key if you want to reduce the carbon footprint associated with your online purchases even further.

Map out a shopping plan to determine what you need to buy and when it’ll be needed. If possible, keep a running list of items that are low-priority so they can be bought in bulk.

If you’re shopping for more than one item, consider buying them together in a single order instead of placing separate orders since this results in fewer deliveries and shorter shipping routes.

Search for Certified Green Brands

A huge part of a product’s carbon footprint comes from how it was made and transported to the store where you bought it, so be wary of opaque supply chains that obscure this information.

You can’t do much about how products are manufactured but there is at least one thing you can do: buy from companies that prioritize green/sustainable products.

This means that the company is willing to be accountable for its products throughout its entire lifecycle, which includes manufacturing practices, quality control procedures, and how it impacts the environment in each stage of production.

There are dozens of independent organizations that certify green brands. Search for your target vendor’s certifications, paying special attention to reputable labels such as B-Certification or the Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny.

Be Mindful of Packaging

If possible, try to go for products with sustainable packaging over products with single-use plastic packaging. Avoid products with excessive packaging. The more packaging there is, the bigger its carbon footprint.

Sustainable packaging not only reduces the carbon footprint of your purchase but also produces less waste overall.

Single-use plastics are an especially big no-no, as they are a huge contributor to the litter that pollutes our oceans and endangers marine life.

Check out online resources like the Sustainable Package Coalition for good leads on which brands are stepping up to reduce the environmental impact of their products’ packaging.

Cut Down on Returns

One of the biggest selling points of online shopping is its lax return policies. If you’re shopping for clothes or shoes, for example, you can test them out at home and then return whatever doesn’t fit.

Without a doubt, returns are convenient but they also come with serious environmental consequences that you should be aware of if you want to reduce your carbon footprint during online shopping.

There’s no point in returning items when it means more packaging materials will need to be used for the delivery.

Instead, try to avoid returns when possible and only return items that are defective in some way or no longer needed/wanted by your household.

Alternatives you can try for returning are: giving them away as gifts, selling them, or consigning them to platforms like Poshmark or ThredUP.

Don’t Forget Recycling

Last but not least, consider recycling either your old products or their packaging materials.

While you can’t do much about the carbon footprint of a product once it’s been manufactured and distributed to retailers across the country, there is one thing that you can do: recycle any leftover items instead of throwing them away.

Since recycling is a systematic process, you must check with your local municipality to find out the best way to do this in your location.

The world of online shopping has never been more tempting than it is today with the convenience and ease that comes along with it. While online shopping’s carbon emissions are lower than in-store shopping, they still add up and contribute to the larger carbon footprint. Using the six tips above will help you be mindful of how online shopping affects the environment and take steps to reduce its impact.

About the Author:

Bash SarmientoBash Sarmiento is a writer and an educator from Manila. He writes laconic pieces in the education, lifestyle, and health realms. His academic background and extensive experience in teaching, textbook evaluation, business management, and traveling are translated into his works.

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