September 30, 2023


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Packaging sustainability in online shopping | Opinion

Packaging sustainability in online shopping

Online shopping has affected a multitude of people across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, with shopping being one of the main things that brought us a rush of excitement during uncertain times. Whether it was just adding to your cart and forgetting about it the next day or ordering boxes of clothes from your favorite brands, online shopping has made its way into our everyday lives — even more so than before the pandemic.

Even though it’s great being able to buy things online rather than traveling to a physical mall, what impact does this consumption have on our environment and the world we live in?

Many of us don’t take into account how our online shopping affects the environment. It should be more eco-friendly than driving to the store, right? I don’t think so — in fact, it’s probably worse for the environment to shop online than to go to the store.

According to CNN, even though people shop online frequently, it’s usually in smaller purchases. When people shop in person, they tend to buy in bulk, resulting in fewer trips to the store compared to online shopping. This is because of the convenience that online shopping offers in our busy daily lives.

“It’s more convenient to click a few buttons and apply discount codes and easily get items delivered to your door rather than spend time looking into [the] sustainability of your favorite brands, websites, and whatnot,” first-year Petek Mertan said in a text message.

Of course, it’s more convenient for us to just click “add to cart” and “purchase” rather than looking up more environmentally-friendly options when ordering our packages; and if you forgot to buy something, the common mentality is, “Oh, I can just make another order.”

But what does this mean for shipping?

Packages usually travel by truck, unless it’s international, then it’s by ocean or air. That’s a lot of gas and carbon emissions from frequent trips across the world. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), transportation is a large contributor to toxic emissions that exacerbate persistent issues such as smog. Freight transportation — using heavy-duty trucks — is the main contributor to these growing emissions — and that’s just in the United States, so imagine this issue on a global scale.

It’s not just about the shipping, but the packaging of orders as well. 

“They almost never do [arrive sustainably],” Mertan said. “They come in plastic packaging meant to be thrown away in the trash.”

According to Gardening Knowledge, even if our packages come in compostable cardboard boxes, cardboard waste makes up 31% of landfills. Not only that, but the actual item you ordered is usually covered in plastic inside the box. 

Even if it says “recyclable” on the packaging, 91% of plastic doesn’t actually get recycled, according to Green Matters — most plastics are sent to landfills or wind up in the ocean. Plastic lasts for hundreds of years, so no matter what we do now, all the plastic we’ve created and consumed in our daily lives will continue to haunt us in the future.

What can we do as shoppers and what can brands and companies do to reduce the harmful impacts we have on our environment?

“People can try finding brands that don’t use plastic packaging and instead offer recyclable options,” Mertan said. “Shopping locally is also a good option, because then delivery will be over a smaller distance, which helps reduce your carbon footprint.”

Trying to buy items at the same time can also help, because it reduces the number of packages that will be arriving at your doorstep, and won’t require as many trucks driving back and forth.

“Companies can shift towards using more sustainable materials both in their products and with packaging, work to minimize their waste more, and reduce their energy usage by utilizing renewable energy sources,” Mertan said.

Companies should also invest in greener shipping. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), strategies such as creating more efficient truck routes and supporting cleaner trucks and equipment can decrease the greenhouse gas emissions of freight trucks.

Whether it’s the online shopper trying out different stores that are more environmentally friendly and attempting to properly recycle and compost or companies testing out more sustainable packaging and trying to reduce their carbon footprint, everyone needs to play their part in creating more sustainable ways to shop online.

Reach writer Fiona Paterson at [email protected]. Twitter: @fiona_326

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