Online Shopping and the Digital Wasteland

A pair of Levi’s? Nice. Helping the environment? Nicer

Yuliia Hrytskiv 
October 25, 2020

When looking for some new clothes for a retro day at school, I found this New York brand that claimed to be authentic and have good quality clothing, from which I ordered a pair of jeans. I even paid five dollars more for faster shipping. When I tracked my package, however, I was surprised to see that it was travelling to me not from NY, but from Guangzhou, China. Does that mean I’m basically flying my package thousands of miles just because I’m too lazy to go to the actual store? What about the environment? I decided to research it.

There exists an idea that online shopping is “greener” than in store shopping because it does not require lighting and heating of an actual store, and it is not necessary for a customer to get into his car and drive to the shop. The idea, however, is not true. Issues such as customers wanting to return their packages or mistaken delivery addresses add up and can make online shopping not as green as we may think. Today, items can be shipped from all over the world for a very small delivery fee. In fact, online shopping is so popular that brands that do not ship internationally or do not offer delivery services at all suffer a decline in their businesses. The reason online shopping is so bad for the environment is not only because of shopping patterns and packaging, but also shipping, express shipping in particular. The abundance of carbon dioxide that is emitted from planes when shipping (and planes are the only way for express delivery to occur) is much worse for the environment than the lighting and heating of an actual store. Moreover, most of the delivery trucks still run on diesel fuel that emits a vast amount of air pollutants. 

Oh Amazon… How about that two-day shipping, huh?

To add to the impact of shipping on the environment, online shopping can cause additional harm because it makes shopping very convenient, and thus much more frequent. Online shopping has become a way to spend one’s evenings or school breaks, and a lot more products are being bought online. According to Oberlo, 25% of people shop online, increasing the number of goods bought significantly. 

Fortunately, there are solutions to this problem. Environmentalists and researchers encourage us to buy local, go shopping using public transport or carpooling, and avoid express shipping. This is because local products do not need to be transported long distances to arrive at neighbourhood stores, and sharing vehicles with others help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released. Choosing the longer option of standard shipping instead of the quicker option of express shipping helps the environment as well as helps companies to save money. 

To conclude, love Mother Nature and shop green.

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