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Over the past few decades, the way people shop for products has significantly changed. People used to buy goods and services at local markets, shops, streets, or departmental stores. However, today the number of people purchasing products online has increased as they can order whatever product they want at their doorstep with just one click.
Online shopping- purchasing products over the internet- is the new trend. Today, one out of seven sales are made online. This trend will likely continue as companies and brands compete to improve their internet shopping experience. Nowadays, everything we do has an environmental impact. So, what is the environmental impact of online shopping?
Online shopping isn’t as green as you think. From manufacturing and packaging to shipping and delivering products around the world, online shopping is currently responsible for a major portion of global emissions.
The online shopping addiction that modern consumers have is badly affecting the planet. As the trend of online shopping began and grew, so did ecological issues. The effects of online shopping are seen all around the world. However, there is one country that is hard to miss: China. Through e-commerce, the county is able to produce billions of dollars in revenue from a single shopping day. Environmental groups warn people that this shopping behavior comes at a high cost to the planet.
Packaging or over-packaging products contributes majorly to carbon dioxide emissions from generating plastic, polluting the environment, and adding an increasing amount of waste to dumping grounds. According to the forest conservation group Canopy, around 3 million trees get chopped to produce 241 million tons of shipping cartons. Out of the 86 million tons of plastic packaging generated per year, less than 14 percent of it is recycled.
According to Green Sense, around 780 million pieces of packaging from online shopping were produced in 2020 in Hong Kong alone. Thus, companies like Alibaba are trying to develop sustainable packaging.
Shipping products all around the world is responsible for generating a considerable sum of carbon dioxide emissions. In 2020 alone, the shipping and return of goods accounted for 37 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions.
The main problem here is that consumers want their products delivered right to their doorstep. According to estimates, delivery vehicles will likely increase by 36 percent, reaching about 7.2 million vehicles by 2030. This will increase the amount of emissions and number of commutes, as vehicles will take longer to travel due to traffic.
The main problem is fast shipping. New technologies develop every year, improving the transportation of products and delivering them as fast as possible to the customer. Nowadays, people have begun requesting same-day or instant deliveries- which are growing 36 percent and 17 percent per year, respectively.
When a customer requests fast delivery, the emissions generated are greater than those generated by shopping in person. This is because delivery companies cannot afford to wait for all the goods to reach before shipping them. Even with a one or two-day shipping window, these companies are forced to send their vehicles that are filled at only half their capacity- which generates more traffic and emissions.
Shipping is not the only problem. Due to the ongoing trend, more online retailers will want to offer options to their customers to send back the products easily and mostly for free. The return rates of fashion products have significantly increased by more than 30 percent of all purchased goods. According to a study on consumer behavior, around 79 percent want free return shipping, and about 92 percent will likely purchase products again if the product is easy to return. Things like these encourage companies to offer such options.
Online shopping has brought more disadvantages than advantages. The environmental impact of online shopping cannot be ignored. Today, nearly all consumers choose convenience over principles. Even though companies try to become more sustainable in their production, packaging, and shipping, these changes alone cannot solve the issue entirely.
Consumers are the only ones that can change this. It is their decisions and behavior that shape this industry. Therefore, to reduce the environmental impact of online shopping, there needs to be a mind shift from the producer’s and consumer’s sides.