How Our Online Shopping Habits Are Harming The Planet

How Our Online Shopping Habits Are Harming The Planet

If you’re anything like me, you’re practically on a first-name basis with your mailman thanks to how much you online shop.

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It’s no secret that the pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns turned us all to the internet for more than entertainment. We realized just how convenient it is to be dependent on online shopping for our needs, and the commercial world has done more than cater to us.

From clothes to food to last-minute presents, virtually everything we could possibly need is now available at our fingertips and on our screens. However, too much of anything is almost always bad news. 

Photo Credit: Chuttersnap

Modern Life and Consumerism 

Modern life nowadays is almost entirely automated and digitized —- “online-ified”, if you will. We socialize, learn, work, plan, date and do so much more over the internet. It’s no surprise that we also buy over the internet. And boy, do we buy. In fact, we online shop so much that in 2021, Malaysians spent a total of 8.17 billion US dollars, marking a jump of about 40% compared to the year before. 

By the end of 2022, Asia was set to account for half of the entire world’s total online retail sales - most of which take place in China. We’re shopping so much that shipping companies are struggling to keep up. Seeing the breaking point that the global supply chain is at, we will reach a point of no return unless as consumers, we learn to change our online shopping habits and manage our expectations. 

 

ďťżPhoto Credit: Ian Taylor

Over-Packaging

Given that the online shopping industry is a global phenomenon, the exchange of goods is a transaction that spans the world. Because of this, sellers have made it a habit to go rather overboard with the packaging. While this is done to ensure the safe delivery of goods, the harm it has is irreversible.

Even the “normal” amount of packaging would do serious harm to the environment, let alone the massive amounts of extra packaging used these days. Products’ packaging largely contributes to the emissions of carbon dioxide from the production of plastics. This pollutes ecosystems, not to mention adding an unimaginable amount of waste to our already-maximized landfills. 

The production of 241 million tons of shipping cartons requires the annual pulping of 3 billion trees. Out of the 86 million tons of plastic produced for packaging globally, not even a measly 14% is recycled.

In China alone, 83 billion express parcels were handled in 2020 which led to 1.8 million tons of plastic waste, not to mention almost 10 million tons of paper waste. These numbers are alarming, especially when you remember that they only account for one country. 

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Shipping Goods & Their Impact

Shipping emissions are another environmental impact that online shopping has. A huge portion of the world’s CO2 emissions was the result of e-commerce. 37% of the total GHC emissions were due to the shipping and return of products in 2020. This massive problem can once again, be attributed to our need for convenience as consumers.

By 2030, the number of delivery vehicles is expected to increase by 36%, making it a whopping estimation of 7.2 million vehicles. This will result in an increase of CO2 emissions by about 6 million tons, which is unfortunately not the only negative impact; as it will also increase commutes by 21% due to the inevitable traffic congestion. 

None of these issues matches up to the real problem, though - fast shipping. With companies like Amazon popularizing same-day deliveries, new technologies have been improving the transport of goods to make it a much faster process than it used to be.

When customers expect same-day deliveries, companies are forced to send half-full trucks as they’re unable to wait until they’ve fully loaded up given that it would cost them precious time. Many consumers are also putting a heavier emphasis on free returns, which further adds to the environmental harm online shopping already does. 

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It’s highly unlikely that the e-commerce revolution is going to slow down much anytime soon. I mean, it is undeniable that this surge has brought massive advantages, especially economically. However, as consumers, we need to remember that convenience should not precede principle.

Regardless of the (undoubtedly minor) changes that companies have made, we always have the last say as consumers since our behaviours and decisions are what eventually determine the e-commerce industry’s impact. This is why a shift from only producers’ end would not go very far if it doesn’t also include consumer change.  

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