Why is Sustainable Online Shopping Important?

When online shopping soared during the pandemic, the amount of packaging waste associated with it became hard to ignore. Research has shown that online shopping generates 4.8 times more packaging waste than traditional brick and mortar shopping, making it an important issue to tackle for the health of our planet.

Additionally, the sustainability of online shopping decreases when fast shipping restricts the consolidation of deliveries, causing more vehicles to be on the road with less full loads and more packaging used for each purchase. A similar issue is presented when online shopping is only used to supplement in-store shopping rather than replace trips to the store.

How To Make Your Online Shopping Greener:

Consolidate Deliveries and Settle for Slower Shipping 

Consolidating your deliveries – even if it means slower shipping – reduces the amount of time a delivery truck or van spends “boomeranging” around town. When delivery vehicles can be packed tighter and drop off more items at each location, the carbon emissions from their transportation are decreased. Another important benefit of consolidated deliveries is a decrease in the amount of packaging used for each purchase. When shopping on Amazon, opt for the Amazon Day Delivery option at checkout to receive all your packages in one delivery to reduce the number of trips taken and packaging materials used. 

Be Mindful of Your Shopping Habits

When online shopping is used in addition to in-store shopping, you increase your carbon footprint by putting twice as many vehicles on the road. To reduce carbon emissions, try to either buy everything you need in-store or online and eliminate a second run to the store by double checking your list to make sure you have bought everything you need!  

Shop from Online Retailers That Use Sustainable Packaging 

In the wake of endless cardboard boxes and single-use plastic, finding online retailers that put effort into ensuring their packaging materials can be easily reused or recycled is essential. Swapping single-use packaging for either compostable packaging, reusable plastic mailing boxes (such as Boox), packaging made from recycled materials (TerraCycle), or easily recyclable packaging reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and lowers carbon emissions. 

Some easily recyclable materials to look for include glass, aluminum, plastic #1 and #2, cardboard, and paper.

Learn How to Reuse or Recycle Packaging Materials

When you’re unable to purchase sustainably packaged items, the next best thing you can do is to either find a way to repurpose and reuse the materials or learn how to properly recycle them in your area. While these resources below offer general guidelines, contacting your local county recycling coordinator will offer the best guidance for what can be recycled and where.

Information on reusing or recycling common packaging materials:

Information from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Earth 911, and Kim et al., 2022.