Last week, I ordered a new Bluetooth speaker from Amazon. It arrived in 3 days time and I had to pry through three layers of cardboard and bubble wrap to reach it. A hefty lot of packaging for a very small device. With Amazon’s prime day on 15th and 16th of July, boxes like these reach the doorsteps of millions of customers worldwide. However, most of us fail to reflect the environmental implications of how they reach our doorsteps.
Due to the booming economy, more and more Indians have started to shop online. In 2018 the amount of online shoppers was 223 million compared to a mere 94 million as of 2015. Today, Indians can shop from almost anywhere and get anything they like and they do. This has led to different kinds of shoppers with different ecological footprints:
- The traditional shoppers look for a product online and then hunt for it offline, driving to their local stores. They drive to the local stores which adds to their footprint. This can be reduced by using public transport or just walking
- The strictly online shoppers buy everything online. Now studies show that online shopping with slower shipping rates has a smaller footprint than someone who drives to the store to search, buy and return a product.
- Lastly the modern shopper searches for products offline, compares prices and buys them online, often finding the most lucrative deals possible.These shoppers have the largest footprint out of all the shoppers.
Along with the shopping comes logistics. Before the online revolution, the majority of last-mile deliveries happened to the malls, which tended to cluster in areas that can be more easily served by large trucks. Today, most packages are now going directly to our doorsteps. We’ve traded trips to the mall, in favor of deliveries to residential neighborhoods by vans and other vehicles. The last mile today always ends on our doorsteps. Deliveries are even expected to go into neighborhoods that were never designed for heavy traffic creating congestion, noise problems, and emissions. The increasing number of destinations, combined with the unpredictability of customer orders and the increasing demand for speedy delivery also results in the logistics team making multiple trips from hubs to homes.
Packaging comes next. Although there for a purpose, packaging contributes to a lot of waste. Every product is usually covered in Styrofoam and bubble wrap. Which is then packed into boxes of different sizes. The empty spaces are then filled with paper or more bubble-wrap, ultimately creating more waste. Moreover, when we buy more than one product, the products aren’t bundled together. As they usually originate from two different facilities, we receive a new cardboard box for every product we purchase.
Things don’t have to be so gloomy however. We can all do better. Companies can bundle items together or even reduce the amount of packaging required for a product by rightsizing boxes. As individuals we also have changes to make. We should refrain from buying products that we don’t necessarily need just because its on sale. We can also choose slower transit options so that each truck travels fewer miles and fewer trips to get your delivery.
Online shopping might bring little boxes of happiness to people around the world. It may help those who don’t have access to what they want locally. However, it is our responsibility to think critically on our choices as online shoppers. That shopping spree wont just burn a hole in your wallet but also have lasting implications on the planet we have come to rely on. Just think before you shop.