The pandemic has forced us to change our shopping habits – where we would earlier venture out to buy things, we now do most of our purchasing online.
However, for those of us who are conscious about the carbon footprints we leave behind, the research on whether online shopping is more or less environmentally friendly than shopping at a brick and mortar shop is confusing.
Certain studies show that having a supermarket deliver your parcel is more environmentally friendly than going physically to the shop. However, ordering from online e-commerce portals which have warehouses and rely on parcel delivery services for orders, can cause higher CO2 footprints as compared to the traditional method of shopping by visiting a store.
Factors such as the number of items purchased, the number of trips to the supermarket, distance travelled, all impact CO2 footprints. Walking down the street and picking up your grocery from your local shop, or taking public transport would be more energy efficient than having a truck deliver products to your doorstep.
You also need to take into consideration the number of trips the delivery vans need to make, the amount of packaging involved, the mode of transport the product uses to reach your doorstep.
For example, studies have shown that substituting delivery vans with electric cargo bikes could reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions by 26 per cent, via parcel delivery.
But, with movement restrictions brought on by the pandemic, how do you ensure that you continue shopping without adding your CO2 footprints?
Here are some tips to follow:
Avoid same day/express deliveries
Avoid going for the instant gratification of getting your deliveries the same day, unless you have no other option or are ordering from a brick and mortar shop near you. This is because when you opt for a same-day deliveries, shippers search for the fastest delivery methods – which could even be by carbon-intensive air cargo services - to ensure that your purchase reaches on time. Further, to accommodate the demand for same day deliveries, vendors always need to ensure that they have the items available, hence, the requirement for more space and energy to store and move it.
By agreeing to wait, it gives them the time to consolidate purchases and figure out the most efficient route for delivery. Further, you can also opt for clubbing your purchases so that they are delivered in fewer boxes, thereby reducing packaging.
Choose fewer packaging options
How many times have you ordered a single product just to find it packed in a huge card box with swathes of bubble wrap and paper around it? While this is to ensure that your product reaches its destination safely, it comes at a huge environmental cost.
Amazon, alone, reportedly shipped 415 million packages in July 2020. If you calculate all the orders placed during the pandemic across the various e-comm platforms, the numbers are mind-boggling. While packages have recycling instruction written on them, the fact is that most people do not have access to recycling systems, and some of the packaging material are difficult to recycle. Imagine all these packages landing up in landfills, instead?
To make shopping more energy efficient, you can choose options such as Amazon's packaging free shipping initiative where orders are shipped in their original packaging without the extra boxes, or with significantly reduced packages, thereby reducing the overall fuel required to transport the product.
Also,when you are ordering products, ensure that you buy items in bulk so that they are sent in fewer individual boxes. You can also choose options from vendors who offer innovative, eco-friendly packages.
On its part, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), has asked e-commerce companies to reduce single-use plastic in the packaging of products sold on their platforms.
Buy in bulk
Research shows that when we buy at a store, we tend to aggregate our purchases and buy in bulk so that we do not need to undertake multiple trips. Online, however, is a different ball game. With items just a click away, we tend to buy fewer things at a time, but more frequently. This means more deliveries, more packaging and more carbon emissions.
Consolidating your orders and buying in bulk ensures that you buy what you need and do not waste time and money on unnecessary orders, or purchase under pressure, at the last minute. You can make a monthly list of all the essentials you will need to buy and make a big order, instead of buying every day.
While shopping online, search for products that are sold by local vendors, as much as possible. This will reduce the need for your package to travel a large distance before reaching your doorstep. Also, if you get a product at a shop near you, and you are able to walk to that shop, you should avoid ordering online and buy from the shop instead.
Ever since e-commerce platforms started the trend of free returns, customers have got into the habit of ordering more than they need and returning all that they don’t want. However, you do need to remember when you return as order it goes back into the same logistical chain, causing double the impact on the environment.
You can reduce your carbon footprint by ordering only those items you really know you will keep, ensuring you check your size before ordering and avoiding the temptation of ordering clothes/shoes to just try them on.
E-commerce platforms and online shopping is here to stay, more so with the pandemic. However, we can do our bit by shopping prudently and smartly.
The next time you decide to buy anything, ask yourself whether you really need that product, whether you can wait for a few days more and whether walking to the local shop and buying the same product, is a more sustainable option.