There’s no denying that purchasing goods online is convenient. There’s a definite gratification that comes from ordering something only to have it show up, neatly wrapped, on your doorstep a day or two later. And in an age where it’s so easy to set up an online store with a company like this, everyone seems to be taking advantages of the ease of use and convenience. It makes every day feel as though it’s Christmas, not to mention that giddy feeling from knowing you’ve saved time, even money, and most certainly the environment. But just how good for the environment is it really? Is it better to head down to the store yourself to pick something up or buy it with the click of a mouse button?
Firstly we have to recognize that e-commerce is big business. In the last five years, ecommerce sales worldwide topped a staggering $1471bn. That’s a lot of shipping, delivering and couriering around the world, which ultimately adds up to a lot of fossil fuels and emissions which are bad for the environment. However, considering that a large truck or ship can deliver substantially more goods to more homes, it makes more sense than an individual consumer driving their own car to the store. After all, large logistic companies operate bigger vehicles and have to pay close attention to their bottom line, meaning they’re likely to look for the cheapest, most direct route that will use the least amount of fuel.
While this may be true, there’s a more pressing, somewhat insidious problem which consumers may not always realize exists, and that has to do with the packaging that the products are delivered in. Delivered goods often arrive in excess packaging which is used to ensure that the products aren’t damaged during shipping. While this logic is sound – no one wants their goods to arrive damaged or maimed – it means a lot of material is wasted. This is especially true when buying food online coupled with the proliferation of single-person households, which has led to more ready-made, single meals with excess packaging.
Some businesses are aware of this problem and are trying to minimize their environmental footprint by using recyclable materials in their packing. For example, Hello Fresh, an online food delivery service, ensures that all boxes used to deliver their food are biodegradable and recyclable, and sourced from sustainable forests. What’s more, their insulated woolpacks can be sent back to the company to be reused for free.
In certain bike-friendly cities, such as Amsterdam or Berlin, a vast amount of deliveries are also made by bike. In this sense, it is absolutely more environmentally economical to make online deliveries, as there is zero damage to the environment in terms of fossil fuels and pollutants. Companies such as Deliveroo and Tring Tring are two such companies taking advantage of the bike-friendliness of cities, and as such, they are able to provide a clean delivery service that is simultaneously creating jobs.
The concern surrounding fossil fuels might be a thing of the past, however, as electric car companies such as Tesla edge closer to providing an affordable mid-range car, not to mention the Tesla Semi and the Tesla pickup. When charged by solar and other renewable energy sources, these vehicles will effectively eliminate most pollutants that are emitted by combustion engines. Although this is still a few years away from being realized, it will ultimately mean a massive reduction in transport costs, as well as being hugely beneficial to the environment.