Sustainable Online Shopping for the Holidays

E-commerce and online shopping have revolutionized consumer retail, but this holiday season, try to focus on sustainable holiday shopping.

Having long moved beyond the initial desktop websites of yore, online shipping is now enabled by dynamic mobile apps, cross-platform plug-ins and even text message ordering systems, and has forever altered the way consumers interact with products and services.

This is especially evidenced around the holidays, when gifting, entertaining and stocking up puts purchases at the year’s high. In the U.S., November and December drive 30% more e-commerce revenue than non-holiday months, and the days from Black Friday through Christmas pull in 50-100% more revenue than shopping days throughout the rest of the year.

So it may not be a coincidence that household waste jumps 25% during the holidays.

What’s the Problem with Online Shopping?

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For all its innovation, online shopping has created a great increase of cardboard and plastic packaging waste. From the big box e-commerce sites like Amazon to the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) artisan networks like Etsy, items purchased online are habitually over-packaged (as are most products today, for that matter) and single orders are delivered in separate parcels. Excessive packaging is one of the most preventable sources of waste, and most of it ends up in the landfill.

There are quite a few things you can do to incorporate sustainability into your online holiday shopping. The first rung on the waste hierarchy (which is shaped a bit like a Christmas tree), is prevention. Cutting out online shopping and preventing waste by either shopping directly with vendors in-person (and bringing your own shopping bag) or making the pledge to celebrate the holiday without buying new things are simple, doable options for prioritizing sustainability this time of year.

Tips for Sustainably Holiday Shopping Online

If you absolutely must online shop and can’t forego making seasonal purchases, making thoughtful reuse of items generated through online shopping may make a real dent in that 25% household waste increase. To offset the packaging included in your online deliveries, wrap your gifts with stylish stuff you already have. According to the CDC, if every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

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Plastic air packs now frequently replace Styrofoam packaging peanuts in the boxes that dwarf the products they contain. Though voluminous, and dangerous if they end up in landfills, these items can be dropped off at packing and shipping stores that otherwise purchase these items for their own packaging service. Call your local shipping store and see if they are interested in your usable plastic packs; just make sure there’s still air in them. Same goes for bubble wrap.

If your plastic air packs or bubble wrap sheets have popped, many can be recycled wherever plastic shopping bags are accepted. This does not mean through curbside! Most municipal curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic bags of any type (including retail shopping bags). For many of us, the most viable solutions for plastic bags (and plastic delivery packaging) are as simple as a trip to the supermarket.

Most cardboard and paper is highly recyclable (all waste is technically recyclable, but we digress), so feeding those materials back into the product system is relatively easy. As for the other types of plastic packaging that accompany online deliveries and products themselves, there are options available.

Become a More Engaged Consumer

TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box platform is a recycling solution for common, traditionally non-recyclable plastic packaging where municipal recycling and other options are insufficient. Appropriate to manage waste overflow from online shopping, holiday festivities, or life in general, consumers can recycle mixed items such as Styrofoam peanuts, tissue paper, shrink wrap and more. In the spirit of positive holiday consumption, the entire store is on discount for the  12 Days of Zero Waste promo.

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But to make online shopping more sustainable at the source, you can put pressure on companies to reduce their environmental impact and “go green.” Consumers already have voiced their discontent with the exorbitant amount of packaging waste created by seemingly nonsensical packaging practices. Yet, we continue to buy and demand products transported with unsustainable packaging practices.

Moving away from excessive packaging doesn’t have to undermine convenience or the ability to maintain product integrity. For example, packaging service RePack offers brands (including those on boutique and resale sites) an opportunity to offset e-commerce shipping waste with returnable and reusable shipping options. With incentives for shoppers, it’s a simple solution for a ubiquitous waste stream that works for people, planet and profit for retailers and brands.

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Powerful solutions for reducing packaging waste lie in companies finding better ways to meet our demands; as businesses are meant to be a reflection of our desires, if we start to desire things that lave less of an impact, they must oblige to survive. So, being more mindful of the ways you can reduce your own environmental footprint is important. The more people like you participate in energy-saving waste reduction activities, the closer we’ll be to more sustainable Earth.

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