How To Buy Without Costing The Planet

In 2021, e-retail sales surpassed $5 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide; a clear sign that online shopping only continues to grow in popularity, and is expected to reach new heights in the coming years. The conveyance, free shipping, and largely free return options have made this type of shopping so alluring that it can reach addictive extremes, while people put very little thought into how it is impacting the planet. Becoming aware of eco-friendly online shopping tips will at least give you the option to make sustainable choices while you make your purchases in the virtual world.

Environmental Impact Of Online Returns

  1. Increased carbon footprint – Transportation is the fastest growing major contributor to global climate change, accounting for 23% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
    1. Returning packages back to retailers increases carbon emissions through the many levels of transportation that a package goes thru, from you driving to the drop off site, or a truck coming to pick it up, to the airplane, or semi hauler that the package will be moved in across state lines. 
  2. Landfill impact– and believe it or not, after returns (specifically clothing returns) have been flown across the country, they will most likely to end up in the trash anyway!
    • Why? Because returned items require additional warehouse space, valuable employee time (to sort and restock), and on top of that, the same item will now have to be sold at a discount. Thus, tossing clothing in the landfill turns out to be cheaper than reselling it.
  3. Greenhouse gas impact– now with the addition of more clothing in landfills, more greenhouse gas gets released into the atmosphere as these mostly synthetic clothes decompose.

Environmental Impact Of Fast Fashion

  • The production and transportation of fast fashion are extremely damaging to the environment.
  • The clothing industry accounts for around 8-10% of global carbon emissions and nearly 20% of the world’s wastewater. Fast fashion uses more energy than flying and shipping combined (source)!

Eco-Friendly Online Shopping Tips: How To Be a Greener Shopper

Clothing– Sustainable fashion activists advise a multifold strategy. One, cut way down on purchasing new clothes. And when you do, choose brands that are organic and come from sustainable companies. Two, buying second-hand is the new chic way to outfit your wardrobe. Not only does this keep more items out of landfills but it also reduces the demand for new products. 

Returns– One, stop bracketing, the term for buying the same item online in multiple sizes or colors (58% of shoppers reported bracketing, and nearly 30-40% of all clothes bought online are returned according to Eco-Age). Retailers are starting to charge for returns like this so these practices might be limited in the future.

Offset Emissions– Secondly, if you have to return an item (it happens), take the green approach and offset your carbon emission for that return. Use a carbon calculator to figure out your impact and offset it with a contributing donationDHL is also one of the major carbon shipping chains with green solutions, looking to offset emissions.

Exchange In Person– Some retailers allow you to return online purchases in-store, which can help reduce fuel use, especially if you use public transport (or another green method) to get there.

Green Companies– There are many eco-friendly retailers who are determined to reduce their environmental impact and can help alleviate the impact on our ecosystem. Here’s a list of eco-friendly brands that cover a range of products.

Buy Second Hand– purchasing your electronics from refurbished markets or your brand remanufactured department; going to high-quality second-hand stores will keep products out of landfills and remain part of a circular economy which is one of the ways for us to move out of our environmental challenges; shopping via thrift, vintage, and upcycled markets is a cost-saving and sustainable option that is best to consider as your first choice.

Pick-up purchases– if you have the option to pick up your purchase from a locker, a store, or other such delivery sites, this ultimately cuts back on delivery emissions. Especially if this location is on your usual errand route or a walkable, bickalbe distance. Thankfully electric delivery methods are on the rise and will help this issue in the long run.

Wait It Out– according to the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, if you choose standard delivery instead of next-day you can aid in decreasing carbon emissions by approximately 30%. 

Demand Better– most consumers would overwhelmingly choose eco-packaging and more sustainable materials. Use your voice and your dollars to make a change. Tell your retailers how you feel and where you want to spend your money. In the UK, customer feedback started Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging, which is made of 100% recyclable materials or ships products in their original wrapping to eliminate the need for an additional box. Come on America, let’s do this!

Famous Fashion Support– Famous Harry Potter actress Emma Watson has established a calculator to help estimate your wardrobe’s impact on the planet. Calculate your fashion footprint and see how you can make changes going forward.

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