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Cardboards Stacking Up With Each Delivery To Your Doorstep- The Environmental Cost Of E-Commerce


By Gayathri Naga

I’m pretty sure all of us have ordered something or the other online, either to make up for the lack of time to go buy something thoughtful for a friend’s birthday or to get yourself some cool merchandise. The process of online shopping has always seemed somewhat magical to me and let’s not forget how convenient it is in today’s hustle-bustle world. But with each delivery to your doorstep have you ever given thought to the amount of cardboards being used? When you actually take

But with each delivery to your doorstep, have you ever given thought to the amount of cardboards being used? When you actually take time to calculate the environmental cost of online shopping with Russian doll-like cardboard packaging, it is quite frustrating.

If you gotta-have-it now, you’ll have nothing left for the future.


The online shopping business targets the consumers’ busy lives and how you are just one click away from satisfying your desires and simply how gratifying the whole process can be! The problem with this is that after a point of time consumers will assume that their not-so-urgent wants must also be satisfied instantly and the long term effects that this cycle will have on the environment is quite appalling. And who doesn’t love receiving something instantly and checking it off their list.

Premature delivery dates, you can get em too!


Speed has become an extremely significant factor among Internet retailers. For instance, in a recent news release, Amazon boasts about its fastest order delivered to date, when a Miami customer’s craving for a four-pack of Starbucks vanilla frappuccino was fulfilled in just a matter of 10 minutes.

Did you know that in 10 major regions in the U.S, Google Express delivers products from stores in about just two hours? And a San Francisco-based startup, Postmates promises to deliver in less than an hour?

There are endless other instances like that of UberRush, Jet Delivery and Instacart that can get you pretty much anything in minutes! With this, it doesn’t come as a surprise when I tell you that the e-commerce industry has doubled in the past five years.

Instant delivery has come to question the efficiency of delivery services because unlike before where they had to deliver truckloads of the same product to the one retailer, now they have to do more scattered deliveries. These companies also have a massive manpower of about 15,000 freelance drivers to deliver all those single products. This phenomenon of a speedy delivery completely cuts down shoppers’ incentive to wait.

The return policy and delivery services.


The shift from brick and mortar shopping to online shopping has left consumers with the need to return things since they are so used to seeing and feeling things and checking their worth in reality. And, let’s not even start how the deliveries get messed up most of the times resulting in unnecessary returns as well. Sometimes you end up getting clothes that don’t fit you and sometimes it can be whole different order altogether, this doesn’t mean an increase in emissions but think about the cardboards that are going to pile up.

The cardboard economy and its environmental cost.


So, let us hear this out, in 2014 35.4 million tons of container boards were produced in the United States alone to feed the ever- growing e-commerce companies. And, of course, let’s not forget the effects of emissions from the transport and shipping services. Companies alone can’t be blamed for providing speedy services, it is the consumers who have an equal part to play in this. So, if we look at this situation from the viewpoint of sustainable development, the road ahead is topsy-turvy.

Even though measuring the effects of this so-called cardboard economy is tedious, there are a few trade-offs that we can’t ignore. Since this trend is making people shop more online, they’ll use their cars less. Delivery services can keep their fuel costs low by taking efficient routes. Also, delivering to consumers directly from warehouses will also cut down on the need to distribute to millions of stores.

A recent study in this area tells us that the rise in e-commerce has led to more trucks on the road and which in turn has led to a rise in greenhouse emissions. So, if online shopping has come to become one of the primary reasons for these emissions, you realize how vast the impact of that one click is? 

Even though one can claim that online shopping has made our lives easier, it surely hasn’t helped the environment. In fact, it has made it worse. Also, one can’t say that online shopping as a trend has completely replaced brick and mortar shopping in India or in other parts of the world for that matter, but rather it appears to be complementing it.

Slow down consumption, slow down!

'I think it's time to stop shopping when the computer asks you if you need another shopping cart.'

Even though one can argue that the industry is doing its part in being eco-friendly as 90% of the time recycled packaging is used, the process itself has its own cost as it takes up so much of energy and water, thus balancing out everything. One effective solution to this issue, however, would be to make the retailers take the cardboards back to prevent the Russian doll style of packing. Amazon has done a great deal to tackle the cardboard issue as a part of their “ packaging feedback program.” They made sure that the box sizes were consistent and relevant to the product being shipped and prevent additional packaging as well.

As gratifying and magical as online shopping sounds, you should be aware that there are major repercussions behind each and every click. And it is time we take a back seat on unnecessary consumption and emerge as a generation of responsible online shoppers!

Image Credits: Google

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