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how to be more mindful of waste with online shopping

The holiday craziness is upon us, and while it is easy to get swept away in all the consumption, we wanted to rethink how we can be more mindful of waste when we are shopping online this year.

how to be more mindful of waste with online shopping

It’s that time of year again – holiday shopping, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, Christmas Eve rush deliveries and Boxing Day madness. With the insanity that is mall shopping, it’s no wonder that most people are reverting to getting their list done online - a peaceful way to shop while avoiding the crowds. Online shopping is no doubt an incredibly easy and fast way to shop, with the added benefit of never having to leave the warmth of your home. But, we can’t help but wonder – what about all the waste?

Some conscious brands are amazing and ship their products without any plastic and really try to minimize waste, which is fantastic. But sadly, this isn’t the case with the majority at all. Packages from giant online e-tailers often come with much-too-large boxes, bubble wrap, plastic packaging, separate boxes for each item, and Styrofoam…

As a consumer, what can you do on the individual level to help minimize this enormous impact while not compromising on convenience?

First of all, let’s try to understand the basics - The Impact of Online Shopping:

It’s not just about the packaging (which is of course, problematic), but rather the process in its entirety. If an item is not locally-made, chances are it’s already traveled quite a far distance before getting to the warehouse that shipped it to you. It seems easy to just order something that was made in another part of the world, but we have to think of the product’s lifecycle. An example:

  • Item is made in India in a factory that emits high emissions in an already overly polluted city like New Delhi (do we know what they do with their excess, runoffs and toxic waste?)
  • Item is sent from the manufacturer to the wholesaler in the US (item is shipped in plastic to ensure it doesn’t get damaged)
  • Wholesaler in the US ships it out to their retailer in another part of the country (unpackages the parcel, and repackages it with their own branding, emitting more emissions when re-shipping)
  • Retailer receives package, unpacks it and re-packs it in their own branded packaging, and ships it out to consumer who might have ordered it on a rush delivery, meaning more emissions are emitted as it likely is traveling by air.

Wow – quite the chain of wasteful events, don’t you think?

So, how can you be more mindful of waste with online shopping?

  1. Choose brands that offer sustainable shipping methods: This means transparency on their website of how they ship their goods out. Look for things like:
  • recycled plastic in their packaging
  • packaging made from plant-based sources
  • biodegradable or compostable peanuts / bags (this only works if the material is NOT plastic. If it says it’s biodegradable but made from plastic, it’s a big NO. If made from plant-based materials, you’re good).
  • boxes that have been reused from other brands
  • ground versus air shipping for less emissions
  • no plastic whatsoever in their packaging, and rather things like Kraft paper, tissue, shredded cardboard, newspaper, or muslin/cotton/linen cloth


  1. If you do find yourself needing to buy from Amazon, choose their “Frustration-Free Packaging” option at checkout. This means that the items won’t come delivered separately or in giant boxes for tiny things


  1. Refrain from Amazon Prime or any other service that delivers items to you in a rush, especially if you don’t need it in 24 hours. When things are rush delivered, they often come by air instead of ground, meaning your item is emitting a LOT more emissions than necessary. We’ve largely grown accustomed to having things the minute we want them, but if something isn’t required immediately, wait the week to get it and rest easy knowing you’re doing the earth a favour


  1. Stop returning items! Lax return policies really make things seem so easy when we online shop (buy 10 items, keep 1 and ship back the rest, right?). In reality though, product returns generate an ENORMOUS amount of waste. This isn’t just from the efforts of shipping the item to you and then back again, but also because giant retailers don’t always keep their returns. It can be cheaper and easier for them to just burn or trash the returns they get, especially when items are on sale and will not be carried on to the next season of fashion (truly horrifying). We might have a cute picture in our mind of the shirt we rejected going to a nice home where someone else will love it, but sadly, it’s far from the truth. Instead of overbuying so you have options to choose from, be sure at the time of purchase!


  1. Buy local! Even if you do prefer to shop online, buying from local retailers is a huge way to lower your impact. Not only are the chances higher that the local retailer has manufactured the products locally as well (meaning less overall footprint), but they’re almost always guaranteed to ship their products mindfully. This means no plastic, recycled or biodegradable materials, and usually reusable materials instead of disposable (cloth bags instead of plastic). By buying local, you’re also contributing to the local economy, helping a mom and pop shop survive, and lessening your environmental impact – this is probably the most sustainable and socially-conscious way to shop, so bear this in mind this holiday season!


  1. Don’t be afraid to speak up! If a brand you love continues to ship their products in unsustainable ways, let them know! Brands that are actually interested in satisfying their customers will always be happy to hear from you and will want the feedback on their service. Let them know via email, DM, website form, tweet – whatever means you have – that you would love to see less waste and environmental stress in their shipping methods. Some of the biggest brands out there are changing their ways simply due to consumer demand. Your voice is powerful, so definitely use it when you can!