With in-store shopping curtailed due to the pandemic, online shopping exploded over Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year. Online Black Friday shoppers topped 100 million for the first time, an 8% increase from 2019, while Saturday shopping jumped 17 percent year over year, according to the National Retail Federation.
But while online shopping is convenient, it requires an army of warehouses, planes, delivery trucks, and packaging that can wreak havoc on the environment. Amazon, for example, says its total carbon footprint increased by 15% in 2019, thanks to a combination of fuel emissions, electricity usage, and manufacturing. And while it aims to reach net zero carbon across Amazon by 2040, we don’t have to wait two decades to make a difference. If you’re shopping online this holiday season, here are some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.
Repair Over Replace
We all like to have the latest and greatest tech in our lives, but before you click buy, consider if you can repair your existing phone, tablet, or computer before upgrading. In 2007, the Information and Communication Industry made up 1% of the planet’s total carbon footprint, but that tripled by 2018 and is on pace to reach 14% 2040, Fast Company reports.
Most of those emissions come from mining the rare materials that go into making these devices, and the bigger the phone, the more CO2 is produced during the manufacturing process. So instead of contributing to the problem, see if you can salvage your device.
Companies like Apple make it hard to get your device fixed because they want you to buy a new phone or laptop instead, but there are options when it comes to iPhone repairs. Best Buy can also now fix your Apple devices at many of its locations around the country.
Sometimes a laptop can appear to be on its last legs, but a quick virus scan or the right utility software can breathe new life into your device. We have how-to guides on a variety of gadgets, but iFixit is another good resource for DIY repairs.
If your current device is beyond repair, consider replacing it with a refurbished device. In some cases, these are devices that were opened but not used and then returned to the manufacturer. Others were returned and needed repairs or upgrades before they were put back on sale as refurbished products—at a reduced price.
Apple, for example, sells refurbished versions of its iPhones, Macs, Apple Watches, and more, often for more than $100 off their initial prices. Amazon Second Choice sells pre-owned and refurbished items, while eBay is now selling certified refurbished products that you can buy directly from the brand.
There is a lot to consider when it comes to buying refurbished; our guide to buying pre-owned tech will tell you what you should and shouldn’t buy used, where you can shop online, and more.
Avoid Same-Day Delivery
How many of us have placed an Amazon order for three or four items only to have them split up into separate boxes and delivery times? It may be convenient to get items as fast as possible, but if you’re ordering something that can wait a few days, Prime members can set up an Amazon Day, where all orders placed during the week will be delivered on a specific day—like Saturdays or Wednesdays—to cut down on the number of trips a delivery truck makes to your house. You can set up an Amazon Day here or during the checkout process.
You can also select longer delivery times when placing an order at Amazon (vs. two-day or same-day Prime Now delivery) or retailers like Target or Best Buy. Amazon will sometimes throw in a digital thank you for slower delivery, like a Prime Video or Amazon Music credit.
Choose Eco-Friendly Packaging
Ordering online also means having to deal with packaging materials like carboard, bubble wrap, plastic wrap, and packing peanuts. This leads to about 165 billion carboard packages a year, which equates to around one billion trees. Shipping chilled foods also leads to 192,000 tons of waste each year, just from freezer packs alone. However, there are a few things you can do.
Aside from setting up an Amazon Day to bulk ship your Amazon orders once a week, Amazon also allows you to choose shipping options that will create fewer total packages. When reviewing shipping options for your purchases, Amazon will note when a specific date will allow your order to arrive in fewer boxes.
You can also buy products that use Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging program, which promises less packaging and recyclable materials while still protecting your purchases. Browse products that offer eco-friendly packaging here.
If you’re shopping for a meal kit delivery service, many of these companies use an excessive amount of packaging that can be difficult to properly discard. In our experience, EveryPlate limits the amount of total packaging, while Daily Harvest uses compostable materials. Many other retailers in various spaces are also beginning to offer sustainable packaging. It’s worth doing research to find the products that both meet your needs and are better for the planet.
Stick to Local Shipping
When shopping online, the distance between a seller and buyer is an important consideration. Packages shipped across the country will have a larger carbon footprint than ones delivered from a local store because the former requires more time on the road, in the air, or on a boat.
When buying from an Amazon seller, you can check their official address by clicking the seller name to see where the business is located. If they are shipping the items themselves, knowing where it’s coming from can help you decide who to order from. However, many sellers also use Amazon’s fulfillment centers, which may be further away than the listed address.
EBay lists where the item ships from while Etsy allows you to specify geographic limits; select United States to weed out international shipping or enter a custom location.
Shop Carbon Neutral
Perhaps the best way to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping online is to simply shop at carbon neutral businesses. Of course, this is easier said than done because it’s such a new initiative for so many companies. If you’re looking to buy from a company that is committed to removing the same amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that it is emitting, you will have to do some research.
Forbes has a 2019 list of businesses that have made a push toward reducing their carbon footprint, which includes retailers like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Nike, Ikea, and more. For something a little more official, Climate Neutral is a nonprofit that verifies sustainability claims made by businesses in order to do all the research on behalf of the consumer. Nearly 150 brands have been certified with many more committed and currently under review.
Recycle the Packaging
Ordering online means having to deal with all the packaging that comes with it. What are you supposed to do with it all? Amazon alone has paper mailers, plastic bags, carboard boxes, insulation pouches, and so much more. Mashable provides a helpful breakdown of each type of packaging and how you can properly dispose of them.
Be warned, though, because some of these materials can’t actually be recycled, and many others depend on policies and practices of your local recycling services.