Should I quit online shopping to save the planet?

Image via Bustle
Words by Hannah Cole

Maybe it’s time.

Online shopping has undoubtedly changed my life for the better. Physical shopping centres incite a feverish hit of rage within me, so are best to be avoided. As a result, I buy virtually everything online. From toilet paper to dog poo bags, shampoo bars and clothing.

My frequent doses of delivery-induced dopamine have long suited me just fine and, until recently, I believed my purchasing habits were the healthy planetary option. After all, this means fewer cars on the road, right?

But I realised while I might be making fewer trips to the store, my own mileage is replaced by the travel of delivery trucks. The rise of online shopping has led to an influx of delivery companies making frequent singular trips to residential addresses, creating more travel pollution. As the Australian transport sector currently ranks as our second-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution, making up for approximately 18 per cent, it’s not an issue we can ignore.

Consider also the impact of air freight, which transports many of our international purchases: air emissions are five times greater than those from trucks. Distance remains a very real – and immensely carbon-polluting – factor within the realm of online shopping. On top of that, the return of unwanted goods creates an even larger carbon footprint (and, alarmingly, many returned items go straight to landfill).

Add to that the issue of packaging, which is often excessive and non-recyclable. And suddenly, the wonderful world of online shopping begins to lose its shine.

So, what’s an avid shopper to do?

1. Consider a local approach.

Alarmed by the transport industry’s impact on the environment, founder of zero-waste e-tailer Banish, Lottie Dalziel, decided to offer shipping only within Australia. It’s a unique stance for an online store, and while it limits potential sales, Dalziel says she wants to “encourage (consumers) to shop within their own country to lower their carbon footprint and also support their local economy”.

The takeaway here: the shorter the distance your order can travel, the better. Seek out the local alternative where possible and cheer on our homegrown talent.

2. Look for considerate shipping options.

I’m a sucker for Scandi and LA-based labels and, unfortunately, Australia often lags in the uptake of these brands. As a result, I find myself gearing up for big international orders. But with the impact of air freight in mind, it’s time to get a little more eco-savvy.

Thankfully, there’s growing movement towards “climate-compensated delivery”. These options offset the carbon emissions of shipping by planting trees and supporting various environmental projects. Brands including Reformation, Djerf Avenue, and A Good Company are either choosing eco-shipping options or arranging carbon offsets for each delivery on our behalf.

3. Think about packaging.

Let’s cancel Styrofoam once and for all. Conscious labels are investing in earth-friendly packaging alternatives, including biodegradable bags made from corn starch (which can be composted easily, unlike faux “biodegradable” coffee cups).

Alongside practising ethical production and providing detailed product information in regards to sustainability, Zulu & Zephyr is dedicated to eliminating plastic and waste. As Director Candice Rose-O’Rourke explains, “We limit our use of plastic to zero.”

Similarly, Bondi-based sandal label Maria Farro chooses to ship each pair of shoes to the customer in a simple branded canvas tote to minimise waste. Use it as a new beach bag, a shopping carry-all, or keep it in your handbag for whatever occasion arises. Who needs another shoebox anyway?

Even MatchesFashion.com has caught on to the appeal of eco-packaging, announcing in recent weeks the move to new “responsible” packaging. Customers can choose between two options – one is 100 per cent plastic-free and recyclable; the other “Luxury” box is recyclable once the integrated magnets are removed. Or better yet, reuse your box for a gift – pass on a little of the joy.

4. Know your measurements.

Considering the harmful impact of returns, it’s a no-brainer to keep your measurements handy. Jot down your hip, waist and a few other necessities and save it on your phone, ready for any purchasing. Make sure to also read the detailed fit descriptions and reviews of each garment so you’ll never have to order in multiple sizes again.

5. Look for brands that support green initiatives and have sustainability at the core.

Do your research and seek out labels that also give back; the brands that hold the same values you do. The initiative 1% for the Planet sees companies donate the equivalent of one per cent of gross sales through a combination of monetary, in-kind and promotional support to environmental nonprofits. Members include brands like Patagonia, Spell, Arnhem Clothing and The Bare Road.

Dalziel also recommends looking for a sustainability section on a brand’s website to understand its processes better. If nothing is listed, reach out via DM or email to ask the weighty questions.”Companies with strong sustainable values will be able to answer these questions really easily,” she explains. If all else fails, at least you’re adding to the movement and prompting our stores to do more.

6. Order less.

Maybe I’ll even catch you at a shopping centre someday.

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