Online shopping doesn't pollute the environment

Is e-commerce good for the environment? There is a lot to be said against it

Online trading is experiencing an enormous boom. More than 70 percent of Germans have shopped online at least once in the past 12 months. One aspect that proponents mention: Ordering online also relieves the burden on the environment. However, many studies speak against it: the bottom line is that online shopping is probably a burden.

The environmental balance of purchases in the store around the corner and from online shops is not easy to calculate because many factors play a role. Depending on the business model of the online retailer and the routes taken to the supermarket (e.g. on foot, by local transport, by car), the CO changes2- Output significantly compared to shopping in the supermarket.

The results of corresponding studies are between 32 percent saved and 240 percent higher emissions compared to stationary retail. Most studies assume that online retailing is more damaging to the environment than retailing.

Shorter delivery times make transport more complex

Transport companies can plan their loads and routes better than private buyers. On the other hand, there is a trend towards more individual deliveries in ever shorter delivery times and at desired times ("Prime" services, which are mainly handled by local courier services). As a result, the suppliers are nowhere near as frugal as they could be.

As a major online retailer, Amazon offers deliveries within an hour or two in some areas. These cause a particularly high logistical effort and have a particularly negative effect on the environmental balance.

Instead of walking or cycling around the corner to the shop, the goods are transported through half of Germany by delivery van. Tens of thousands of delivery vans are on the road in Germany for Deutsche Post alone. Of these, around 6000 so-called StreetScooters are currently in use, which are electrically powered and more environmentally friendly.

Many deliveries do not work on the first try

One of the major weaknesses of online ordering is that in many cases customers are not even at home the first time they try and the parcel has to go with them again.

Around a quarter of deliveries to end customers fail on the first attempt. Around 18 percent of customers then have to collect their delivery themselves. The resulting paths significantly worsen the ecological balance.

Most of the clothing is sent back

At least every second parcel is returned to the retailer as a return for clothing purchases on the Internet. Every day that's around 800,000 parcels, which is around 400 tons of CO2 or 255 car journeys from Frankfurt to Beijing.

New goods sent back are sometimes deliberately destroyed

So the many returns are a burden. Online retailers try to reduce the number of returns with better product photos and detailed size information. On the other hand, the offer of free returns means that it is often used.

The scandal surrounding the online retailer Amazon in 2018 made it clear that some returns are simply destroyed instead of being resold or donated. Other dealers do the same. Although it seems incomprehensible that new products end up in the trash, it is sometimes cheaper for the retailer to dispose of the returned products than to recheck and repackage them.

If necessary, legal regulations are also necessary that prohibit the destruction of new goods or free returns.

Single or bulk order

The number of goods ordered per shipment also has a major impact. In the case of individually ordered or individually returned goods, the corresponding environmental balance is worst.

Reusable packaging is still rare in the mail order business

Individual orders have a negative effect on the environmental balance. Individual packaging for the transport of sensitive goods over long distances (e.g. for electronic products) must inevitably be more complex. Returns often cannot be sent in the original packaging.

Packaging should often look individual and of high quality. But standard packaging that can be used multiple times would be better for the environment.

There are a few providers who only use reusable containers for shipping. The vast majority of online providers, however, still work in the resource-guzzling one-way system. In addition, cheaper standard sizes are often used, which are filled with additional material.

The rapidly growing proportion of food orders leads to even more packaging. If refrigerated goods arrive at home with the delivery service, ice packs, insulating material, etc. are required.

If business disappears, you have to go further

The increase in online retail and the trend towards shopping centers on the outskirts are damaging retail in the city centers. The shop around the corner is gradually disappearing. For everyday shopping, many people now have to drive more often and also have to travel further.

Tips for a better ecological balance when shopping

So what can you do to keep the environmental impact of mail order and online trading as small as possible?

  • Only buy things online that you cannot easily find in a nearby store. This will strengthen your Local dealers.
  • For everyday shopping, go if possible on foot, by bike or by public transport. In this way you avoid additional environmental pollution.
  • Plan your online purchase: do it if possible, bulk orders and avoid impulse purchases.
  • Avoid deliveries within a few hours. Think about making this purchase really need urgently or plan supplies.
  • If possible, plan delivery options that you can use can be achieved at the first attempt can.
  • For your online purchase, select "Standard" or "Normal" as your preferred delivery option. "Express or prime services" lead to additional burdens for the environment.
  • If possible, pay attention to local dealers with the online sellers, avoid large international deliveries. You can also strengthen stores in your area with an online order.
  • Use if possible for inevitable returns the original packaging of the dealer.
  • Ask your online provider about the company code in the area Environmental and social standards. It is important that the retailer appears with a clear commitment to ecological procurement, which can also be checked externally. Avoid purchases from providers that ship environmentally unsafe or lower social standards.