Shopping online is super convenient, but it also has an impact on our environment and we indirectly contribute to the exploitation of parcel carriers. Once we place an order online using apps like Shopmatey, that trip comes from the shop to your home which uses energy and produces CO2 emissions. Despite that, shopping on the net is booming. According to the industry association both, online retailers earned over 65 billion euros in 2018 alone. It’s also super practical to have the new smartphone, the summer skirt, or the next book simply delivered to your home.
Unfortunately, the beautiful, new online world does not only bring advantages: Sending the parcels back and forth puts a considerable strain on the environment, while many parcel carriers suffer from wage dumping and long working hours. But there are ways to prevent these harmful effects.
We have therefore put together the most important points for you on how you can shop more sustainably on the net. Here are six tips for better online shopping.
1. Avoid returns
The laptop bag is too big, the sweater may be better in size M and we just wanted to try on the sneakers anyway: With the free return, everything is no longer a problem. Last year alone, we Germans returned about 487 million articles – with a major impact on the environment: According to a study by the University of Bamberg, the trucks that were on the road for this purpose produced an estimated 238,000 tons of CO². For this, we could also drive 800,000 times by car from Hamburg to Moscow. “Of course, if I send trousers back five times, it makes a huge difference,” says Herbert Barthel, energy and climate protection officer at the Bund Naturschutz in Bayern.
We now buy every fifth piece of clothing online in Germany – and if you don’t know the right size, you can order three different models first. Admittedly, dress sizes can sometimes be complicated, but if you take a tape measure and measure it decently, you save time, other money, and environmental resources in the long term. Certain pages on the net explain to you exactly from where to where you should measure and what this means for your dress sizes. This does not protect against a blouse turning out differently, but in most cases, it should blow away.
Because there is another reason why you should avoid returns: Not all items that end up back on Amazon, Otto, and Co. are automatically prepared for the next buyers. Last year, ZDF reported on tons of new products that do not end up in stores on Amazon again but are simply destroyed. According to the study of the current return, this happens “only” with 3.9% of the returned products, but it is still absolutely unnecessary.
2. Reduce ways
Do you go to the supermarket every day and buy the groceries for the next 24 hours? Probably not, would also be much too stressful and costs unnecessary energy. In principle, it is the same with online shopping. “Anything that reduces the transport routes of the products makes sense,” says Herbert Barthel.
So if we no longer make an online order every week, but only once a month, we are protecting the environment. Of course, this only applies if the items are also sent together and do not still arrive in eight packages. For this, you can also like to team up with roommates, a girlfriend, or a neighbor.
Of course, the decisive factor is also where the products come to us in the living room. Many online shops now show whether the electric toothbrush comes from Germany, Europe, or from the other side of the world.
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3. Use green shops
Some shops are now trying to do better than the established giants of the industry. If you look around the net, you will quickly find green shops that only sell organic, fair trade, or used products, use recyclable packaging and compensate their transport routes with CO² certificates. This can sometimes be more expensive, but climate protection is not free.
4. Weighing up the individual case
Online shopping is not the devil per se. The energy balance can even improve if not everyone puts themselves in their car, says Herbert Barthel: “If I have to drive from a small town in Bavaria to Munich or Nuremberg to buy a certain device, it certainly makes more sense to order it via online retail.” But in general, there is a need for more awareness of how the products come to us.
For this, it is always worthwhile to consider the individual case. Can I pick up a product by bike? Does it make sense to go somewhere in your car? Which route does the package take via the online service? This may be exhausting at times, but there is no simple solution.
5. Use tariff-bound parcel services
In the meantime, word has spread about how bad the working conditions in the parcel industry are in some cases. “In our rich country, parcel deliverers work up to 16 hours a day and often receive less than six euros per hour,” says Günter Isemeyer of the trade union ver. di. So even if we pay attention to all the factors for the environment, it remains a problem that many parcel services work with subcontractors and partial subcontractors that do not pay their employees decently. But what can we do about it? “As a consumer, I can already make sure that my parcels are sent with services that work according to tariffs,” says Niemeyer.
In fact, in some shops, there is the possibility to decide with which service packages are sent. And while according to ver.di DHL and UPS mainly work with permanently employed deliverers and thus pay according to tariffs, this is predominantly not the case with Hermes, GLS, DPD, and Amazon. Of course, boycotting these parcel services does not help the parcel carriers working there, but at least you do not support exploitative business practices.
6. Don’t just buy new
Of course, this last point does not only concern online trading. “The most important thing is to ask yourself before shopping: Do I need this?” says Herbert Barthel. Or in other words: Do we already have the object in old? Can these shoes perhaps be repaired? Or can I take these pants to a tailor’s shop?
The longer we use products, the better their and our carbon footprint. Of course, this also applies to items that we buy used. And that’s why the question of necessity in the future should perhaps be the first thing we deal with before the next big online shopping trip.