Top tips for more sustainable online shopping

By Grace Woodburn


Shopping online has become a staple of modern life. The convenience of browsing at home far outstrips the inconvenience of returning unwanted goods, but have you ever stopped to think about the impact your convenient ‘one-day delivery’ services are having on the environment?

Each year, 40 million online transactions occur, and by 2021 e-commerce is expected to be the world’s largest retail channel. The ease of clicking an online button and having anything you need delivered straight to the door is so perfectly designed for busy modern life, that we’ve all come to rely on the system for food to fashion.

Have you ever wondered how all these individual deliveries are impacting the planet? While it might seem a more conscious model than a bricks and mortar store, it really isn’t the case. In fact, if you consider that 33% of landfills in the UK are filled with packaging materials, and delivery vans account for 7% of traffic on urban US roads, you begin to get a clearer picture of this industry’s mammoth carbon footprint.

Awareness of the problem is starting to enter the customer’s consciousness. #Packagingfail has made traction on Instagram, with shoppers highlighting ridiculous amounts of packaging material used to ship just one product. Reams of plastic, paper, polystyrene and padding are shoved into a box, most of which can’t be recycled.

What are the options for consumers? Here are a couple of tips to help.


The simplest change to make is to reduce your consumption. Ask yourself some key questions before pushing the button – Do you really need it? How many times will you use/eat it? Could you look at other options and use or adapt things you already own?


Another key strategy is to only place an order when you need a number of things from one retailer, reducing the number of vans and amount of fuel needed to get it to your front door. You can also choose longer delivery times. Next day delivery schemes have become so expected that we seem to have lost the ability to wait, but not everything needs to come the next day. When placing orders, consider if you can hold out for a while, giving the brand an opportunity to collate multiple orders for the same region and ship them as one, drastically cutting down on how many resources are used. Amazon Prime offers this service with their Amazon Day initiative. Prime customers can choose which day of the week they want their orders, so regardless of when items are purchased, they’ll be shipped together, in one box, rather than the multiple Amazon are so well known for.


Serial returners buy numerous items to try on at home, knowing full well they will be sending most of them back, adding another layer of carbon to every purchase. Brands like ASOS have wised up to this behaviour, creating a blacklist of customers who do it regularly. Their terms and conditions now state they’ll be monitoring suspicious returns and take action, such as refusing refunds or deactivating accounts. Those buying clothes just to wear on social media and then return are of particular interest.


Put pressure on brands you order from to drastically cut down the amount of packaging materials they use. All those boxes you’ve received that are far too big for the item, require extra materials to fill the space not occupied to avoid damage. It’s called dead space and it’s a highly inefficient system. Larger than necessary packaging means each parcel takes up more room than it needs to in a van, lorry or a shipping container resulting in more shipping containers, and more lorries and so on. It not only costs more, but the cost to the environment is a hidden  burden of e-commerce. Use your social platforms to push brands to change, making boxes sturdier and more protective in themselves, eschewing the need for packing materials at all.

The impact of the e-commerce industry is particularly acute at key times such as Christmas. It might be a good time to take a second to think before you click ‘add to basket’. What’s the entire journey of the item you’re ordering? Could you reduce it or even just cut out that last mile by popping to a shop and buying it in person?