Americans love online retail – the channel grew by 16% last year in the US, while all retail rose 3.8%. We love the speed and convenience. We love the ‘just-got-a-gift’ feeling of boxes turning up on our doorstep. We love Amazon too – one fan back in 2014 remarking, “I’m in a monogamous relationship with #amazonprime.” But love, as they say, is blind. And as consumers, we turn a blind eye to the environmental cost of online retail, particularly when it comes to packaging.
As reported in Fast Company, about 165 billion packages are shipped in the US each year, with the cardboard used roughly equating to more than 1 billion trees (that’s billion with a ‘b’). If you look specifically at meal-kits, category leader Blue Apron sends out around 8 million meals a month, each one containing two six-pound ice packs. The freezer pack waste is about 192,000 tons per year, or, as Mother Jones noted, “the weight of nearly 100,000 cars or 2 million adult men.”
Generally speaking, we are drowning in a sea of packaging waste, and too much of it is ending up in the ocean. A recent campaign from Lonely Whale and Point Break Foundation claims that by the year 2025, there will be 1 tonne (a metric ton) of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish in the ocean. (It gets worse – the United Nations tells us that by 2050 there will be more plastic waste than fish.) Online retail is certainly not responsible for all that trash – but it sure doesn’t help.
An article by Pam Baker on “E-commerce packaging waste becoming a bigger issue” helps to unpack the problem. Prior to the Internet, the logistics for traditional retail were simple and linear…