The announcement of the recent lockdown has definitely caused some stress and worry, and one way many people are dealing with this is through retail therapy and spending way too much money online. Awaiting a package provides a sense of great excitement among these dull times, however, there is an effect of this relentless spending on the environment and it is more negative than first thought.


Online shopping used to make up 1 in 7 purchases, but this is increasing due to lockdown and the coronavirus. 45% of consumers purchased ‘non-essential’ items during lockdown according to Izea and this figure can only go up.


The obvious reason why online shopping is bad for the environment is that they have to be delivered through the use of vehicles, increasing carbon emissions.  One delivery driver taking a trip to many houses at once does not drastically affect this though - it is the love of next day delivery and failed deliveries that really increase the CO2 emissions. The average online shopper’s carbon footprint is generally half the traditional shopper’s. However, a study conducted by Dimitri Weildeli showed the cybernaut impatient’s (someone who pays for high-speed delivery) carbon footprint has tripled the impact of delivery. He says, ‘our growing love of speed deliveries almost triples the footprint of online delivery. That is because your supplier no longer has the flexibility to bundle multiple orders into a single delivery and because it sends out vans less full and to travel farther per delivery than they would if you were willing to wait a bit longer for your purchase to arrive’.


Furthermore, 12% to 60% of home deliveries have been reported to fail the first time. The van has to make a second or third run or customers will drive to their local post office/warehouse to pick up their product, creating unnecessary emissions. 


Another reason online shopping is worse for the planet is the increase in returns it creates. A study done by GreenStory show 6-8% of items bought from a physical shop are returned compared to 30% of online orders due to sizes being wrong, the product looking different in person, regretting impulse buys and the convenience of free, postal returns. As well as the added emissions from shipping the product back, many of them are not resold because they about 20% are damaged, or companies do not have the spare time, money and technology to clean products and resell them. It is much more profitable to sell many returns cheaply around the globe then produce more or to just to dump them in landfill and eventually burn them resulting in clear environmental issues as well as unnecessary waste.


Optoro (a company that helps manage and resell returned products) estimates that 5 billion pounds of waste is caused through returns each year which contributes to 15 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.


Studies suggest that by 2021 global online retail will increase to $4.8 trillion from $2.8 trillion in 2018 increasing the impact on the world further. Companies need to consider getting customers to pick up their own products (as done in Sweden) or use electric vehicles (like Amazon is planning to do). The ease of online shopping encourages us to shop more so, this lockdown, buy from sustainable small businesses more (there are countless on TikTok!) and wait those few extra days for delivery.