As more people turn to online shopping during COVID-19, plastic packaging such as bubble wrap, air pillows and loose packing peanuts become a significant problem. Considering that only nine percent of all plastic produced has been recycled and 79% ends up in landfills or in the natural environment, it’s little wonder that curbing plastic consumption is high on everybody’s agenda.
If you’re undertaking the Plastic Free July challenge or just want to curb your plastic consumption generally, here are some tips to help you cut out plastic waste as you shop online:
1. First ask yourself: Do I really love it or need it?
What has become clear during the pandemic is how heavily reliant businesses and governments are on consumer spending to drive our economies. In the United States, consumption accounts for nearly 70% of economic growth. Unfortunately, it is becoming obvious that material excess doesn’t equate to increased happiness, as research into hedonic adaptation – the idea that an individual’s level of happiness returns to its baseline even after positive or negative events – reveals.
Mindless shopping leads to more waste, in the form of raw materials, greenhouse gas emissions and plastic packaging. So before hitting the add to cart button, ask yourself: Do I really love it or need it? What is the underlying reason for wanting to purchase it?
Taking a moment to pause and ask yourself these questions before making an online purchase will help you better identify the things you really value and need – and will help to reduce unnecessary consumption and the plastic packaging that items are shipped in.
Recommended: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Anything
2. Scrutinise sustainable packaging commitments
Make sure to review a brand’s sustainability commitments before making an online purchase. Conscious businesses will generally publish their sustainability practices (including sustainability roadmaps and reports) on their website with details of how they are reducing waste across their entire operations.
Look out for details on the type of packaging the business uses. If the company uses recycled paper, shredded paper or cardboard – packaging that can be recycled – great. Just pop in kerbside recycling bins if you’re not looking to reuse it.
If the company uses compostable packaging, pay close attention to whether the packaging can be composted at home (the packaging can be broken down in normal home compost bins) or whether it requires the high temperatures and particular conditions of industrial composting. If it requires industrial composting conditions than you’ve encountered a problem. Since most households don’t have access to this commercial composting method you will need to seek out more information from the business, seek out other retailers who package responsibly or veto purchasing the item altogether.
Recommended: A Type of ‘Biodegradable’ Plastic Will Soon Be Phased Out in Australia. That’s a Big Win for the Environment
If worse comes to worse and plastic is unavoidable, check to see if the packaging can be recycled. In some parts of the world, soft plastics recycling is now available. In Australia, ‘scrunchable’ plastic packaging such as plastic mailers and bubble wrap can be recycled with REDcycle, a recycling business that has drop-off locations nationwide including major retailers such as Coles and Woolworths.
A sustainably-minded retailer will have online instructions on how you can responsibly recycle plastic or compostable packaging so make sure to review their website for details. If none are listed, send the business a quick email or direct message on social media seeking out this information.
3. Leave a note requesting plastic-free delivery
When purchasing an item online or ordering your meals, there is usually an option to leave a note regarding your order. So make use of this space by requesting a plastic-free delivery and specify why. For example, “I want to rid the world of single-use plastic so please don’t include plastic of any sort in my order!”. The added benefit of taking this action is that the retailer may even switch to plastic-free packaging and other non-plastic items as a result of your request.
4. Combine packaging
If you need to purchase several items, consider purchasing from one online retailer that will combine and consolidate packaging to reduce the chances of plastic waste. Combining packaging and delivery in this way will also help to curb greenhouse gas emissions involved in transporting the goods.
5. Opt to pick up
One way to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging is to pick up your order. More businesses are now offering customers the chance to pick up their retail orders (‘click and collect’) rather than having it shipped out. Australian eco store Biome allows customers to pick up their orders from a collection point in Brisbane. Some eBay and Facebook marketplace sellers offer the pick up option as well.
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Cover image by Pavel Danilyuk.