How to Cut Holiday Shipping Waste

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor

In today’s increasingly e-commerce driven world, we’re accustomed to hopping online whenever a new “need” arises. With the abundance of home goods, clothing, gifts, personal care products, and everyday items available on the web, it’s no surprise we use it to shop on the reg…especially during the holidays.

But what about all the waste it generates? Unfortunately, while green packaging is becoming more common, most e-tailers are still more concerned about presentation and product safety than they are about the environment. In fact, industry publications routinely encourage extra packaging for the purpose of branding and protecting items.

With marketing tactics such as these, we end up awash in brown paper packages tied up with string. Wait, no. Not string. I should have said filled up with Styrofoam, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts, all seriously non-biodegradable items. And while theoretically recyclable, many cardboard boxes still end up in landfills (13 percent of which is recyclable paper products).

So what’s an eco-conscious person to do? Well, in this writer’s opinion, the obvious place to start is cutting down on the amount of waste we generate. That can be done in a few ways.

Kill Extra Packaging

Shipping Waste

Big e-commerce sites have a pretty wasteful reputation | image: Rob DiCaterino/Flickr

One of the biggest problems is that we think of common shopping sites (Amazon or eBay, for example) as “one” retailer, when really, these sites are giant search engines. That means they aggregate products from millions of distinct retailers. So when you put “an” order through, you’re really making multiple orders, often a different one for each product. That’s a lot of packaging.

There’s one solution that works well for this, which is to group your purchases. For instance, on Amazon, you can set your shipping preferences to “group my items into as few shipments as possible.” This means your items come in one box when all orders from that provider are ready, as opposed to a box for each item as they’re ready to ship.

You can also simply move away from online shopping wherever possible. True, e-commerce has some inherent benefits: a truck that’s already out delivering items is more fuel-efficient than you are when you run out for one item at a time. However, if you can group errands to buy enough items in one trip – at least 24 by car, eight by bus – your efficiency beats the delivery truck. For most of us, that’s a pretty attainable goal.

Lastly, you can try to support companies that are trying to use green packaging. These examples, of course, are some of the largest providers in the world. You can often check a site’s About Us page to learn about their packaging materials and initiatives. If that information is missing, you can always send an email or social media message to ask.

Merry and Bright…and Box-less

There’s one obvious way to avoid shipping altogether, which is to skip material purchases altogether. Of course, during the holidays we feel obligated to buy gifts and often enjoy it as well, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be of a physical nature. Presents for others (or yourself, frankly) can also come in experiential form.

“Passion gifts” are a great way to help those you care about pursue a new hobby, while a simple brunch or museum trip will often thrill Dad or Grandma. While people do get pleasure from material possessions, research shows that experiential gifts cause less frequent but more intense feelings of happiness.

So whether you’re ordering that new blender or taking someone on the hike of their life, try some of the above strategies to step up your gift-giving came while cutting down your shipping waste this holiday season!

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.