Our Growing E-Commerce Addiction Means Mountains Of Cardboard

It’s a great accomplishment of modern logistics and technology that we’re able to order a case of toilet paper once have new ones magically re-appear on our doorsteps every few months, but the amazing convenience of shopping online has a cost in addition to credit card bills. Shopping online means cardboard boxes, plastic wrap, and other protective packaging is used once and then thrown away, and delivery trucks visit individual houses instead of malls.

The New York Times recently looked at this problem, specifically the same-day delivery options like Postmates, Amazon Prime Now, UberRush and Google Express. It’s one thing when your delivery of toilet paper is part of a UPS route, and another when someone has been dispatched from the Amazon warehouse specifically to bring you that case of toilet paper.

How much fuel does that use, and how much extra pollution does it create? It’s hard to say exactly whether shoppers going to the mall or delivery drivers going to their customers pollute more, but one study in Delaware showed that the growth of online shopping meant more trucks circulating in the area, and more pollution.

Deliveries on foot or on bicycle work in some very dense urban areas, but that doesn’t solve the problem of packaging. Amazon has made progress in the last decade, since we began our “Stupid Shipping Gang” posts–the Times says that the retailer has taken advice that came in from their shipping feedback form seriously.

Recycling all of that cardboard makes us feel better, but a truck still has to pick up the cardboard and take it to the recycling plant.

E-Commerce: Convenience Built on a Mountain of Cardboard [New York Times]