Online Shopping is Not so Eco

The battle between online shopping and brick and mortar stores is certainly not evenly matched. For years, online shopping has become more and more popular. During that same period, the environmental issues facing our planet have become more and more dire—and our growing habit of ordering everything online may not be helping.

What’s that, you say? You order everything through Amazon Smile and choose to support environmental groups through your purchases? Well, that’s great. But it doesn’t necessarily undo the environmental damage of online shopping in the first place.

While in-store shopping is definitely not footprint-less, the environmental impact of our addiction to online shopping is more massive than you might realize.

Rush Delivery

This is the big one. We’ve gotten used to our luxurious two-day shipping, but expedited shipping actually doubles an order’s carbon footprint. In many cases, companies can only accomplish two-day shipping by air delivery.

Planes emit more carbon than any other shipping method, so demanding air delivery is pretty unforgiving to the environment. Rush shipping is almost always worse for the planet than slower shipping or buying in-store.

Split Shipments

You know when your order comes in multiple boxes, so that you can get your items as quickly as possible? That actually increases the carbon footprint of your order by about 35 percent. Plus, it increases the amount of truck space needed to transport your delivery, which congests streets—speaking of which…

18 wheeler trucks on the road


This isn’t something we often take into account when considering the eco footprint of our own shopping habits, but it is pretty huge. When delivery trucks get stuck in traffic, they aren’t very fuel efficient, making you order significantly more carbon intensive.

But here’s the worst part: delivery trucks are often a cause of traffic, both on highways and city streets. Just take a drive on a major highway, and you’ll see massive truck after massive truck, hauling our precious Amazon purchases, speeding towards their delivery deadlines.

Currently, delivery vehicles account for about seven percent of traffic on the road, but it is estimated to increase 45 percent by 2045, thanks to the popularity of online shopping. Not only is that no fun for the planet, but it’s no fun for commuters of any type.


It’s a fact—customers who purchase items in-store are less likely to return an item than those who purchase online. It is estimated that 30-40 percent of online purchases are returned, whereas only nine percent of in-store purchases get brought back.

While in-store purchases can simply be driven a short distance back to a store to be sold again—hopefully in your fuel-efficient car or by bike—online purchases have to be shipped (often much greater distances) in order to get back to the warehouse from whence they came.

It’s just more unsustainable transportation on top of an already unsustainable cycle.

Man Deliver Mail Box to Woman in front of Stop

Multiple Delivery Attempts

You know when you find those little “Sorry We Missed You” stickers on your door, rescheduling delivery time? In urban areas, deliveries fail about 10 percent of the time, meaning the package must be brought back and forth from the local shipping center to your house multiple times until your schedules sync up and you actually open the door. Again, our delivery trucks are practically driving in circles.

Boxes and Packaging

Think of all the trees we sacrifice to make those paper boxes and wrappings. And let’s not even get started on companies who wrap their items in styrofoam and tough-to-recycle plastics.

Yes, many paper products are now made out of recycled paper, and some companies are offering to reuse old boxes as a way to make their order a little more eco, but packaging on the whole is kind of an environmental mess. There is simply so much waste.

Sure, maybe you’ll save money by shopping online, but those savings come from somewhere—in this case, they come indirectly at the expense of the planet.

Parcel ready for shipment

The fact remains, the carbon footprint of one single item bought online is equal to the carbon footprint of 24 items bought locally in-store. But is online shopping really that much worse than in-store? Things ship to stores too, right?

Yes, that’s true, although shipments generally come in larger loads on palettes for stores (with less individual packaging waste). There is no ping ponging of individual items back and forth—rather just a few massive shipments that local customers come and pick up in-store.

Of course, that’s not necessarily ideal either—brick and mortar stores certainly have their downsides too. The truth is, the only way to ensure you’re being green is to start buying less stuff.

And if you really want to get that good, charitable feeling, donate to the environmental organization of your choice each month. That’s more than you would probably donate through purchases on Amazon Smile, anyway.

 Related on Care2:

Images via Thinkstock


Paula A
Patricia A2 months ago

Thank you

Anna R
Anna R5 months ago

thank you for sharing

Chad Anderson
Chad A5 months ago

Thank you.

Jenny G
Jenny G6 months ago

Thanks for the article!

Lesa D
Past Member 6 months ago

thank you Jordyn...

Angela K
Angela K6 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D6 months ago

I never, ever thought on-line shopping was eco-friendly. Haven't shopped on-line in many years. Like going to a store, seeing what I need, buying it, and NOT returning it.

hELEN h6 months ago


Barbara M
Past Member 6 months ago


Alexandra Richards
Alexandra Richards6 months ago

Thank you.