Black Friday and Cyber Monday – the ‘holidays’ designed to get your credit cards out and buy, buy, buy – are just around the corner. If you aren’t planning to partake in the oh-so-American act of rushing to a Walmart or Bath & Body Works the second you’re finished with your Thanksgiving meal, you may be getting ready to take advantage of all the sales and discounts on retailers’ online platforms.

There are a lot of perks to doing your shopping online nowadays. You get to avoid large crowds and the always-present possibility of being exposed to COVID-19. All the products are organized into neat web pages instead of piled onto shelves and hanging on racks. And everything arrives perfectly packaged right to your doorstep. 

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However, the reality of how online shopping impacts the environment, fills landfills, and promotes unconscious consumerism may make you rethink how and where you get your discounted goods this holiday season. 

The Carbon Emissions 

Holiday-related shipments are on the rise. In 2018, the US Postal Service expected to receive a whopping 10 percent more holiday packages than the previous year. That’s 850 million deliveries in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day! 

When the majority of Americans shopped in-store, fuel-efficient delivery trucks delivered large shipments to even larger department stores around areas where their vehicles could drive around with ease. Nowadays, at-home deliveries have to rely on smaller trucks and cars that can maneuver themselves through residential roads. This releases a significantly higher amount of emissions, making a shirt bought online far more environmentally damaging than one purchase in-store. 

Returned Items are Often Trashed 

Many of us have ordered something fully knowing we might end up returning up. This may seem like a harmless act. The garment will just be repackaged and sold to another eager shopper, right?  Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. 

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Around 3.5 million products are returned in the United States annually with defective products making up a mere 20 percent of those returns. Companies don’t have the resources or technology to profitably refold and repack perfectly-good returns. Instead of selling them again to their original customer base, the products are often sold to discounters or chucked in a landfill to rot. 

Unsold clothing is also often trashed by brands who don’t want to devalue their brands by selling discounted pieces. Burberry and Cartier have both been caught destroying millions of dollars worth of goods out of fear that consumers might be able to purchase them for less than their original retail price. 

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Unconscious Consumerism

Shopping online almost feels like a game sometimes. You click the pictures, add them to your cart, type a few random numbers in, and then you get an email stating that your order’s been confirmed. You win! 

When we buy something without thinking about why we want it or if we really want it at all, we feed the trend cycle and fast fashion markets. While shopping online is undoubtedly fun, it should still be taken seriously. You’re buying real products, made by real people, shipped to you using real fuel. 

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If You Don’t Care, Why Should They? 

There isn’t any incentive for retailers to do better. We continue to buy from them and support them, so why should they invest in changing? 

Speaking up and boycotting brands who have not made an honest attempt to reduce their shipping emissions and deal with returns in an environmentally-conscious way is one of the few ways big companies will get the message and inflict change.

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