September 9, 2019

Air pollution: the hidden environmental problem in the ecommerce industry


Air pollution: the hidden environmental problem in the ecommerce industry – When you think of ecommerce pollution, consumers immediately picture a landfill covered in plastic and corrugated waste. It’s obvious, in the age of Amazon, we are all more familiar with corrugated boxes as we interact with them every time we receive a package. The dramatic photos of landfills also stimulate powerful emotions which have helped influence environmental legislation to improve packaging waste. However, in reality, the environmental damage of ecommerce is not only the packaging waste, but it’s also air pollution.


One of global warming’s biggest offenders

While we may understand Styrofoam packing peanuts better, the behind-the-scenes pollution is the more serious factor affecting climate change. Consumers think of shipping in terms of “how soon can I get my package?” but long-distance shipping and last-mile delivery cause significant air pollution – which is a huge problem for our planet. An article in EDF+Business, explains how Etsy investigated their environmental footprint only to realize that “shipping” was “responsible for 98% of their carbon impact.” Even if consumers can’t tangibly see this type of pollution on a daily basis, it represents a very real threat to our environment


The problem is only getting worse

As the e-commerce industry grows, more and more packages are sent out on trucks. It’s estimated that 1.92 billion people will purchase an item online this year. The EPA reports that transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and freight makes up a significant, and growing, percentage of that.

And as more consumers shop online, the packaging world pushes the boundaries towards faster shipping, which also is a serious factor in environmental pollution. Patrick Browne, Director of Global Sustainability at UPS, states in a 2019 BBC interview, “Time in transit has a direct impact on the environment. The more time you allow us to deliver that package, the more efficient we can be with our network.”

Long-distance aircraft transit is 8x more energy-intensive than trucks and rush shipping usually involves fewer packages per truck, more miles driven, increased fuel consumption, and higher emissions. All of which correspond to a higher toll on the environment. Meanwhile, Amazon is pouring $800 million into making free, one-day shipping a standard for Prime users and same-day delivery “is around the corner,” explains Guy Bloch, CEO of Bringg.


Times are changing

Major companies have confronted the issue of ecommerce air pollution and are implementing major changes. Etsy is changing their ways, pledging to offset all of its environmental impact from shipping emissions with projects including, protecting forests and constructing wind and solar farms. Similarly, Amazon themselves have established a “Shipment Zero” plan with the goal to make 50% of their shipments net zero carbon by 2030 and all of their shipments carbon neutral in the future. 

Packaging performance plays a huge role in emissions as well. Every time a product arrives damaged means the item was made, packed, shipped, returned, shipped, another item is made, packed and shipped out again. This adds additional transits for that one item to get to the end consumer, and also another round of transits in the world of reverse logistics for the return of that item — effectively tripling the impact on the environment. This is all in addition to the waste from packaging materials that end up in the trash or in our landfills. 20% of all returns occur as a result of damage during shipping, giving companies further incentive to invest in higher quality protective packaging. Improving packaging performance reduces product damage, lowers the number of returns, and lessens the environmental impact of shipping.


Our sustainable efforts

At EPE, we follow through on our commitment to the environment by providing innovative and sustainable packaging solutions that are optimized for each individual product. This allows for a significant reduction in the amount of packaging material in each package, ultimately reducing our carbon emission footprint. Less packaging material enables you to ship in a smaller carton, allowing more packages to fit in a truck, lowering the weight of the vehicles, and reducing the environmental effect of each individual package during transit.

We understand that shipping has changed, and with that change, product packaging must be able to withstand the rigors that come with ecommerce transit. We design packaging solutions and test to both ISTA standards and Amazon’s FFP requirements for ecommerce to reduce product damage during shipping, which then reduces your carbon emissions in the reverse logistics world. Since 2012, EPE’s optimized packaging designs have reduced carbon emissions by 8.5 million kilograms. We are doing our part to fight against the increasing risks associated with air pollution within the ecommerce industry.