As anyone who’s ever done a reno project knows, renovation has plenty of begats beyond the backsplash, the fridge, and the vanity. There’s all the other stuff that you need to supplement the main events. So last fall, in the midst of my reno, I became acquainted with Wayfair.
And damned if, just as advertised, they had just what I need.
And just what I needed was a marble toothbrush holder, soap dish, and tray for towels. A mirror for the upstairs bathroom; a medicine chest for the downstairs bathroom. Sconces for the living room. New salad tossers
All of which came packaged up in cardboard cartons and oodles of packing materials. The recyclable materials got recycled; some of it went down the drain (those dissolvable foam peanuts); and some got trashed.
Wayfair was great: infinite choice, reasonable prices, and excellent service.
And I went on-beyond-Wayfair and shoped other online venues as well. (The rug for the den, a new double boiler, a new duvet cover, shams, cool registers with the same grapevine pattern as the plaster medallions and mantle in the living room...)
When ordering, I didn’t give a moment’s thought to the environmental impact of all the packaging and shipping. Or the repackaging and reshipping. Nor have I done so for the other stuff I order online in the course of my normal, non-reno-related consuming.
I’m not someone who only shops on the net. I like to shop in a real store. But sometimes what I want or even need isn’t readily available in a store. (You try shopping for a size 10 ½ triple A shoe, why don’t you.) And sometimes it’s just easier to find something online.
But all that cardboard…
I do, of course, religiously recycle it. Too bad that's not as saintly a practice as I tell myself it is.
Though recycling can make consumers think they are helping the environment, the process has its own costs, including the emissions from shipping it to recycling centers, which use a lot of energy and water. Don Fullerton, a professor of finance and an expert in economics and the environment at the University of Illinois, said one possible solution would be to make the retailers responsible for taking back the boxes. That would create incentives for them to come up with solutions for less packaging. “And maybe not put a box inside a box inside a box,” he said. (Source: NY Times)Note to self: tell Zappo's to stop with the box-in-a-box.
But it's not just all that cardboard that's a problem:
A handful of scientists and policy makers are circling the same question [as Ruchit Garg, an online shopper who’s been expressing his packaging concerns via Twitter], grappling with the longterm environmental effect of an economy that runs increasingly on gottahaveitnow gratification. This cycle leads consumers to expect that even their modest wants can be satisfied like urgent needs, and not always feel so great about it. The new arms race for Internet retailers is speed, making the old Federal Express commercial, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” seem as quaint as delivery by horse and buggy.And all that insta-delivery comes at an environmental cost: all those delivery trucks, delivery cars, and - coming soon - drones.
Of course, stuff gets delivered whether it's coming ASAP or through the standard, no hurry delivery times. And whether it's coming in two hours or two weeks, if stuff wasn't being delivered, most folks would be driving to the mall to pick it up. But when you're going to the mall, you're stopping in at mulitple stores. When you're ordering from Wayfair, you can just go ahead and get the toothbrush holder and wait for UPS to show up with it.
Anyway, whether it's coming two hours or two weeks, delivery is likely adding to greenhouse emissions.
Ardeshi Faghri, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Delaware, said the increase of various emissions — which he estimated at 20 percent from 2001 to 2011 — “could be due to a multitude of reasons, but we think that online shopping and more delivery trucks are really one of the primary reasons. Online shopping has not helped the environment,” he said. “It has made it worse.”Glad I didn't read this before I'd ordered all those things from Wayfair.