Online shopping has soared amid the pandemic. But what about all the packaging? (2023)

Masked shoppers recounted their holiday adventures at the Cost Plus World Market in Oakland, California. However, it wasn't just the Ikat tableware and bag wall art that didn't meet their gift mark to be returned. thisgood returnThe "bar" inside accepts unwanted items from digitally native brands like Eloquii, Everlane and Rothy's, which it returns by scanning a QR code.

Similar bars are equally active in shopping malls, college campuses and in-house stores like World Markets across the country. David Sobie, co-founder and CEO of the company, explained that online return rates are three to four times higher than in-store. During the pandemic, like e-commerce, returns are growing at an unprecedented rate.

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(Video) Online grocery shopping skyrockets amid the coronavirus outbreak

However, as packaging flooded homes, so did packaging that kept the contents intact. Here's what people love about founder Ayeshah AbuelhigMason Dixie Cookie CompanyIn Baltimore, lingering concerns about packaging waste are a big reason why Abuelhiga has largely refused to sell its frozen cookies, brownies and baked goods online, save for a brief foray into online shopping in 2019. The mission of its products calls for insulated containers, filled with dry ice and wrapped in bubble wrap designed to keep products from spoiling until they're ready to go in the oven. Another reason is that the cost of all this stuff doesn't make economic sense.

"That doesn't seem like a good price," he said. “Consumers were just paying for the dry ice and the packaging.” Then Covid-19 hit. Abuelhiga said her customers suddenly complained that they were staying home, or that their nearby brick-and-mortar store was out of stock. So in July, the Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. "Buy Online" button is back. Within weeks, Abuelhiga received thousands of orders. As the holidays approached, sales skyrocketed to $200,000 a month as people created packages titled "Treat Yourself" and "Miss Your Waffles" as gifts or for self-care. "We're growing about 350 percent," he said. In response to the flooding, the company quintupled its staff, with three dedicated to packing orders.

Abuelhiga works hard to reduce the amount of unsustainable packaging it uses. It uses "eco packaging" made from recycled materials and encourages packaging to avoid that ridiculous overkill.“Bad packaging”Often mentioned in social networks. But she admits all this waste keeps her up at night. "I don't know how this happened," he said.

Mason Dixie Cookies isn't the only company facing this problem. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people shop, as millions of people turn to online shopping for everything from groceries to toilet paper to pants. Digital sales increased71 positionsIn the second quarter of 2020 I55 bitsIn the third scenario, according to Salesforce, a wave of packaging and packaging is created that will end up in landfills, incinerators, or the wider environment.

Environmentalists are already bracing for the flood of coated paper, corrugated cardboard, shrink wrap and airbags that the rise of online shopping promises to leave behind. The pandemic has only accelerated the timeline. Corrugated box shipments increase since March surge9% per yearyears, according to the Fiber Box Association. Market Research Firm Technavio Estimates Increased Demand For Pneumatic Products$1.16 billionBetween 2020 and 2024, due to the increase in online sales.

And while paper packaging isn't entirely harmless - according to Forest Conservancy, some 3 billion trees are felled each year to produce 241 million tons of shipping cartons, mailers, empty wrappers and other paper packagingeaves— Single-use plastics are of greater concern to environmentalists because they can linger in the environment, sometimes for hundreds of years. Their recyclability is often overestimated. Now,Less than 14%Nearly 86 million tons of plastic packaging produced in the world is recycled every year. The vast majority suggested thatburn, or allow pollution of waterways and poisoning of wildlife.

"Follia and Bubble Wrap are not something most recycling programs accept," said senior plastics activist David peace"There's also the issue of contamination. If one of these bubble mailers, say from Amazon, reaches a material recycling facility, it will disrupt automated machinery and take up valuable time and money that could be focused on sustainable sourcing plastic."

green peacerecently suedIn fact, Walmart violated California consumer protection law by placing "false and misleading" labels on the recyclability of single-use plastic products and Big Box store packaging. Most consumers in California do not have access to facilities that can separate these products from the general waste stream for recycling, he said. Due to the lack of end markets for converting these plastics into new products - Chinahit the bodyIn 2019, it severely restricted the import of certain recyclable materials, including most plastics - products "destined to end up in landfill or the natural environment".

That's not to say the packaging isn't useful. It's there because it protects things well, says assistant director Adam GendellSustainable Packaging Coalition, whose members include companies such as 3M, Dow, and Georgia-Pacific Packaging.

There's even a sustainability angle—sort of: Gendell says a product's "intrinsic environmental investment" is often many times greater than the packaging around it. In other words, it's environmentally more expensive to replace a damaged Instant Pot than any styrofoam or bubble wrap that came with it. For all its drawbacks, plastic packaging is extremely lightweight, reducing fuel consumption during transport and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he said. It's also ridiculously cheap. Although sustainable packaging alternatives aremushroom rootthiscorn starchWell, they face stiff competition without government intervention or heavy buy-in from big names.

Speaking of which, Amazon is a name that pops up a lot in packaging conversations, and for good reason. It accounts for nearly the largest share of U.S. retail sales39 bits, according to eMarketer, with Walmart a distant second at 5.3 percent.

onea recent studyby Oceana found that Amazon generated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019. The number of airbags alone could circle the earth 500 times, he said. The environmental group further estimates that as much as 22.44 million pounds of Amazon plastic packaging ended up as pollution in the world's freshwater and marine ecosystems that same year, or "roughly equivalent to a truckload of plastic trash dumped in major rivers, lakes and oceans." Every 70 minutes once. "

“The amount of plastic waste the company produces is staggering and growing at an alarming rate,” Matt Littlejohn, senior vice president of Oceana, said in a statement. Waste from packaging is primarily not recycled, it goes to landfills, incinerators or the environment, unfortunately including our waterways and oceans, plastics harm marine life. Time for Amazon to listen to its customers , according to recent research, they want plastic-free alternatives and are really committed to reducing their plastic footprint."

However, an Amazon spokesperson told Vox that Oceana "grossly miscalculated" its use of plastic and "exaggerated" it by more than 350%. "We use about a quarter of the plastic packaging estimated in the Oceana report," the spokesperson said, noting that the company has reduced the weight of its production packaging by more than a third since 2015 and eliminated Nearly 1 million tons of material packaging.

(Video) Panic Buying Leaves Empty Shelves At Supermarkets And Stores | TODAY

But whatever Amazon's plastic footprint was in 2019, it's likely to be even bigger in 2020. The pandemic created a boom for the company, which reported net sales$96.2 billionIn the third quarter of 2020, a 37% increase over 2019. The internet giant ships 1.5 billion toys, home goods, beauty and personal care products, and electronics worldwide during the holiday season."rekordna" season.

The upward trend of online shopping is unlikely to change direction anytime soon. Experts predict this behavior will remain the same even after the pandemic is over. Survey of 2,000 U.S. adultsMcKinsey & CompanyIn November, for example, it found a 40% net increase in online spending intentions among respondents post-Covid-19.

Also, the flow of packets is not unidirectional. Even before Christmas, retailers were bracing for twice as many returns as last year, and returns weren't always in their original packaging, which could mean more plastic and paper. Sobie from Happy Returns says return rates are higher for online shopping because of so-called"surrounded"Customers basically buy to try. Because people buying clothes or shoes online can't try them on, they can buy multiple sizes and return ones that don't fit. If they're not sure which color looks best based on the picture on their phone, they can buy multiple versions of the same garment and return the ones that don't look as appealing in natural light. "Many e-commerce marketplaces end up with built-in rewards based on how people shop," he said.

Rethinking the definition of packaging could be one way out of this quagmire, but current efforts remain limited and limited in terms of uptake. To reduce single-use materials, Happy Returns uses reusable containers to consolidate and bulk ship unboxed returns to its California and Pennsylvania "return centers" for sorting, processing and routing to final destination. startups likeRepackageIlime cycleOffers reusable bags for shipping online clothing orders. Asos is one of 400 companies and governments working to reduce plastic waste as part of the Ellen MacArthur FoundationA new global commitment to the plastics economy, there will be a trialreusable pouchat the beginning of the year.

Central pickup locations like Amazon's lockers can help reduce packaging waste, with the added benefit of reducing excess road traffic and truck side-by-side parking in residential areas, said Associate Director Sarah M. Kaufman.NYU Rudin Transportation CenterTrucks often have visibility issues, making them less safe to operate in pedestrian-heavy environments, he said, pointing to rising numberstruck-related fatalities"Because of Amazon, we all expect free shipping no matter where we shop, but in reality, delivery costs are pretty high from a social standpoint," Kaufman said.

However, he said the onus for online delivery should not fall on consumers, especially since staying home and limiting contact with others is the best way to limit the spread of the virus. "Yes, we need to make a lot of changes to our consumerism, but we also need to understand who is shopping online and why," Kaufman said.

In fact, with the right investments and the will to act, companies can solve problems.

Following India's announcement to phase out single-use plastics, Amazon India has successfully eliminated non-recyclable plastic packaging from its fulfillment centers in the country. In June, the company announced it had achieved a "100% successful transition" away from single-use plastics. About 40% of Amazon's orders in India are actually shipped in the original box without an outer box or other packaging.

According to Oceana, Amazon’s Packaging and Materials Lab has also developed a lightweight paper container that, if used in place of plastic containers, could significantly reduce the company’s plastic footprint.

Greenpeace's Pinsky said the myth that plastic can be recycled or even managed effectively is just a myth. "We certainly know that's not the case," he said. "It's intrinsically linked to the climate crisis. So we have to look at other options."

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Online shopping has soared amid the pandemic. But what about all the packaging? (1)

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How much packaging is wasted each year? ›

In 2020, the total volume of packaging waste generated was estimated at 79.6 million tonnes – a slight increase of 0.3 % compared with 2019.

Why is plastic packaging a problem? ›

Due to poor waste management systems around the world, the majority of plastic packaging that is sent to landfills ends up in our natural environments. 8 million tons of plastic is dumped in the ocean every year. Plastic pollution threatens wildlife, alters ecosystems and poses risks to human health.

How much waste does e-commerce produce? ›

It is projected that e-commerce plastic packaging use will continue to grow in the coming years, reaching an estimated 4.5 billion pounds by 2025. In 2019, e-commerce plastic packaging waste was estimated at more than one billion kilograms worldwide.

How much of landfill is packaging? ›

Containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 82.2 million tons of generation in 2018 (28.1 percent of total generation). Packaging is the product used to wrap or protect goods, including food, beverages, medications and cosmetic products.

Why packaging is a waste? ›

Most of the time, single-use packaging such as disposable containers and cups also cannot be recycled as they are contaminated with food. Unnecessary packaging is not only a drain on resources, it also adds to the production of waste.

How much packaging actually gets recycled? ›

While 52% of recycling facilities in the U.S. accept that kind of plastic, the report found less than 5% of it is actually repurposed — and the rest is put into a landfill.

What is the alternative to plastic packaging? ›

  • Bagasse + Bagasse is created as a by-product of sugarcane processing and can be adapted to fit a variety of packaging requirements, particularly for food delivery and transportation. ...
  • Palm leaves + ...
  • Silberboard paper + ...
  • Wood pulp cellophane + ...
  • Milk plastic + ...
  • Seed phytonutrients shower-friendly paper +

What are the three main problems with packaging? ›

Top Challenges of Product Packaging
  • Sustainability.
  • Product protection.
  • Recognition.
  • Distribution.
  • Freshness.
  • Impressions.
  • E-commerce.
  • Rising costs.
Jun 5, 2020

Why do we say no to plastic packaging? ›

These end up in landfill and are costly and resources intensive to recycle, if at all. Refusing single-use plastic packaging and switching to reusable alternatives is the best way to reduce your plastic waste footprint.

What is the biggest source of e-waste? ›

Common sources of e-waste include televisions, computers, mobile phones and any type of home appliance, from air conditioners to children's toys.

Who is the biggest contributor to e-waste? ›

Key Facts
  • 57.4 Mt (Million Metric Tonnes) of e-waste was generated in 2021. ...
  • There is over 347 Mt of unrecycled e-waste on earth in 2023.
  • China, the US, and India produce the most e-waste.
  • Only 17.4% of e-waste is known to be collected and properly recycled.

Which country uses the most e-waste? ›

China is the world's largest importer and producer of electronic waste with over 70% of all global e-waste ending up in the world's largest dumpsites.

What happens to McDonald's rubbish? ›

You'll have noticed the recycling bins in our restaurants. With your help we can recycle drinks cups and coffee cups as well as plastic items like cutlery. All the remaining waste goes to 'energy from waste' facilities where it is converted to electricity.

How much food do fast-food restaurants waste? ›

According to a study of the University of Arizona out of the total amount of purchased food, 9.55% is wasted in fast-food restaurants, while 11.3% is wasted in restaurants with full service. More specifically, around 600,000 tons of food waste comes from restaurants.

Do plastic bags end up in landfills? ›

Plastic bags start out as fossil fuels and end up as deadly waste in landfills and the ocean. Birds often mistake shredded plastic bags for food, filling their stomachs with toxic debris.

Is paper packaging worse than plastic? ›

It takes four times the amount of energy to create a paper bag as opposed to a plastic bag. Additionally, Paper and pulp are the 3rd largest industrial polluter of air, the methane gas is 25x more toxic than CO2. Paper bags, in production, emit 70% more air and 50% more water pollution than its plastic counterpart.

Which material generates the most packaging waste? ›

Paper and cardboard made out the majority of packaging waste (41.2 %) followed by plastic (19.5 %), glass (19.1 %), wood (15.1 %) and metal (5.0 %). Other materials represent 0.1 % of the total volume of packaging waste generated in 2020.

Why isn't all your packaging recyclable? ›

But making product packaging recyclable doesn't automatically mean it will get recycled. That requires the infrastructure being in place to collect, sort and process. We operate in 190 countries and the infrastructure for recycling plastic varies enormously across them.

What plastics Cannot be recycled? ›

Examples of non-recyclable plastics include bioplastics, composite plastic, plastic-coated wrapping paper and polycarbonate. Well known non-recyclable plastics include cling film and blister packaging.

What happens to plastic that is not recycled? ›

The plastic may end up buried underneath tons of trash. Over time, the harmful toxic chemicals are leached into the ground and find their way into the groundwater and potentially contaminating drinking water supplies, rivers, streams, and eventually the ocean.

Why can't plastic be recycled? ›

Each resin reacts differently when it is reprocessed into a new item, because different resins melt at different temperatures. Factories that make new products out of plastics are set up to take only specific resin types. Even resins with the same number can't always be recycled together.

What is the most sustainable form of packaging? ›

Corrugated cardboard / paper based packaging

Corrugated cardboard and other forms of paper based packaging are rightly regarded as being amongst the most environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Why is bubble wrap bad for the environment? ›

Even though bubble wrap was a breakthrough in the packaging industry and became the most well-known form of protective packaging world-wide, it can be rather damaging to the environment with it being made from plastic materials that are not biodegradable.

How much waste does the packaging industry produce? ›

Why action is needed. The world produces 141 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year. Around a third of all plastic packaging put on the global market leaks from collection systems, polluting the environment. Plastic production, use and disposal contributes about 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

How much of plastic waste is packaging? ›

Approximately 36 per cent of all plastics produced are used in packaging, including single-use plastic products for food and beverage containers, approximately 85 per cent of which ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste.

What percentage of waste is plastic packaging in the US? ›

With plastics demand showing little signs of slowing down, U.S. plastic waste generation is projected to grow to 142 million metric tons by 2060. Plastics account for roughly 12 percent of U.S. municipal solid waste generation, with plastic containers and packaging the main source of plastic waste.

What percentage of packaging waste is recovered? ›

The recycling rate of packaging waste went up slightly from 63 % in 2009 to 64 % in 2020.

What are three ways to reduce waste from packaging explain? ›

Tips for Reducing Packaging Waste:

Buy loose products, such as fruits and vegetables, instead of pre-packaged packs. When comparing similar items from two brands, choose the one with less packaging. Reuse packaging products, like paper and plastic bags, tins and wrapping paper whenever possible.

What percent of waste is packaging? ›

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that plastic and other packaging waste makes up around 30 percent of total U.S. waste annually.

Why can't we burn our garbage? ›

Burning prohibited materials, such as garbage, plastic and painted or treated wood, is harmful to the environment because these materials release toxic chemicals that pollute our air. Polluted air can be inhaled by humans and animals, and deposited in the soil and surface water and on plants.

How can we reduce package waste? ›

Top 10 tips to avoid packaging
  1. Grow your own food. ...
  2. Cook at home, BYO containers, or have your food to stay. ...
  3. Use reusable packaging. ...
  4. Make a shopping list. ...
  5. Look for items with little or no packaging. ...
  6. Say no to straws and plastic bags. ...
  7. Ban the bottle. ...
  8. Buy products in recyclable packaging.
Nov 10, 2022

How much of US recycling is actually recycled? ›

Most recycling facilities around the country see a 20 to 25% non-recycle rate. And of the 93% recycled, 100% percent of that makes its way to processors in the U.S. and Canada, which find other uses for it. Morris says a small percentage of material cannot be recycled and will either be landfilled or incinerated.

Is the US recycling just 5% of its plastic waste? ›

Only 5% of plastic waste generated by US last year was recycled, report says. Only 5% of the mountains of plastic waste generated by US households last year was recycled, according to new research by Greenpeace.

Who wastes the most plastic? ›

Countries Feeding the Plastic Problem
RankCountryAnnual Ocean Plastic Waste (Metric tons)
#1🇵🇭 Philippines356,371
#2🇮🇳 India126,513
#3🇲🇾 Malaysia73,098
#4🇨🇳 China70,707
8 more rows
Feb 17, 2023


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