Free 2-day shipping for anything and everything you could possibly need is the epitomy of convenience when it comes to online shopping. This article does not discourage online shopping. Rather, it provides you with an opportunity to shop more sustainably through Amazon or any other online retailer. If you prefer video format instead of this short article, scroll down to the bottom of this page.
First let’s explore why the current online shopping system is damaging to the environment.
Delivery trucks are heavier and higher-polluting than passenger vehicles. Even though commercial trucks run on diesel, which is more fuel efficient than gasoline, they produce 4 times more nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution. NO2 is incredibly damaging to the ozone, and even more dangerous than methane and CO2 as shown below.
 Comparing Effects of Different Greenhouse Gases (Climate Central)
Even worse, rushed packages are often transported on planes, which produce a lot more CO2 and other dangerous gases. These greenhouse gases trap heat and are one of the leading causes for rapid climate change. To keep up with demand, Amazon just had to invest $1 billion in an airline fleet to help make 2-day shipping possible.
 How Long Greenhouse Gases Stay in the Air (Climate Central)
Some experts now believe shipping could actually be beneficial for the environment. However, the shipping process needs to be made much more efficient. The idea is that getting into your personal vehicle and going to the store isn’t very efficient, but consolidating multiple shoppers’ deliveries into one vehicle can be.
The image above shows a simplified understanding of how shipping could be more efficient. However, this is an idealized case which is unfortunately rarely what happens. With 2-day shipping, trucks are often going out half-full or less. Rushed delivery greatly reduces the consolidation of packages as individuals are buying more goods faster than ever. This creates more vehicles, more traffic, and therefore higher emissions.
This problem is not unique to Amazon. Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and a number of other retailers also offer free two-day delivery to meet consumers’ newfound shopping habits.
 Visualizing How 2-Day Shipping Affects Delivery Truck Efficiency (Vox)
Transportation is just one of the problems with online shopping. Waste associated with cardboard and other plastic packing has increased by 20% in just the last 5 years alone, largely due to individual items being delivered to houses. When items are sent in small, expediated orders, the packaging is often far less efficient leading to a lot of waste. Cardboard is easy to recycle, but as discussed in the Recycle Correctly Article, most recyclables in the U.S. end up in landfills anyway.
Lastly, we’re also simply buying more stuff. We used to be limited by the stores in our town but now we can shop from anywhere and get almost anything. People are shopping out of habit and purchasing new items they either do not need, or would not otherwise buy if they couldn’t purchase at the push of a button. This has resulted in real shopping addictions, and copious amounts of waste.
1. Don’t pick two-day shipping just because it’s free. Choosing longer delivery times will always be more efficient. Amazon has a “free no-rush shipping” option on many products. As a reward for waiting, you’ll get a credit or discount towards items like eBooks, movies, or groceries.
2. Don’t check out immediately. If you don’t need it ASAP, consolidate your deliveries by keeping your items in the cart until you purchase multiple things at once.
3. Don’t shop online at all. When shopping in person, try to “trip-chain.” Run multiple errands at once when possible, or find a store that’s on your route to work. This prevents almost all the “wasted” back and forth fuel consumption associated with individual shopping trips.
As always, thank you for reading. If you are interested in taking the pledge to lower your carbon footprint by 21% in 2021 please subscribe to get updates whenever new articles are announced!
Written By: Nick Engler
Cut Your Carbon Footprint Founder
For those who are interested, there is a quick video below which describes how the trucking industry is taking their own steps to optimize transportation and lower fuel use. It also summarizes the main points discussed in this article!