Can You Shop Online and Be Zero Waste?
Zero Waste Lifestyle
April 19, 2016 | Kathryn Kellogg
Last Updated on April 3, 2020
A modern day conundrum. The internet can be a great resource for finding eco-friendly items – especially when you live in rural areas. But, is shipping eco friendly?
It can be tough living in middle America, y’all.
My dad was in the Air Force, so I spent most of my childhood divided between AR, TX, and FL. Most of the places I lived aren’t exactly the eco-friendly capitals of the world.
In fact – I question whether or not some of them are even on the “save the planet” bandwagon.
But, if you’re on my blog, I hope you’re on the “save the planet” bandwagon or at least thinking about joining the party!
We do cool things like pick up litter and carry around kick ass water bottles!
But, don’t worry we’re totally normal; we still eat junk food (palm oil free, of course) and binge netflix.
Ideally, we’d be able to find everything we needed in bulk, and we’d be able to buy all of our supplies locally made, compostable or 100% recyclable, and without packaging.
But, that’s kinda a pipe dream for anyone not living in a major city.
So, what are you to do when you lack not only access to bulk food, but also without access to eco friendly products like tiffins, cloth produce bags, safety razors, bamboo toothbrushes, compostable dish brushes, and the list goes on.
You ship them in. Is it zero waste?
No, not really. But, with all choices in life, we can find a way to make it better! And, that’s what it’s all about. Doing the best you can – where you can.
This also applies to eBay or other second hand online shops. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find second hand items in a thrift store.
I bought some staples in my 18 piece wardrobe on Poshmark, and I bought Justin a pair of really nice, pre-loved cowboy boots on eBay for his birthday.
So, repeat after me, “It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices.”
Make your packaging requests known!
At the bottom of every online purchase sometimes before or after the purchase, there’s a place for notes to the seller.
You can request plastic free shipping. Ask for paper tape and brown paper.
Make sure to emphasize no plastic. Most of the time they’ll honor your request.
Let’s hope they honored your request.
Now you have brown paper which is recyclable and a box which is also recyclable. But, here are some more ideas.
- Compost it
- Recycle It
- Wrap presents with it
- Cut it up for grocery lists
- Use it for scratch paper or drawing
- Use it to ship another package
- Bring it to work if they have a shipping department
- Bring it to a UPS Store or other shipping store which will re-use packing materials
- Recycle it
- Ship something else in it
- Offer it to someone who is moving or needs a box for ship ping
So, they semi-honored your request.
The box was filled with paper, but your item came with plastic wrapped around the outside.
Go to http://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/ and find your nearest location to recycle film.
You can’t usually recycle this stuff curbside, but most grocery stores have a location at the front where you can recycle your old plastic bags and plastic films.
So, they didn’t honor your request at all, and you’re stuck with a load of styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap.
Salvage what you can and take them to a UPS Store or other shipping location and they will re-use them.
While this is isn’t a perfect option, at least you’re reusing something. If everyone kept re-using packing peanuts it would lessen the demand for new peanuts to be manufactured.
And, check with the link above to see if your location will take bubble wrap.
Use the hell out of your new eco-friendly product, and just look at how much waste you saved!
A little waste on the front end may just prevent a whole lot of waste in the future. So, don’t beat yourself up. Look at the positives!
Sometimes, there’s no perfect solution. And, that’s ok. Remember our mantra?
It’s not about perfection – it’s about making better choices! So, get out there and make the most eco friendly choice you can make!
What are your experiences with buying stuff online?
Great post! One of my great joys is when I find an eco-friendly site (such as Boobalou) which gives an option for plastic-free packaging, which is usually reused paper and cardboard. Makes life much easier! 🙂
Thanks so much for the tips on plastic film, despite all my efforts I had no idea some of this could be recycled with carrier bags, but recyclenow.com actually has a great list of exactly what can and can’t be included – I’m so glad your post led to me finding it.
Love the site and blog – keep up the awesome work!
Yes! I love it when companies give me that option & thank you so much!
I love your blog so much! So glad its not about perfection, because seriously who can live up to that standard!
Not me, and I live in California! I can’t imagine how difficult it would be if I still lived in Arkansas. I get so sad when people don’t want to try because of lack of access aka lack of perfection. So, I want to make sure I’m stressing – that it’s not about fitting your waste in a mason jar. It’s about making better choices.
I think about this all the time lately as my partner is an online shopping fanatic. Not in that he has a a compulsion to shop, but he would prefer to buy everything online through Amazon and get that 2 day shipping. It’s been a back and forth conversation about what is feasible to get locally and whether the quality is high enough to trump what he can find online. I’ve found that I can feel better about online shopping if I really look into finding the best quality item produced under fair trade or with a company I feel should be supported for their ethics.
You also have some great ideas about what can be done with the packaging, whatever it ends up being. Thanks for the tips!
Absolutely! It can be really hard to find fair trade and ethical products in store. Online can be a great resource. Ideally everything would be ethical, local, and fair trade right?
Love this post–I enjoyed writing on the topic too 🙂 EcoJarz is a great eco-company that gives you the option to buy your products without any packaging whatsoever, and they are very great honoring requests.
Another goal of mine when ordering online is to try and choose companies that are close to me. Some of my favorite companies have warehouses in Northern California!
Another poster said it best–your blog is not about perfection. It is about attainability. Another home run!
Thank you!! Yes. I love companies that are close and have options for Eco packing. So, many great Eco companies don’t have storefronts. I think it’s great to support them.
I didn’t know you can recycle plastic film packaging!! I’m trying to avoid it, but it can’t always be done and this is really exciting news! I always new about the plastic bag recycling at the grocery store, but I never knew it included the film too. Thanks so much!
I’ve subscribed to your newsletter a week ago because I’m seriously being interested in what you are saying about going 0 waste. As I live on a small island, New Caledonia, where recycling is not the priority for the government and even for my friends around me who are making fun of my decisions, I’m trying to do my best! My country’s so small that we don’t have any recycling plants so we have to send it to Australia or New Zealand nearby to do so (not the best option as far as fuel is concerned, but hey, we do with what we have). There is so much to do in people’s mind that it seems like there’s no end to the job!! But thank you for your tips! I just love them and they’re soon handy!
This is amazing!! It sounds like you’re going to be able to do so much good! Waste reduction is contagious. Once people see all of the benefits, they’ll be on board. Keep up the awesome work and fight the good fight!
Your blog is so wonderfully practical. I live in Iceland, so availability of many eco-friendly items is scarce (my jar collection is second hand and lacking, my double-edge safety razor and bentonite clay bought online and so on). I have indeed been wondering if I should allow myself to buy jars, fair-trade sweater, bamboo toothbrushes, etc., online, since these aren’t available here. I guess I will 🙂
It’s like you are reading my mind, lol. I am very new to the zero waste movement. I just read No Impact Man (this week) and I think I am a different person now. Everything I touch, everywhere I go, I am thinking about the waste that is being generated. And THIS was my biggest conundrum. I am totally addicted to Amazon Prime. The irony of buying eco friendly produce bags online was not lost on me. I had no idea that UPS store would reuse packing material! There is a store located near my work. I also love the idea of saving the brown paper for wrapping presents. I have wrapped in butcher paper before, but of course I bought it new. Great ideas! Thank you from a noob. Becky
Hi. This is exactly the sort of issue that made me start my https://0waste.market
I really hated the time it took to find good, totally recyclable or compostable products without any hideous plastic packaging.
I am only beginning my shop but trust me it’s so hard to find those products. Most of the time I have to buy products to actually test if they are zerowaste because producers very often are completely clueless when it comes to recycling their own packaging! Can you imagine?
But I try because I hope there’ll be more of us someday and producers will finally acknowledge our needs.
When my partner and I started transitioning our home zero waste(what a huge job) we tried to buy as much as possible from goodwill, vintage stores and swap meets. But inevitably we had to buy some stuff online and the shipping practices really bummed us out.
We actually quit our jobs and started Wild Minimalist (http://wildminimalist.com) because we knew we could do better. We only use shipping materials that can be composted or recycled, but another cool trick is reusing all of the boxes that are sent to us by suppliers.
I know there are a few zero waste online stores now – maybe you could do a blog post showing all of them – then your readers could choose one that is closest to where they live to reduce as much indirect shipping waste as possible.
Thanks for all you do! You’re on of the reasons we are on our path – so much gratitude from Oakland!
Thanks Max! That’s so cool. I’ll definitely check out your shop. 🙂
love it! thank you 🙂
Can you contact the seller and ask for plastic free shipping in India as well?
I live in Europe and the post office here won’t take packaging back, so if I get a lot of styrofoam because I ordered zero waste shampoo or something, it would actually create less waste to get a bottle of shampoo down the street. My other option though is to buy as many products as possible in one box/shipment to minimize the upstream trash.
I recently had a great purchase of cloth diapers on Ebay. The seller gladly complied with my zero-plastic packaging request, and even wanted to learn more about living zero-waste!
I live in AR, and our major cities are really working to improve. Still a long way to go, but it’s getting on the radar.