Account with my guilt of online shopping
A few years ago, in the grip of rampant guilt, I felt myself ordering package after package online, knowing deep down that half of the transport would be sent straight back, to the mysterious abyss that is the returns warehouse. , I vowed to cut down on online shopping.
Then I had a baby. In the haze of the new maternity ward, I was too exhausted to go to the store and lug around diapers and wipes up the stairs in my apartment. I watched brown boxes pile up in my apartment building lobby and tried to ignore the pit growing in my stomach, vague ideas of cardboard waste and transport emissions swirling through my mind.
When the pandemic hit, shopping in person was not only less convenient, it posed a real health threat. No more brown boxes. No more creeping guilt.
I’m not alone – online sales exploded at the start of the pandemic. Online sales have grown by over 31% in just three months. This, of course, created more waste. A recycling facility said TODAY it has seen a 20% increase in cartons and a 15% increase in plastic packaging during the pandemic. On social media and group texts, people have expressed shame for buying another pair of cheap overseas-made work-at-home leggings or unnecessary kitchen gadgets that would inevitably come to live deep in the city. ‘a cupboard, linted with dust.
So what’s the deal with a few extra packages in the lobby or dropped on our doorstep? After all, shopping online isn’t inherently bad – in some cases, it can even have a smaller carbon footprint than shopping in person. But there can be serious drawbacks. It is not e-commerce per se that is the problem; it’s the overuse of express transportation, explained Shyla Raghav, climate change manager for Conservation International.
“When you select a faster shipping speed, it means you don’t have time to wait for items to be bundled and shipped in one box,” Raghav told TMRW. “They are usually shipped from different warehouses, which increases the environmental footprint. Sometimes the trucks empty. Or you will see a lot of packaging for a single item. So it’s not just about emissions from transporting an item to the warehouse and then to your door; these are also the emissions necessary to develop this packaging and then recycle it. “
Aside from the recent increase in volume, the problem of fast shipping is not new. So given that knowledge, why do we keep – why do I – buy? Is it recklessness? Laziness? Perhaps. But it’s also more complicated than that.
“We are social creatures,” said Patrick Kennedy-Williams, clinical psychologist in Oxford, England, and creator of Climate Psychologists, an organization that provides support for climatic mental well-being. “We like to think of ourselves as empowered decision-makers, but in fact we are extremely influenced by the people around us.”
Online shopping “has become so standardized and is so much a part of our culture,” he added.
Plus, he pointed out, it’s just human nature to occasionally do things that we know are bad – think about smoking or eating too much cheesecake. There’s even a term to describe the resulting psychological stress: cognitive dissonance.
“This is where my behavior contradicts my values, my beliefs,” Kennedy-Williams said. “Dissonance is the distance between what I have done and what I believe I should do. And that’s where the guilt comes from, because it creates this dissonance.
Many have found this dissonance almost inevitable during the pandemic. And while Amazon isn’t the game’s only online retailer, many felt particular pain giving in to its fast delivery last year, especially when FedEx, UPS, and USPS struggled with delays. (Although Amazon is working with these factors, it also delivers several of its own packages.) To further complicate the sentiments, Amazon has been criticized for poor working conditions and recent accusations of anti-union efforts.
“If there was a better alternative, we would have used it, but there wasn’t.”
Brandon Plunkett, father of six
Weeks before most people discovered the severity of COVID-19, Brandon Plunkett wrote on LinkedIn that he felt bad about ordering items from Amazon. He and his family decided to boycott the business and shop at local businesses instead. Then the pandemic happened.
“We held on until Christmas,” he told TMRW. “But we have six kids. My partner and I looked at each other and we were like, ‘How are we going to shop for six kids? “If there was a better alternative, we would have used it, but there wasn’t.”
Plunkett, who lives in the Vancouver area, tried to find ways to allay his guilt. Her family still buys things online, but they try to consolidate purchases and order wholesale, and only turn to online ordering for the necessities – needs, not wants.
Denene McBride of Bella Vista, Arkansas, found that composting the cardboard packaging of her online shopping made her feel a little better.
“At the worst of the pandemic, purchases were not possible because of the risk,” she told TMRW. “But like everyone else, there were things I needed. So I used Amazon a lot. We have a community AARP recycling center, but it’s also a drive. So I compost the boxes without coating for use in the yard, and the coated material goes to the center. I cut out the cardboard with a serrated knife. The worms love it. “
To limit the problem of express delivery, some companies, including Amazon, allow customers to choose a slower, greener shipping speed when checking out. But it can be a tough sale, as many of us are already attached to getting our items fast. Many large retailers now offer free two-day shipping, including Target, Walmart, and Home Depot. Companies have trained everyday customers to expect fast shipping, even for trivial purchases. (Think about it the next time you ship a $ 4 hairbrush.)
But it wasn’t always like that. The proliferation of free express delivery without a stipulation is relatively recent. Amazon Prime dropped its minimum order of $ 35 for one-day delivery in 2019 – Walmart followed suit shortly thereafter.
“(Years ago) we were perfectly going to wait three days for something,” said Field Marshal Cohen, senior industry adviser for the NPD Group. “If I wanted something and didn’t want to pick it up or if a store didn’t have it, it was OK to wait a few days. But now everything has to come today or tomorrow.”
The way we approach shopping as a whole has changed, he said.
“Think about how you shopped as a fashion shopper,” Cohen said. “You used to think about the season in advance. You started to think about spring and summer in February, March. We don’t buy a month in advance. We don’t even buy a week in advance. We live here and now. Our goal is to find out what do we need now? What do we need today or tomorrow? And if I can’t get it tomorrow, it’s not good enough or fast enough. “
We live in a culture of convenience, and it’s hard to reverse that. Instead of completely ditching the mega-businesses and buying everything locally – certainly a small number of people have bravely attempted to do so – it sometimes feels like the only solution is to just live with: the guilt, the remorse, excess. Of course, this is not the case. These feelings can even be used as a tool to be better.