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Published on December 13th, 2016 | by TerraCycle


Sustainable Holiday Shopping Online

Sustainable Holiday ShoppingE-commerce and online shopping have revolutionized consumer retail, but this holiday season, try to focus on sustainable holiday shopping.

Having long moved beyond the initial desktop websites of yore, online shipping is now enabled by dynamic mobile apps, cross-platform plug-ins and even text message ordering systems, and has forever altered the way consumers interact with products and services.

This is especially evidenced around the holidays, when gifting, entertaining and stocking up puts purchases at the year’s high. In the U.S., November and December drive 30% more e-commerce revenue than non-holiday months, and the days from Black Friday through Christmas pull in 50-100% more revenue than shopping days throughout the rest of the year.

So it may not be a coincidence that household waste jumps 25% during the holidays.

What’s the Problem with Online Shopping?

For all its innovation, online shopping has created a great increase of cardboard and plastic packaging waste. From the big box e-commerce sites like Amazon to the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) artisan networks like Etsy, items purchased online are habitually over-packaged (as are most products today, for that matter) and single orders are delivered in separate parcels. Excessive packaging is one of the most preventable sources of waste, and most of it ends up in the landfill.

There are quite a few things you can do to incorporate sustainability into your online holiday shopping. The first rung on the waste hierarchy (which is shaped a bit like a Christmas tree), is prevention. Cutting out online shopping and preventing waste by either shopping directly with vendors in-person (and bringing your own shopping bag) or making the pledge to celebrate the holiday without buying new things are simple, doable options for prioritizing sustainability this time of year.

Tips for Sustainably Holiday Shopping Online

If you absolutely must online shop (and can’t forego making seasonal purchases, for that matter), making thoughtful reuse of product and packaging waste incurred through online shopping may make a real dent in that 25% increase in holiday waste. To offset the packaging included in your online deliveries, wrap your gifts with stylish stuff you already have. According to the CDC, if every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Plastic air packs now frequently replace Styrofoam packaging peanuts in the boxes that dwarf the products they contain. Though voluminous, and dangerous if they end up in landfills, these items can be dropped off at packing and shipping stores that otherwise purchase these items for their own packaging service. Call your local shipping store and see if they are interested in your usable plastic packs; just make sure there’s still air in them. Same goes for bubble wrap.

If your plastic air packs or bubble wrap sheets have popped, many of these can be recycled wherever plastic shopping bags are accepted. This does not mean through curbside! Most municipal curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic bags of any type (including retail shopping bags). For many of us, the most viable solutions for plastic bag (and plastic delivery packaging) are as simple as a trip to the supermarket.

Most cardboard and paper is highly recyclable (all waste is technically recyclable, but we digress), so feeding those materials back into the product system is relatively easy. As for the other types of plastic packaging that accompany online deliveries and products themselves, there are options available.

Sustainable Holiday Shopping

Become a more Engaged Consumer

TerraCycle’s Plastic Packaging Zero Waste Bag is a recycling solution for common, traditionally non-recyclable flexible or rigid plastic packaging when municipal recycling options and other initiatives are insufficient. Appropriate to manage waste overflow from online shopping, holiday festivities, or life in general, consumers can fill the bag with mixed items such as Styrofoam peanuts, ingredients packaging, tissue paper packaging, shrink wrap and more.

To make online shopping more sustainable at the source, you the consumer can put pressure on companies to reduce their environmental impact and “go green.” Moving away from excessive packaging doesn’t have to undermine convenience or the ability to maintain product integrity. Consumers already have voiced their discontent with the exorbitant amount of packaging waste created by seemingly nonsensical packaging practices. Yet, they continue to demand the convenience of products transported with unsustainable packaging practices.

Simple, powerful solutions for reducing packaging waste lie in companies finding more efficient ways to meet consumer demands. But in the meantime, being more mindful of the ways you can reduce your own environmental footprint is important. The more people like you participate in energy-saving waste reduction activities, the closer we’ll be to a sustainable, peaceful Earth.

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About the Author

Founded in 2001, TerraCycle, Inc., is the world’s leader in the collection and repurposing of hard-to-recycle post-consumer waste, ranging from used chip bags to coffee capsules to cigarette butts. Each year, across 20 countries, TerraCycle collects and repurposes billions of pieces of waste, donating millions of dollars to schools and charities in the process. To learn more about TerraCycle or get involved in our recycling programs, please visit

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