By Hadley Dean
April brought us not just the 49th Earth Day, with individuals and groups all over the globe gathering, planning events, planting trees and cleaning up, but also the Global Extinction Rebellion. Indeed, this issue is so much at the forefront, a new survey indicates the environment is the top priority for EU voters. And as people are fired up and ready to make a change, I’d like to offer this piece of advice once again: change your shopping habits.
One of the movements that has been catching on recently has been a giant push to ban plastic straws. While I am all for this, and see no reason anyone needs to sip their drink through a non-biodegradable substance, I’d like to suggest that for those upset with the state of current landfills or the sight of a whale washed up on shore with a stomach full of plastic there is much greater action one can take: stop shopping online.
As the CEO of Poland’s largest retail real estate company, I realize this stance may sound like a self-serving case of not liking what is perceived as our biggest competition, e-commerce. But in fact, in Poland e-commerce actually is proving to help our brick-and-mortar sales in a way that is likely not to change due to structural reasons in the country, so from a financial standpoint online shopping is only helping our bottom line.
I am, however, concerned and frustrated as a human being by the amount of waste that is associated with the delivery of items straight to people’s homes. It’s not unusual to order six different items and have them all come in separate boxes, for no apparent reason. While the boxes can be recycled, there’s a huge amount of energy wasted creating and recycling this unnecessary number of boxes.
Far worse is the packaging within the boxes that get delivered to one’s home. I have seen everything from a box chocked full of Styrofoam popcorn to reems of plastic bags full of air. Both Styrofoam and plastic take more than 500 years to biodegrade, if they ever do.
Is there any reason for all this packing material? I don’t see any reason a sweater needs to come incased in Styrofoam. If the box with that sweater is dropped, it’s not going to get damaged. And why, when ordering several different items from one vendor, even when I check the box for send together, do all the items often come separately?
Deliveries often come in irrationally large boxes as well. I’ve just ordered some chocolate eggs for the Easter holiday and they arrived in a box that was big enough to hold a television. This is often because the larger players have their own pre-set boxes so the sizes often don’t make sense. They of course, filled it with plastic to keep the eggs from rattling around in there. The large box sizes carry a secondary environmental impact which is they don’t lend themselves to being carried by a small courier in an urban environment, so we end up with more vans and polluting trucks in an already congested environment.
E-commerce vendors really need to take a long hard look at how and why they are conducting their business. Until they do, consumers can have a much bigger impact on the global pollution problem than simply sipping out of a glass directly: all it takes is hopping on public transport with one’s reusable bag and doing their shopping the clean way: in person.
Hadley Dean is CEO of EPP, Poland's largest owner of shopping centres.