Online Shopping Can be Worse for Environment than Physical Purchase from Store

If you think shopping online is more eco-friendly than driving to a store, think again.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the more eco-conscious way to shop is going to a physical store rather than by making purchases online from companies that don’t have physical stores, according to a new report Tuesday in Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Chemical Society.

In the study, researchers estimated that shopping at brick-and-mortar stores for frequently bought items such as toilet paper, shampoo and toothpaste, often results in less greenhouse gas emissions than ordering the products from a company that only sells through the internet.

The main reason is because of how people shop online: Many buy items online frequently — but they only buy a few items per purchase.

“When they shop in a store, they aggregate these purchases in a single bulk purchase,” noted Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student in Environmental Science at Radboud University in the Netherlands. He’s one of six researchers who worked on the year-and-a-half long study.

Frequent online purchases produce more packaging waste, and online items tend to come from different distribution centers. Both factors result in higher greenhouse gas emissions per item, said Shahmohammadi.

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