Is Delivery Really Good for the Environment (Or Not)?

woman receiving home delivery package

Increasingly, people are turning to delivery for everything, including groceries, prescriptions, and other products—even more esoteric items like cannabis. There are many practical benefits to this arrangement. If you’re especially busy, you can save time and still pick up the things you need. You can avoid going to busy grocery stores, which is especially beneficial in the midst of a pandemic. And you can find exactly the items you’re looking for with online services, rather than hunting for items in a physical environment.

There’s a catch, however; for items to be delivered to you, a person must travel to the store on your behalf, purchase the product, and bring it back to your home. Is this an environmentally friendly alternative to going to the store? Is it neutral? Or is it doing more harm than good

 Inputs and Outputs

busy delivery employeeLet’s assume that you’re purchasing the exact same quantity of items from the exact same stores, regardless of whether you’re traveling there personally or getting delivery. Will delivery add more of an environmental impact?

The most important variable to consider here is the fuel spent (and the pollution produced) from traveling. If your home is point A, and the store is point B, a trip from you would include a trip from point A to point B, and back. If the delivery employee starts at the store and makes a delivery, they’ll be covering the same distance: point B to point A and back. Accordingly, the fuel impact is negligible.

If the delivery employee is making multiple deliveries in one go, the fuel costs and emissions may be even lower. For example, if an employee goes from point B to point A, then to point C, D, and E, before going back to point B, he will cover less ground and use less fuel than if households C, D, and E each made separate trips.

However, there are other variables to consider. 

Additional Variables

The question of whether delivery is environmentally friendly also depends on these variables:

1. Product selection

woman-at-grocery-storeWhat are the products you’re buying, and are these products different than what you would buy if delivery weren’t available? For example, let’s say you ordinarily shop at a local market to get your groceries, but this local market doesn’t offer delivery. Instead, you turn to a supermarket that gets its groceries from all over the country. Now, you’re buying products that have a higher environmental impact, so your total environmental impact may increase.

2. Packaging and bagging

You may also have to consider packaging and bagging. Does this delivery service mean that the delivery driver must use plastic bags, rather than allowing you to use reusable tote bags? If so, you’ll need to take that into consideration.

3. Store location

delivery at door stepsIf you’re changing stores, you’ll need to take the distance into consideration as well. For example, if you usually shop at a store 1 mile from your house, but you get delivery from a store 5 miles from your house, the total distance traveled will increase (and so will the environmental impact).

4. Delivery employee routing and status

Much depends on the nature of the delivery employee. Is this a store employee starting at the store? Or are they at an independent location, forced to travel to the store before making the trip to your home? Are they making multiple deliveries in a single trip, or are they bouncing back to the store between each delivery?

5. Volume of shopping

delivery serviceHow many products are you buying at once? Are you using a delivery service to get all your products for the month at once? Or are you getting a handful of items at a time, ordering multiple deliveries a week? Obviously, the more deliveries you order, proportional to the number of items you buy, the worse your environmental impact will be.

6. Personal travel

You may also need to consider the amount of personal travel you’re doing. If you’re getting grocery deliveries, but you’re still running the same errands as before, you might be traveling the same net amount. If this is the case, you’re actually adding travel time by calling upon deliveries.

7. Other lifestyle considerations

product packagingYour impact may also be affected by your personal lifestyle, and how that changes with delivery. For example, are you still recycling packaging materials when possible?

In many situations, delivery is an environmentally preferable alternative to going to the store. But in other situations, it can produce more pollution and more waste. If you want to remain environmentally friendly, consider all the variables in play, and make the most responsible decision for your circumstances.

Alternatively, you can take solace in the fact that your decision probably won’t have a massive impact either way—especially if you’re already living an environmentally friendly lifestyle in general.

Article Submitted By Community Writer

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