Feb 14, 2007

Impacts of Shipping

This question was put through on one of the comments and it's a great one. "Is getting an item shipped to you (used from eBay, possibly from far away) more environmentally friendly than buying a new one from nearby?"

My guess is that in many cases it is, but in some it's not. Some things to consider would be, the distance the package goes and its weight/bulk. Also consider the life expectancy of the product: How long will you use it. Can you find it used locally? (I'm assuming no, in this question.)

I'll admit, I've never bought anything from Ebay. But I did by textbooks from Half.com one semester. I was totally annoyed with all of the packaging I had to throw away afterwards. For regular used books, definitely go to a local used bookstore, when possible.

But, there are some benefits that come with not buying it new, even if you have to ship it.
1. The item didn't go to landfill.
2. You did not incite the production of a replacement item for store shelves.
3. Which also means you did not incite the extraction of whatever resources go into it or the shipping of those resources to a manufacturing plant.
4. Or the packaging of the item for sale.
5. Or the shipping of the item from the manufactorer to the store.
6. You did not support the advertising and marketing of this item or the store from which you bought it. (most important for the big box corporations)

So consider the item. I wouldn't buy a used bike on Ebay. I could, but I'd rather buy one (used) locally, even if it meant I had to buy a new component or two to make it work for me. Better choice based on weight/bulk. Buy any new components from a local shop or try to acquire used as well.
But my roommate bought some odd electronic device that was super light weight from mid-America. Minimal packaging. Seemed like a good decision over CompUSA.
And I think you can contact the shippers, ask them to re-use packaging to minimize the impact, when possible.


Chris Rich said...

The more grown up nations such as Germany elaborately regulate packaging and have far more precise recycle streams.

Then you have New Zealand which is too remote to afford a sloppy culture so everything is fixed and reused til it's dust.

The regs here seem to favor overpackaging but the thrift shop method does get rid of a lot.

The worst offenders seem to be food packagers especially snack foods with strange composite bags that are utterly unrecyclable.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. i am not too sure about what kind of impact one would have on the shipping industry by buying locally. Goods are still being shipped. Still being shipped in packaging. And will ultimately need to be replaced when the shelves become empty....and then more shipping..etc...etc...

Now, it seems to me that if you do buy locally, the freight carrier will find something else to load on that vehicle in an effort to remain as effecient as possible. It is still a business and a business that gets paid as long as the trucks stay full & moving.

I understand the ideas & concepts of conservation but wouldn't it make more sense to buy from a warehouse directly thereby removing the need for a streetside market, which in turn could be used for a nice park. Furthermore, less traffic to the markets would benefit the environment as well.

gin girl said...

We just bought a 2nd hand freezer from someone local. It's 20yrs old and even though it works i wonder how energy efficient it is.
Is it better to buy a new more energy efficient freezer or a 2nd hand one.
The new one has been shipped and wrapped etc. but it's better at doing its job. The old one is picked up in the car and hasn't gone into landfill ....

Anonymous said...

Some golden tips to guide you:
1. Buy used over new.
2. Buy from local sources over distant ones.
3. Reduce extraneous packaging (e.g. refuse plastic bags, take your own cloth bag or carry in hand)

Corey K. Tournet said...

One of the main difficulties is that the shipping companies are just brutal, they drop, throw, kick and stand on the boxes. That is one of the reasons why, as a business, we sometimes have to use a lot more packaging than we would like to.

Anonymous said...

Not the perfect solution, but if you do get containers with packing material you can recycle by taking to shipping companies for reuse.
Our UPS Store takes those horrible syrofoam peanuts and the bubble wrap.