Quantcast

The Environmental Cost of Amazon's Prime Day

Popular
A Boeing 737-800 BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) is marked "Prime Air" as part of Amazon Prime's freight aircraft during the 53rd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France on June 22. Mustafa Yalcin / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

It's Prime Day! The day when thousands of increasingly absurd items are discounted so deeply that you suddenly need items you never knew existed. Yes, I do need a hotdog shaped toaster next to me while I watch this Fast & Furious seven movie box set! And I need it in my house today!


The demand for faster and faster delivery times reveals the dark side of summertime's Black Friday.

And, it's not just Amazon getting in on the action and promising absurdly quick deliveries. Walmart, eBay and Target are all offering unbelievable bargains on fast, free shipments.

"The time in transit has a direct relationship to the environmental impact," said Patrick Browne, director of global sustainability at UPS, as CNN reported. "I don't think the average consumer understands the environmental impact of having something tomorrow vs. two days from now. The more time you give me, the more efficient I can be."

But UPS trucks are headed the wrong way on emissions. As CNN reported, UPS disclosed in 2017 that the e-commerce boom decreased the number of packages it dropped off per mile, leading to more trucks on the road and higher greenhouse gas emissions.

If shippers had more time, they could consolidate packages, which would reduce the number of cars and trucks required to deliver them. Warehouses could also cut down on packaging waste. The uptick in planes, trucks and packaging material in the name of one-day or same-day shipping has added congestion to cities, pollutants in the air, and cardboard to landfills, according to Buzzfeed News.

If UPS and other delivery chains could consolidate products and deliver them on one route to a bunch of homes, then buying from home could be a green way to shop. In fact, a University of Washington study published in the Journal of Transportation Research Forum found that grocery delivery could cut between 80 percent and 90 percent of carbon emissions compared to consumers driving to the store to shop for their items.

Yet, the efficiency changes immediately if items have to travel long distances and arrive immediately, according to the study's lead author, Anne Goodchild, as CNN reported. Then there are few opportunities for putting a batch of deliveries together.

"The efficiency and those benefits of delivery came from consolidation and sharing a big vehicle," Goodchild said. "And as we move away from that, if we move towards basically paying someone to make a trip for us, a lot of those benefits are eroded.

So far, customers don't seem to care. Amazon Prime's signature benefit is fast and free shipping — a perk that has ushered in more than 100 million subscribers who pay an annual $119 membership fee.

"The concept of Amazon Prime pushes us towards more emissions," said Dan Sperling, a professor at UC Davis, told Grist. "It makes the marginal cost of purchases very small, so you have motivation to buy more. And of course, that's what Amazon wants."

The low-costs and free returns also create an efficiency paradox — people not only start to consume more when prices are low, but they will buy 10 pairs of shoes and return nine of them, using more and more plastic foam, tape, and boxes, as Ozy reports.

While Amazon won't end prime day or next day deliveries or even same-day deliveries in select cities, they have acknowledged the impact of their practices and started several campaigns to reduce their emissions. It offers "Free No-Rush Shipping," which lets the consumer choose a slower delivery option and receive rewards on future purchases or an immediate discount towards eBooks, movies or Prime Pantry groceries. That option allows Amazon and its distributors to pack trucks more efficiently.

Earlier this year, Amazon also announced its Shipment Zero plan, which is "Amazon's vision to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50% of all shipments net zero by 2030," according to its own press release.

Yet, Amazon is far from environmentally friendly. After all, it recently bought 20,000 trucks that run on fossil fuels and never announced plans to move towards electric vehicles, as CNN reported.

"I would not say [Amazon is] pretty environmentally friendly," said Miguel Jaller, the co-director of the Sustainable Freight Research Center at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, as CNN reported. "I would say less environmentally bad than others."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less