When you buy something online, it’s easy to forget that there are real people and processes behind your purchase. It’s easy to click “add to cart” and move on with your day, but have you ever thought about how your purchase gets to you? The hidden costs of online shopping are the environmental and social costs of the factories, warehouses, and distribution centers that make online shopping possible.
The environmental cost of online shopping is huge. E-commerce is responsible for 4.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s only going to increase as we continue to shop online. The biggest environmental impact of online shopping is from the transportation of goods. Shipping goods emits a lot of carbon dioxide, and the further the goods have to travel, the more emissions are produced. In the US, the average distance that goods travel from the point of manufacture to the point of purchase is 1500 miles. That’s a lot of emissions for something that you could have just bought down the street.
The social cost of online shopping is also significant. The working conditions in the factories, warehouses, and distribution centers that power e-commerce are often very poor. Employees are often paid very low wages, work long hours, and are not given adequate protections. In China, the country where a lot of our online purchases are made, there have been reports of workers being forced to work 15-hour days and being paid as little as $1 an hour. These workers are not able to live decent lives on these wages, and they are often forced to work in unsafe conditions.
When you buy something online, remember that there are hidden costs that come along with your purchase. The environmental and social costs of online shopping are significant, and they are only going to increase as we continue to shop online. Be conscious of the hidden costs of your online purchases, and try to shop locally when possible to reduce the impact of your purchase.