Do you also hate it when you ask a simple question and the answer you get in return is "it depends"? Well, I'm sorry to be that guy today. When it comes to the topic of the ecological footprint of home delivery vs. physical shopping, it really depends on a bunch of factors. Stay with me, if this is a question that has been bugging you somewhere in the back of your head while brushing your teeth at night (or if you're just curious of course).
Is it more ecological to have your unpackaged groceries delivered to your home?
More and more people are buying things online, even in Switzerland. And with that growing trend comes the big question, whether home deliveries are better, or worse, for the environment than picking up your products at the physical store.
Before we jump into the environmental side of it, let me point out some findings from our own research with customers. Based on dozens and dozens of conversations with our customers and people from around Zurich we have found that home deliveries are a super convenient solution for busy people that want to do good, especially families. Families tend to create more trash than single households, but they're also a much bigger time investment for the parents, which makes time-saving solutions like a home delivery that much more attractive.
When it comes to the environmental discussion, we're not experts, but what our journey has taught us so far is that there are some factors we believe you can consider when choosing between getting your products delivered to your home and picking them up at the store yourself (and let's stick to groceries for now).
Advantages and Benefits of Plastic Free Home Deliveries
Imagine every part that, put together, creates your home delivery experience: A basket with a certain number of products (basket size) is packaged (packaging material) and loaded up on a vehicle (means of transportation) to drive from point A - usually a store or storage space - to point B, your home (distance).
Calculating the ecological footprint for a home delivery, based on this (simplified!) formula, thus has to take into account a) the basket size, b) the packaging material, c) the means of transportation and d) the distance from A to B. I was never good in maths, but it feels like the question about the ecological footprint of such a home delivery really does depend on many things, and can't be answered with a simple answer.
But before we get into the individual factors and how we at Wayste try to tackle each one, let's get something out of the way. We're not preaching that home deliveries are the most sustainable solution out there. If you use your bicycle to go buy your plastic-free groceries from local, bio and vegan producers, hats off to you. You're an example to us all. But if you're not, here goes our logic of why home deliveries are a viable alternative to buying your groceries at the convenience store.
Basket Size when buying Plastic-Free
The more products are in your order, the less "delivery" footprint each product will have. Small baskets are less interesting than big baskets when it comes to the environmental aspects. Theoretically it is easier to have big baskets when you order online, because you don't have to carry anything yourself. So, the more you order, the more a home delivery makes sense.
Packaging Material when buying Plastic-Free
All purchases are packaged in some way, both when you order online and when you buy your groceries in a physical store. If you're part of the larger population that shops at the big retail stores, you'll know that consuming this way leads to a full bag of trash at the end of the month / week. Single-use packaging is the standard, and ordering through Wayste will allow you to reduce your packaging waste to zero overnight.
Means of Transportation when buying Plastic-Free
As I said, if you're walking or cycling around the city there's no other means of transportation that is more sustainable. If you're using the bus however, that also adds onto your ecological footprint, because you could also just be planting your carrots in your garden. So the question here is whether your current means of transportation (tram, bus, car) is more sustainable than a delivery vehicle. At Wayste we have the vision to deliver emission-free in the future and we hope that we'll be able to provide a more sustainable means of transportation for your products than the current options you have today.
Distance when buying Plastic-Free
Maybe you do your groceries after work, maybe on the weekend, maybe both. That has a big impact on the distance you have to go using your means of transportation (see above). The longer the distance, the worse your ecological footprint, makes sense, right? If you can combine grocery shopping with your commute to / from work, that's better. So how do home deliveries fit in? Well, if you add up all those distances you and everyone in your neighbourhood have to travel to do your groceries every week, it adds up quite quickly and could be something that a delivery service could do better. In a world where many people in your neighbourhood order through the same service (and that's a world we're trying to build), one vehicle could bring all of your groceries from door to door in one go, and drastically reduce the distance that is driven with a vehicle. That 'bundling' of deliveries would be more efficient than having everyone travel individually, and we could increase that efficiency by delivering during times with less traffic or by investing in more sustainable vehicles.
Oh, and one more thing...
Last but definitely not least I want to point out one major argument for the use of home delivery services like Wayste: Convenience. When it comes to being sustainable, many people decide to make more conscious decisions but end up behaving the same way they always did, adding excuses like "I didn't have time" or "It's just too hard" to justify their behaviour. It's normal, and totally OK to set goals and not reach them. And it is because of that fact that home deliveries of plastic-free groceries can, for some people (and the environment), be so much better than not buying plastic-free at all.
Advantages and Benefits of Physical Zero Waste Shopping
Now, it's important to explore the advantages of buying your products in the physical store as well. To compare apples with apples we're not going to talk about any store, but a store that offers the same value as Wayste does, from a product and packaging perspective. One of the shops where you can buy your products in bulk, without the plastic packaging, is our partner store and coffee shop FOIFI.
There is no arguing that the experience in such a store is different than buying your products through your phone. You get to feel the products before you buy them, the employees can answer all your questions and give you tips and recommendations on new products and as well as ways to reduce your waste. There's no way to copy that in a web shop, and if you happen to live nearby and can do your groceries there, we'd highly recommend you check it out.
And the Answer is: "It Depends (on You)"
That's right. There is no simple answer. The ball is in your court. It's for you to decide whether getting your products delivered (packaging-free) is an improvement on your current ecological footprint, or not. Because as I said in our previous blog post about Zero Waste, it's not about how much we're improving, it's if we're improving at all.
Here are a few pointers to make that decision easier:
- Are you buying big quantities (CHF 50+ per month) of products at your grocery store? If yes, it might be interesting to check out our store.
- Is your trash filling up with a lot of packaging waste? If yes, one way to reduce it would be to order our unpackaged products or visit a physical Zero Waste store in Zurich.
- Are you using a car or a bus for your grocery shopping activities? Are the shops a bit further away from home? Then home deliveries might start to make sense as well.
- Are you a busy person and do you value convenience, but don't want to sacrifice sustainable and packaging-free products? Check out our products.
If you answered yes for one or more of these questions, there's a high chance a Zero Waste Home Delivery could makes sense for you.
A Final Thought
It's highly probable that I didn't manage to cover your specific situation in this whole thought experiment, and if that's the case, that's still OK. My goal is to spark a discussion and maybe a glimmer of hope for you to reflect on how your shopping behaviour impacts those around you, and offer a way to improve on that without much change in your life. As with everything in life, there is no simple answer and you need to pick the points / thoughts / ideas that fit your life, and use them to improve.
For me the most important question in this discussion is: What am I doing now, and can Zero Waste / Plastic Free Home Deliveries move me in the right (more sustainable) direction? We believe it can, which is why we have decided to deliver our products to people's homes. It might not be the perfect solution, but then again, what is?
Want to try out our Zero Waste Home Delivery service? Check out our shop here.