With the opening of its first full-size, cashierless grocery store in Seattle, Amazon made one thing abundantly clear: it has solidified its position as a multi-industry king. Dominating the online, home technology, and now grocery marketplaces, Amazon has been the center of it’s fair share of praise and criticism. Perhaps the focal point of Amazon’s online shopping success is their fast, free shipping for members. Amazon isn’t the only industry leader offering increasingly-rapid shipping options as a way to stay competitive. Because these trends are on the rise, with no end in the forseeable future, this week’s blog post will address the carbon footprint of such expedited shipping options.
A 2013 study published by MIT estimated and compared the carbon footprints of both in-person buying and online shopping purchases. The study included various factors, including packaging, transportation, energy consumption, and information flow. As a result, the study touted online-shopping as the surprising environmentally-friendly alternative to brick-and-mortar shopping, based on numerous scenarios and the idea that “the main component of the [emissions produced by the] Traditional shopper is the customer transportation, whereas Cybernaut‘s emissions are linked to a parcel carrier, who uses an optimized delivery process.” (Weideli, 2013). This was not the case with expedited shipping options (overnight, one-day, two-day). To learn more, read the study here.
However, this blanket statement should not end your days of in-store shopping, as there are significant drawbacks to consider as well. First, the carbon footprint of these corporate shipping practices is enormous regardless, especially when using vans that are smaller than traditional freight vehicles (which require more trips to and from the inventory distribution center). There are also labor implications to consider; the manpower needed to facilitate such expedited shipping often results in less-than ethical working conditions. Buzzfeed conducted an investigation into this trend, and this is what they found. Vox has also found that with increasing shipping convenience, there has been a rising trend toward single-item purchasing. This increases shipping demands, and thus, environmental impacts. When online purchases show up the next day, it is tempting to order five items independently, rather than bundling them into one consolidated (read: less environmentally-strenuous) order.
The best way to reduce your environmental impact when it comes to all purchases, be it in-store or online, is to reduce how much you are buying in the first place. Reducing and reusing are the first steps in reducing waste and carbon emissions. Do you need to order that reusable grocery bag from the internet and receive it by tomorrow, or can you repurpose fabric scraps from around the house into a new bag? Being an informed, critical consumer is an excellent way to take action and make waves in the climate conversation.
This blog post has focused primarily on the environmental impacts of corporate malpractices, but there are lots of other resources with great information surrounding other points of controversy regarding the online shopping industry. EcoWatch writes more on the carbon footprint of shipping practices. The New York Post and Business Insider detail what a day in the life of a factory worker really looks like: overworked and underpaid.
Recycling has been a part of mainstream knowledge since the 1970s, and most people are familiar with the principles behind the program. While imperfect, recycling programs worldwide go a long way in reducing raw materials energy consumption and are still very much an important part of our waste diversion efforts. While composting and overall consumption reduction efforts should come first, knowing how to maximize your recycling efficiency is also an integral piece of the climate puzzle. By reducing the contamination of our recycling plants, we can ensure that the energy used in the recycling process is being spent in the most productive way possible.
Let's start with what can be recycled.
Aluminum, tin, steel. Ensure there is little to no food residue (Hennepin County suggests 95% clean as a general rule of thumb). Avoid tossing pressurized cylinders, electronics, and scrap metals. Minneapolis has solid waste programming in place for the bigger, bulkier items you may need to get rid of, such as the aforemention electronics and scrap metals. Find more information here.
Cartons. Think milk cartons, juice boxes, and wine cartons. Toss the lids before recycling. If they’re dirty, give them a thorough rinse before tossing them in the bin.
Glass. Most glass bottles and jars can be recycled, but be more cautious with glass that does not contain a product upon purchase; many of these contain strengthening additives that can interfere with the recycling process. Instead of throwing these out at all, try out a new craft or two (ideas here) to reuse this non-recyclable glassware.
Plastics. Minneapolis accepts plastics #1-#5. Minneapolis is unique in that we have industrial composting facilities that can accommodate #7 plastics. However, #6 plastics still belong in the trash. Placing them in the recycling is counter-productive, as more energy will be wasted in the process of sorting them out than by simply throwing them away. Try to cut down on this waste by reducing your consumption of #6 plastics and by reusing or re-purposing them several times before finally tossing them.
Cardboard cans. These come from a wide variety of products, including powdered drink mixes, refrigerated dough, and even baby formula. Do not recycle grease or wax containers.
For a more comprehensive list of what can and cannot be recycled in Minneapolis, be sure to read this page with lots of helpful recycling information published by the city.
Another strategy to increase your recycling efficiency is to avoid “wishcycling,” or putting things in the recycling bin without checking recyclability in the hopes that it will be recyclable. This can contribute to inefficient recycling processes, which can be more energy intensive in the long run than it would have been to toss it in the garbage in the first place. Unfortunately, the current rule of thumb is “when in doubt, throw it out.” This wasteful adage can be countered, however, by the reduction and reuse of household waste products.
Remember that recycling programs vary from city to city. In Minneapolis, we are incredibly lucky to have curbside, one-sort recycling, but that is not the case in all cities across America. Remember to check for local recycling and organics recycling rules when traveling or visiting family. Following the city or county rules goes a long way in increasing recycling efficiency. If you don’t feel comfortable throwing things out that you could otherwise recycle (or compost!) at home, consider bringing a paper bag along to bring them home with you.
Take a moment and reflect. Now that it’s almost March, how are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Are you sticking to them? Did you forget about them? Or have they simply fallen by the wayside? If you’ve fallen off track (or even if you haven’t), try picking up two or three of the following tips to reduce your environmental impact in the new year. You might surprise yourself with how much better you feel both physically and emotionally; when we take care of the environment, she takes care of us.
At this point in the winter, it’s hard to avoid looking toward summer. With summer often comes the promise of traveling, whether it’s to visit family or to do some adventuring. However, there are a lot of questions to answer when making travel plans. Today’s blog post will seek to demystify the question: is it better for the environment to drive or to fly?
To answer this question, we will start with some background information on the fuel expenditure of cars and planes, as well as their respective short-term and long-term environmental impacts. From there, we can draw conclusions about making the right travel decisions.
Light vehicles (read: cars) contribute 59% of the United States’ domestic transportation emissions. Meanwhile, the US aviation industry contributes just 11% of domestic transportation emissions.
Additionally, one gallon of jet fuel produces relatively similar carbon dioxide emissions to gasoline. However, air travel includes several other concerning emissions: water vapor, nitrous oxide, and sulphur oxide, all of which contribute to the global greenhouse effect.
While airplanes have (along with cars, buses, and trains) gotten more fuel efficient over the years (per passenger per mile), studies indicate that these reductions are tapering off. To make matters more confusing, a University of Michigan study conducted by Michael Sivak found that car travel to be two times as energy intensive as flying. This finding comes as a result of the fact that cars are increasingly being driven with only one person in them.
So, what does this all mean for you? Is there even a right choice? Yes, but it depends. Namely, on the distance traveled (short trips versus long trips) and the number of people traveling. For example, consider the difference in travel needs between a cross-country business trip and a family road trip to Wisconsin.
For a short trip with one person, take a plane. Driving by oneself can be very energy-intensive. For a short trip with multiple people, take the car. If someone has a hybrid or an electric car, opt to use that vehicle. For a long trip with one person, take a plane. Choose economy class; a full plane is more fuel efficient than an empty one. For a long distance trip with multiple people, the answer lies in the fuel efficiency of the vehicle being used. Wherever possible, opt for the smallest, lightest, most fuel-efficient option available for use. If the only option is an excessively large SUV, air travel may be a more efficient alternative.
Bear in mind that these are just general guidelines. If you are curious to learn more about the carbon emissions of a specific trip, try these online carbon-calculator web tools to get the information you’re looking for. This one, from CoolCalifornia, calculates carbon emissions from various sources, including household, travel, and even shopping. Another web tool, this one from the Nature Conservancy, offers specific ways to drop your carbon footprint from 16 tons/year to 2 tons/year. Lastly, ICAO’s Carbon Emissions Calculator tackles air travel specifically.
As with any travel, there are certain steps you can (and should) be taking to cut down on your carbon footprint, whether it’s driving or flying. Here are five rules of thumb to consider when planning your transportation, especially in and around the city. These will save you time, money, and carbon emissions.
It’s no secret that single-use plastics are polluting the natural landscape. Petroleum-based, these one-time use bags, bottles and wraps can last anywhere from 20-1000 years in a landfill before they finally biodegrade.
One of the best ways to cut down on your single-use plastic consumption is to keep it out of your house altogether. Much of our household plastic comes in the form of packaging, especially from food products. Today’s blog post will be centered on specific ways that you can cut down on how much single-use plastic you bring home from the grocery store each week.
At Cub, a whole pineapple will set you back just $3.99. Assuming a whole pineapple (conservatively) weighs 32oz, this brings the price to $0.125/oz. By comparison, 12oz of pre-packaged pineapple at Cub costs $4.99, or $0.416/oz.
At Target, whole mangoes sell for $1.19 each. Assuming a medium mango weighs 8oz, this is a per ounce price of $0.149. Meanwhile, the pre-cut mango option is sold in a 15 ounce package for $5.99, or $0.399/oz.
The second major drawback associated with pre-cut produce is that the fruit’s natural packaging-- in the form of a peel or skin -- is removed and replaced by a single-use plastic container. That pre-cut pomegranate may save you 10 minutes of time now, but the plastic clamshell packaging will take upwards of 10 years to biodegrade under perfect conditions. If cutting up labor intensive produce (read: pineapples, mangoes, and pomegranates) daily seems daunting, try setting aside one day a week to prep your produce for the week. Personally, I’ve found that dedicating a half hour post-shopping trip to wash and cut all my produce saves lots of time in the coming week or two. By taking the simple steps of slicing peppers and washing spinach in advance, you are also able to save a lot of time when it comes to weeknight food prep. And of course, by storing this produce in eco-friendly containers (see point one), you are also going the extra mile to cut down on your household single use plastic waste.
These are just a few ways in which you can use your weekly grocery trips as an avenue toward more conscious, sustainable living. But don’t be afraid to get creative: are there other ways that you can get creative to reduce your waste at the grocery store?
Included in this article are links to examples of alternative products as well as websites with additional information. Minneapolis Climate Action is not affiliated with any of these sites. We are simply working to provide you with the information and resources needed for you to make informed, conscious decisions.
Outreach & Policy Intern
Minneapolis Climate Action
It's official - laughter is carbon neutral!
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who attended, donated, sponsored, laughed, made new friends, and became a sustaining member of Minneapolis Climate Action at our annual fundraiser, "Is Laughter Carbon Neutral?".
As the executive director of Minneapolis Climate Action, I had the honor of telling the story of our work at the fundraiser. I invite you to read the words below and become a sustaining member, too, if you see your values reflected in our work:
I am in awe everyday at the stunning and mysterious beauty of Earth and am grateful for her gifts. It is my honor and duty to care for Earth and all my human and non human relatives. I could recite all kinds of statistics about greenhouse gas emissions and parts per million of CO2 in the air. The science is crucial to understanding what is going on with our planet - yet the numbers alone aren’t what move us. We do this work because we love our planet and believe that you do, too.
I knew in my heart, looking out at the love, fear, grief, and hope reflected back at me in the faces of the audience, that we can face the grave threat to our planet if we join together.
We can come together and collectively use the crisis of climate change to make a bold leap to a better society. We can take back ownership of energy systems, reconnect to nature, create economies that take our relationship with Earth into account and create communities that value us as citizens, not consumers. What heals Earth will heal people. What heals people will heal Earth.
When people laugh together, we create community, and when we create community, we solve problems and build a just and sustainable city now and in the future.
Sustaining Membership: Your home for climate action
Starting this year, Minneapolis Climate Action has become a member organization. We invite you to become a sustaining member and be part of our growing community. Just like we join our resources and build public radio stations and support farmers through community supported agriculture, we can join forces and build a climate movement in Minneapolis that is a model for the country.
Our initial goal for membership in 2019 is 500 people. This revenue from small monthly contributions will allow us to grow our staff, secure office space, reach more people, expand our programs and thus increase our power for real impact. Fifteen people joined at our fundraiser. That may like a small number, but we are thrilled! If you were one of those 15 - thank you! Strong foundations start with a few bricks.
If you are looking for a way to make a difference in the greatest and most urgent threat to life on earth--start right here in your own city and join us in this challenge.
Minneapolis Climate Action is committed to helping Minneapolis be one of the most climate aware and socially just cities in the country.
Minneapolis Climate Action