Boom in online shopping leading to sharp increase in waste

November 27th, 2017

Christmas sales kicked off early as Black Friday and Cyber Monday made their way to retail shops in Ireland this past week.

This relatively new shopping phenomenon sees massive discounts on many products across the border and retailers were expecting a huge increase in sales.

This year, it is expected that more than $100m will be splurged by Irish consumers during this period of the year.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are a treat for consumers and retailers alike, but this shopping spree also signals the likelihood of a large increase in waste.

Waste Bins with Garbage Photo: Max Pixel

The issue with waste

Recently, Irish consumer habits have changed as there is a profound shift towards the digital online platform.

According to Retail Ireland, the leading voice for Irish retailers, the total spending from online transactions is likely to surpass €16 billion this year, representing a 50 per cent increase from 2015.

However, this thread of online shopping comes together with packaging waste from e-commerce transactions.

A recent report from Repak shows that over 7,000 tonnes of packaging waste is generated in Ireland every year due to online shopping from companies outside of the country. This amount of packaging waste is also expected to increase by 28 per cent on a yearly basis.

Repak highlights that big international companies like Amazon are taking advantage of a loophole in the system where they do not have to spend on recycling the packaging that they send to Irish households from abroad.

Séamus Clancy, CEO of Repak Recycling, said that this situation is an abuse of the Irish recycling system, as it is unfair to local Irish companies who are paying for the cost of recycling.

Mr Clancy called for the government to examine appropriate “polluter pays” mechanism to deal with this additional waste generated by retailers outside Ireland.

“We would propose that an online retail forum should consider how best to address this matter,” said Mr Clancy.

Three-quarters of online trade is done on websites outside of Ireland, according to Thomas Burke, director of Retail Ireland.

Total packaging waste in Ireland consists mainly of cardboard (77 per cent), followed by low-density polyethylene (13.3 per cent), paper (4.8 per cent), and glass (3.6 per cent).

e-waste electronic waste

Sea of Phones Photo: Sascha Pohflepp

Electronic waste

While there are questions about the level of packaging waste created from online shopping in Ireland, the recycling of electrical waste is looking positive, according to Elizabeth O’Reilly, Environmental Compliance Manager at WEEE Ireland.

Ms O’Reilly said: “While Black Friday sales may temporarily increase purchases of appliances over a few days, there are many year-long campaigns that seek to create awareness amongst consumers of the environmental impact of products including how to recycle their WEEE responsibly.”

One of WEEE’s successful campaigns is the WE’ll Take it Back campaign, which sees 60 per cent of household consumer waste appliances returned through retail shops. This is the highest proportion of takeback through retailers in the EU.

“Retailers promoting WE’ll take it Back in-store and online will accept E-Waste without any purchases made in-store free of charge,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“Additionally, WEEE Ireland’s Every Battery Counts charity campaign runsyear-roundd to encourage consumers to recycle their waste batteries in the blue battery boxes at retail points, while at the same time supporting Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice,” she added.

WEEE Ireland recently formed an alliance with IT asset disposal Wisetek to increase the collection of waste and retired IT equipment across the country.


By Ja Wei Lee.

Ja Wei is a third-year journalism student at DIT. He is passionate about writing, exploring new ideas and has a keen interest in social issues

About the Author

Ja Wei Lee

Ja Wei is a third-year journalism student from DIT. He is passionate about writing, exploring new ideas and has a keen interest in social issues

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