Zero-Waste Stores 101: Which Are Better, Online or In-Person Options?
Is shopping online or in person more sustainable? Read our guide to zero-waste stores to discover the benefits and downfalls of both options!
Estimated Read Time: 7 minutes
As the world becomes more conscious of our impact on the environment, the zero-waste movement has gained significant traction. Hence, the rise of zero-waste stores (like ours!) that offer a range of products with minimal packaging and sustainable ingredients.
But when it comes to zero-waste shopping, which option is better: online or in-person?
In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of both options, so you can make an informed decision. Whether you prefer the convenience of online shopping or the tactile experience of browsing in-store, we’ll give you some tips to make sure your shopping trip has as little environmental impact as possible.
Get ready to reduce waste in a way that works for you!
The rise of zero-waste stores
We’re always inspired when we hear about consumers changing attitudes towards sustainable shopping. For instance, this article reports that nearly 6 in 10 Americans now consider themselves conscious consumers, and consider factors such as locality, sustainability, and ethics when they shop.
It’s no wonder the rise in zero waste stores in recent years. Some sell natural and organic beauty products in little or no packaging, some sell loose food items which can be purchased in your own refillable containers, and others, like us, bring together products from a wide range of sustainable brands into one marketplace.
Not only are these stores environmentally friendly due to the products themselves, but they also promote a more mindful approach to shopping, encouraging customers to make conscious choices about the things they bring into their homes.
In other words, they’re helping consumers rethink the way they consume and are leading the way toward a more environmentally conscious future!
Zero waste stores: in-person shopping
Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash
If you’re lucky enough to live near a zero-waste store, you might be tempted to go straight there and spend all your money on earthy-aesthetic goods.
Before you do, we suggest thinking through the pros and cons and deciding whether it’s really the best option for you. Remember, slow and mindful is the key to sustainable shopping!
If you're able to cycle or walk to the zero-waste store, you’ll massively reduce the shipping emissions that would have occurred with home delivery from an online store.
If your local store sells locally grown, sourced, or manufactured products, the environmental impact is much lower, and for food items, the produce is much fresher.
You’re able to see, feel, and (potentially) try the products, to get a clearer idea of the quality in-person.
Your gut instinct might tell you shopping in person always produces lower carbon emissions, but that’s often not the case. Most people will have to drive to their nearest zero waste store in an isolated trip. As well as the products being shipped from the warehouse to the store, you have the additional emissions from every car that drives to the store too.
You also need to consider how the items got to the store. Shopping locally doesn’t always mean the products are manufactured locally. They may have had to travel a long way to arrive at the store before they even join you on the journey back to your house.
Finally, physical stores require a lot of energy to upkeep, which isn’t necessarily the case for online stores that only have warehouses and employees working from home.
Tips for sustainable shopping in-person
- Go armed with a shopping list so you’re not tempted to buy more than you need once you’re there.
- Bring your own tote bag and containers, so you don’t have to buy new ones once you’re there.
- Make the trip count. Combine a few errands and grab what you need from the store on your way somewhere else.
- Ask the shop owner where the products are grown, manufactured, or produced, to ensure they’re local.
Zero waste stores: Online shopping
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As an online zero-waste store, we’d love to say we’re the more sustainable option, however, we know the answer isn’t so simple. Just like in-person stores, there are benefits and downfalls to online shopping too.
The main thing is to think before you browse and consider what you truly need.
Research suggests that online shopping can have a smaller carbon footprint than in-person shopping.
Confused? The best way to explain it is to think about how public transportation or carpooling is better for the environment than driving alone. One vehicle can drop off multiple products, rather than multiple vehicles driving to pick up one product.
With online stores, you have a wealth of information about the company’s sustainability at your fingertips. For example, they may carbon offset each delivery, have environmental partnerships, and a particular protocol for the products they sell and brands they promote.
You may be able to find similar information at an in-person store, and in person-stores may also have a website and social media, but the chances are it’ll be easier to find this information when you’re shopping online anyway.
Shopping online is seen as a quick and convenient option when you need something instantly. This can lead to impulse buying. It can also mean that, when quick-delivery options are selected, online stores might sacrifice their sustainable principles to meet your time requirements.
Shipping and delivery require extra protective packaging, which may not necessarily be the most low-waste and sustainable materials.
You may be more prone to fall for greenwashing and other unethical marketing tricks when shopping online, as you only really have words and images to go off, not the product itself. You can easily end up with things you don’t need, want, or aren’t what you imagined them to be.
Another problem that comes with not being able to physically see and feel the product, is that you might end up returning a lot of items. Returns account for 16.6% of online retail sales! This adds another element to an item's carbon footprint – the journey back to the warehouse.
Tips for sustainable shopping online
- Remember the first R of zero waste is Refuse – refuse to buy into every marketing email or social media post online.
- Use the search bar to find the products you need as opposed to scrolling for hours.
- Read customer reviews (the good and the bad!) to get an honest idea of what the product is like, and whether it’s something you need.
- Reduce the number of times your order. Wait until there are a couple of things you need, and order them in one go.
- Look for online retailers selling reused, recyclable, and upcycled goods.
- Read the sustainability and impact pages, and look out for certifications.
Final thoughts: which are better, in-person or online zero-waste stores?
When it comes to zero-waste stores, online and in-store shopping both have perks and downfalls. They both involve transportation that contributes to global warming, and they both can lead to impulse buying.
The best option is the one that’s easiest for you, because when the greenest choice is the easiest choice, you’re more likely to stick to it. If you’re not too tech-savvy and you have a zero-waste store that’s close to home, then in-person shopping might work for you. If you don’t live near a store, and you like to have all the information about a brand before you buy, then online shopping will be the better option.
Whatever option you chose, if you do your research about the store you’re buying from, and follow our shopping tips, you can feel confident shopping sustainably.
Let us know in the comments if you prefer shopping online or in-person!