Online shopping creates waste

Packages from online student orders sit waiting for their owners to pick them up in the mail room. The mailroom handles a large volume of online purchases every week.
PHOTOs BY Emily Majewski

By Emily Majewski
Staff writer

Take a walk through the mail room at St. Michael’s College and you’ll see box after box arriving for students, full of groceries, books, and clothing. Platforms like Amazon make everything you could ever possibly want available at the click of a button, which is extremely convenient for students living on college campuses away from home.

So, how can online shopping be a bad thing? The frequent use of online platforms such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy to order clothing or other items – can be seen in the boxes piled in the mail room. Rather than shopping in stores or malls, clothing is now ordered offline. Or, instead of walking to the grocery store, people now order fresh foods right to their door.

While shopping addiction is a real thing, on campus, the most obvious problem behind the sharp increase in online shopping is the waste produced. In the case of our campus, it is delivered right to the mailroom, where student mail clerks such as Amy Gagliardi witness first-hand how these practices can quickly become wasteful.

“We had a Blue Apron box which is the food subscriptions where you get your meals sent to you. It must have had some perishable items in there and the person who needed to pick it up didn’t come for at least a week. The food just started smelling so bad, we had to move it into another room because we couldn’t stand the smell.”

This has become a recurring issue – the student eventually picks up their food, but it is no longer edible. It become a waste of money, food, and shipping resources.

“Sometimes we have them [packages] for months at a time and it’s like, if you order something is it really necessary?” said Anastasia Miller ‘20, a student mail clerk. Not only with food, but when ordering any item offline it is best to ask yourself “Do I really need this?” If you let it sit in the mailroom for a few weeks, odds are you didn’t.

Besides exhausting your paycheck, another pressing consequence of frequent online shopping is the toll it takes on the environment. If you’re hoping to cut down on these wastes, it’s up to you to make a change.

“In this day and age everything is online, so anything they need they can just order and get in a few days,” Miller said. It’s hard to change those habits because it’s just the click of a button.

You can give them [students] information about what they’re doing and how it’s not great for the environment but it’s really up to them to see if they want to change their habits.” Don’t let convenience overshadow the distinction between what you really need and what you want in a fleeting moment.

Specifically, the waste produced by Amazon’s blue and white shipping envelopes has become a consequence of frequent online shopping on our campus. not all aspects of this packaging are recyclable, so you can’t just toss them into the recycling bin. To properly recycle these envelopes, they must be brought to a drop-off location, which is an extra step the mail room has been struggling to complete on their own. However, the school becoming a drop-off location itself may be another, more efficient option according to mailroom staff. This will hopefully become a project that school associations such as Green Up can assist in undertaking.

An additional way to combat the issue with recycling is to be mindful when picking up any package that comes in a cardboard box.

“I don’t think that half of the students here actually recycle the boxes that they get,” Gagliardi said. “We see them in the trash cans, and they don’t want to collapse the boxes and make them flat in the recycling bin so they just throw them in. You need to flatten them before you recycle them.”
Cardboard boxes are easily recyclable – however, it is only possible if students can take the extra minute to collapse them and put them in the right bin.