Shopping Online Literally Smells, and it's Hogging A Lot of Real Estate
Lately I’ve been spring (summer? pre-fall?) cleaning and consequently getting rid of a lot of boxes and recyclables, so consumerism is at front of mind. It will come to no surprise to you that I’m thinking a lot about the consequences of wanting things and online shopping because of this. I’ve mentioned this article before, about shopping and the pollution of cardboard mills, but I wanted to go further into it:
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TheEPA investigation on the plant pollution (including their last visit report!)
Also of interest is this Fast Company article on the real estate boom just related to storing cardboard for shipping. The highlights:
“An e-commerce sale requires seven times more boxes per dollar sale than a brick-and-mortar retail purchase,” says Mark Russo, associate director and lead author of the Newmark report.
About 407 billion square feet of corrugated cardboard was produced in the U.S. last year—enough to completely cover the combined land area of New Jersey, Connecticut, and a bit of New York. That’s up from about 390 billion square feet the previous two years, and represents a high point in a decade-long upward trend in cardboard production. Newmark anticipates the growth will continue, with an estimated 3.5% annual increase over the next five years. More cardboard means more cardboard factories.
If you want to read more about smell, urban planning, and environmental justice, I’ve added some more books just on that subject to my Bookshop. I read all of these as research for my own book over the years; some of them are more academic, just a heads up.
I’m interested in this stuff because a lot of attention is focused on the fashion industry’s environmental pollution, but it seems to be a lot harder to get people as heated over the beauty industry’s usage or consumerism at large. There’s always pushback about how poor people can’t afford “better” options - which is its own can of worms. In general, we need to be consuming way less. That’s the long and short of it. But with a stack of pandemics and gas prices way up and food deserts - yes, people buy online more and more.
I’m not offering a solution out of the sky. I just wanted to share this - that our impulse shopping and our online habits - even those with carbon offsets included - have very real consequences for people living near the factories that produce the boxes used to ship things to us. The boxes that, when we get them, we typically throw away without a second thought or consideration that we might get a second or third life down the line out of.
To deal with my own guilt on that subject, I normally save all the cardboard I consume over the course of the month, flatten them, and offer them to people in the neighborhood for their moves. I’ve probably helped pack at least four apartments over the course of the past few months that way. Just from cardboard I had lying around! And it’s been a good way to meet neighbors.
If you want to read more on beauty industry and sustainability, here are some select reads for you:
A Deep Dive into the World of Sustainable Beauty, Teen VOGUE (I wrote this ages ago - I’ll do a revisit soon here for you)
And some beauty news in general that is top of mind:
Q2 Beauty Deal Flow for 2022 Has Been Surprisingly Resilient! I know a lot of brands have been scared about how the recession has to shape their decisions for the next few years - so these are positive numbers.
ULTA has launched an innovation fund called Prisma Ventures - this is very significant beauty news. I have seen some beauty influencers and reporters say this is the first fund of its kind - which I don’t think is exactly true. Sephora launched their Accelerate incubator program in 2015 and relaunched it in 2021. They’ve made 51 investments so far. That being said, ULTA is the bigger beauty retailer and has more than twice as many doors, and I imagine the way they are building out their programs will be significantly different. The accelerate program seems to be more of a mentorship program-to-retail-stock pipeline, and they don’t disclose how much they invest financially into the brands they’re incubating. ULTA has stated explicitly there’s a $20 million pot.
Anyway. Stay cool,