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Hackernoon logoHow the Environment is Paying for our Prime Day Discounts by@marissaliu

How the Environment is Paying for our Prime Day Discounts

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@marissaliuMarissa Liu

Spending most of my waking hours thinking about the climate | http://shopneutral.io/ ✨🌎

The Lightning Deal timer is ticking away. You're frantically scraping through hundreds of discounts. Finally, after a barrage of Prime deals and discounts, you find the one: a deeply discounted, 30% off Amazon Echo. 

In seconds, Amazon gives you access to millions of products, each with their own set of environmental issues. As the Lightning Deal timer goads you on, shoppers rarely look up from their search to ask, “Do I even need this [insert random tech gadget here]”, let alone “How will this purchase damage the environment?".

As a shopper, you continue on. After cross-examining just a few more options, you finally check out and ride that post-purchase high. You’ve won, but have you really?

Today’s the one day where an absurd number of Amazon products are so irresistibly cheap, that we have the sudden urge to purchase everything and anything from an Amazon Echo to a Roomba. 

We can’t fault you — all the ‘exclusive’ deals sound pretty sweet. Last year, Prime members bought more than 175 million items on Prime Day. Features like Amazon’s 1-click ordering make it so easy. However, cheap deals and Prime shipping come at a huge hidden environmental cost that don’t show up on the checkout page. 

As you and the hundreds of millions of Prime shoppers scroll through Amazon, the environmental impact begins to add up. Just last year, with 600 items being purchased every second, Prime Day shoppers ordered

  • Over 100,000 lunchboxes, 100,000 laptops, 200,000 TVs, 300,000 headphones, 350,000 luxury beauty products, 400,000 pet products, 650,000 household cleaning supplies, 1 million toys
  • Millions of smart home devices
  • And much more

Here’s a closer look into why this all matters, especially today, on Prime Day.

Tracing your Echo’s Footprint

For example, let’s take a look at how our environment is paying for your purchase of an Amazon Echo — the most popular item on Prime Day.

Materials

The demand generated for your Echo and many other electronics fuel the metal extraction industry–the irreversible excavation to obtain non-renewable materials such as coal, copper, and silver. These materials take significant energy to extract and the processes are incredibly damaging and practically irreversible to the environment. Your Echo earns its first strike before it’s even in the factory. 

Manufacturing

The production of the Echo’s components from the silicon chips to the circuit boards requires extreme precision, making the manufacturing stage the most energy intensive portion. Even worse, the final stage of manufacturing comes at a human cost — workers at FoxConn, one of Amazon’s suppliers and manufacturers of Echos, are underpaid and forced to work in harsh conditions.

Distribution/Transportation

Current delivery systems are not built to efficiently consolidate and deliver packages to shoppers’ doorsteps within two days, according to Miguel Jaller, from the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis. With the rush of Prime shipping, Prime Day and other mass shopping holidays are contributing more congestion to our cities, pollutants to our air, and packaging waste to our landfills.

Usage

The energy usage of an Amazon Echo is quite low. In contrast to the permanent damage of mining the raw materials for the Echo, most users hold onto theirs for a few years before disposing of it.

Destruction

Majority of the cost of recycling this cheap Echo lands on local municipalities, most of them already overburdened with e-waste. With our broken recycling system, when our electronic waste often ends up in landfills, they have the potential to leak toxic materials like lead and mercury into the air, water, and soil, posing serious environmental and health risks.

All things considered, is this Echo really worth it?

We don’t think so. This might sound too good to be true but the best we can do right now is be more mindful —as renowned climate activist Ayana Johnson urges, we must “Refuse. Reuse. Repurpose. Repair. Reduce.”

So what can we do as consumers to mitigate this huge environmental impact?

We have a right to demand better products, policies, and environmental protection. After spending months researching carbon footprint data, we at Neutral know how difficult it is to trace the environmental footprint of your products. After all, most of the data is hidden behind corporate doors or licenses with price tags of upwards of $1,000.

Stirred by our own collective anxieties and uncertainties, we built Neutral to bring transparency to the environmental impact of our consumption habits. Neutral is a free browser extension that unveils the environmental impact of your Amazon purchases and allows you to offset your emissions right from your shopping cart.

We calculate the carbon footprint of your product by accounting for entire lifecycle of your product, factoring in all material and energy inputs, transportation, storage, and waste outputs generated throughout the life of a good. The data required for these calculations are sourced from CleanMetrics' CarbonScopeData database, one of the largest and most comprehensive LCI databases in North America.

All offsets are directed to various projects provided by Gold Standard, an organization established by WWF and other international NGOs. The projects we donate to range from reforestation to regenerative agriculture efforts to sequester carbon. The most recent offset project we've been contributing to is the Nicaforest High Impact Reforestation Program, a reforestation initiative for the Nicaragua Forest. The Neutral community is growing in both size and impact — to date, we've offset over 54,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide as a community.

To learn more about the tools we’re building to help everyday people fight the climate crisis, check out our website. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but we hope with Neutral, we provide you with the transparency you need to shop in a way that reflects your values.

If you have any other questions or feedback, reach us at hello@shopneutral.io.

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