Online shopping? This is how you do it plastic-free!


The festival season is here! Chances are that this involves shopping and gift giving. Ideally, we wouldn’t buy any more stuff, but sometimes we simply need (or want?) new clothes and it’s not always socially accepted to show up at a party without a gift. I am not much of a shopaholic (quite the opposite), but if I buy stuff, I sometimes do so online, because I live in a small, quite isolated city and many brands and products are not available here. I always try to avoid plastic. This are my tips for preventing excessive packaging material.

Buy second-hand

In my experience, sellers on second-hand websites are often willing to send a package with very little packaging and no plastic. When I need something, I usually first check local Facebook groups as well as online markets such as (I live in Sweden) or (when I am in the Netherlands). I even use the alert service so that I receive an email as soon as someone puts up a new ad for the specific product I am looking for. If I find what I need, I send a message to the seller to ask whether it is possible to ship the item without any plastic and in a reused box or just a plain paper envelope. I also explain why I ask for this service. This has always worked out great for me!

Try Etsy

I’m a very picky consumer. I only buy what I need and will search until I find exactly what I want. Etsy is a great place for me, because you can request custom-made products. Also, on Etsy you can find unique things that you can’t find in a regular offline store. There is lots of choice and you support small businesses and craftsmanship that probably wouldn’t survive without the Internet. On Etsy, I usually look for a shop in my region to avoid long-distance shipping.

Once I ordered some soap bars from a shop that turned out to be based in my neighborhood and the seller personally delivered the order, plastic-free. Amongst my best buys on Etsy are a reusable sandwich bag, an iPhone sleeve, a business card case, and soap bars. Before I place an order, I always ask the seller about the material or ingredients in the product (to avoid plastic) and whether or not it is possible to ship the product without using plastic.

Ask for plastic-free shipping

No matter where I shop online, I always send a message to the shop or seller before I place an order to ask whether it is possible to ship the package without using plastic. I also explain why I don’t want to get any plastic with my package. If it is a second-hand shop or Etsy, sellers almost always agree to not use plastic. Bigger online shops are usually less flexible, so sometimes I have turn to another online store or I simply wait until I travel to a bigger city where I can find the item in an offline store. Sending a message ahead of placing an order does not only prevent plastic waste, but also signals to the shop that consumers don’t want to receive lots of packaging material. Hopefullu this will push shops to change their packaging habits.

Beware of biodegradable packing material

Some shops write in their packaging policy that they substitute regular plastic with biodegradable plastic. In the past, it has happened a couple of times to me that a package was filled with packing chips. Biodegradable. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, let’s think about it. What does biodegradable mean? It means that a product will break down over time with the help of bacteria, fungi, oxygen, light, heat, and moisture.

The problem with biodegradable plastic is that is does not break down in a regular compost pile. Compostable plastic can only break down under certain conditions, which you don’t have in your home compost bin. It needs an industrial composting facility to decompose and then, still, plastic will not 100% break down.

But above all, it’s often completely unnecessary to fill up a cardboard box with stuff. Just choose a more appropriate sized box. If it’s absolutely necessary, ask the shop or seller to use some old newspapers to protect the products. Thus, if you want to avoid waste and plastic, look for a shop that does not use biodegradable plastic, because chances are that you will still get lots of plastic.

Do you ever shop online? What are your tips and tricks for avoiding plastic?

Featured image from Flickr by Ian munroe.


About Author


In 2013, after reading yet another article about plastic soup, Annemieke started her Dutch blog Plasticminimalism where she documented her small steps towards life with less plastic. To create more awareness about the adverse impacts of our plastic consumption, she launched Plastic-Free Tuesday in spring 2014. She strongly believes that building a better world starts by changing our own behavior. Annemieke is trained in environmental science and policy. She alternates living in the Netherlands, Sweden, the US, and China.

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