Global airfreight climbing almost 9% per year with rise of 2-day shipping. And shipping by air has 10x the carbon footprint of shipping by truck, and 66x the footprint of container ships

By Lloyd Alter, 12 Jan 2018

TreeHugger has previously looked at Why you should avoid free two-day shipping,where Katherine noted that “when people want their goods fast, it forces companies to send out delivery trucks that are not filled to capacity.” But there is a much more serious issue with a bigger carbon footprint: a dramatic increase in the amount of stuff being shipped by air. According to the Wall Street Journal, 

Global airfreight traffic climbed almost 9% year-over-year… The cause is twofold: As online shoppers come to expect faster home delivery of everything from smartphones to paper towels, passenger jets and dedicated cargo planes are picking up more kinds of cargo traditionally carried by container ships, trains, and trucks.

Traditionally, air freight has been used for high value, lightweight products like smartphones and semiconductors. But that is changing;

Shoppers accustomed to getting e-commerce orders in two days or less are adding to the pile at airport cargo terminals with items such as dog food and spaghetti sauce. “We’re shipping more and more of what you might consider to be everyday basics,” said Jim Mayer, a spokesman for the airline unit of United Parcel Service Inc.

co2 emissions© Maersk
The problem is that shipping by air has ten times the carbon footprint of shipping by truck, and 66 times the footprint of shipping by container ship. The carbon cost of a two-day delivery of dog food or spaghetti sauce is huge.

Amazon is now building its own air freight company and by the end of 2018 and is pulling old Boeing 767s out of desert storage. Old planes are not as fuel efficient but cost a third as much to buy, and they have to feed those Prime customers.

Amazon has used its current fleet of about 30 jets primarily for its fastest Prime delivery service, according to a person familiar with its operations. The dedicated fleet has allowed it to extend the window for guaranteed two-day delivery from 6 p.m. on the East Coast to as late as 11 p.m. The company also is evaluating a new design for the air-cargo containers used on Boeing 767s to reduce wasted space and loading times, the person said.

It’s time for a slow shopping movement

The slow movement used to be a big deal, starting with slow food and branching out into slow design, slow cities, slow travel. (see Seven Slow Movements And Memes That Can Change Our Lives). Katherine has pointed out the problems with fast fashion; now we are learning about the problems of fast delivery.

Slow shopping has been tried by retailers before; according to the Wall Street Journal, 

Stores are trying to slow down the shopping experience, a movement known as “slow shopping.” Adherents believe that browsing in a store should be a leisurely and enriching experience that’s not overtly focused on buying something. To entice shoppers to spend more time, boutiques and national chains are adding libraries, art installations, performance spaces and cozy lounges to encourage shoppers to hang around and enjoy themselves.

That sounds rather nicer than sitting and waiting for the FedEx truck to arrive. We should refuse to be rushed in our shopping and our shipping.