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Repak Online Shopping Report 2019

Packaging waste from overseas online retailers grows by 17% to reach 11,740 tonnes in 2019 – Repak Online Shopping Report reveals

  • Repak warns that packaging waste generated from online shopping continues to grow without any accountability from overseas online retailers.
  • Major online retailers such as Pretty Little Thing, ScrewFix, eBay, Boohoo, and Wish continue to avoid recycling responsibility by not paying towards the recycling of packaging waste they place on the Irish market
  • Repak calls on the Government to commence to proactively examine the impact that international e-commerce has on the Irish environment.

Key findings

  • On average, 32 tonnes of packaging from online retailers arrives to Ireland every day, an increase of 18.5% on 2018
  • It costs over €700,000 per year to collect and recycle this packaging and most of this cost is unfairly being borne by Repak members
  • Irish consumers purchased €2.4bn worth of goods online from abroad in 2019 – over 39 million consumer items
  • Some international online retailers are abusing Ireland’s recycling system by dumping nearly 12,000 tonnes of material, says Repak report
  • Packaging generated from online sales could surpass 100,000 tonnes in Ireland by 2032

29th November 2019: Ireland is now generating 11,740 tonnes of packaging waste from online shopping per year, an increase of 17% from 2018. That is the equivalent of the packaging generated by a town the size of Killarney each year, a new report by Repak has revealed.

The latest Repak Online Shopping Report shows that 11,740 tonnes of imported packaging associated with the online purchasing of consumer goods from abroad by people in Ireland accounts for 1.06% of all packaging generated in Ireland in 2019 and costs over €700k to recycle. According to the research, some of the world’s largest online retailers are dumping over 32 tonnes of waste packaging on the Irish market each day and they are not paying a cent towards Ireland’s recycling bill. This figure is predicted to grow substantially in the coming years as more and more imported packaging enters the country from online purchases.

Commenting on the unsustainable future of online shopping, Tony O’Sullivan, Director of policy and strategy with Repak, said:

“Currently, overseas online retailers are free to place large quantities of waste packaging on the Irish market and bear no responsibility for the impact their business has on our recycling system and wider environment. They don’t pay a cent towards our recycling costs and yet the volume of waste packaging they place on the market has nearly doubled in the last three years.

“Organisations like ScrewFix, Pretty Little Thing, eBay, Boohoo and Wish, dump 32 tonnes of packaging a day onto the Irish market and we predict this figure can only rise. Currently, it costs over €700,000 per year for this packaging waste to pass through our recycling system. Who pays for this? This material has to be collected, sorted and recycled, and currently it’s our members who are picking up the tab. This cannot continue. Online retailers must be held accountable for the packaging they place on the Irish market.

“The only notable exceptions to online retailers avoiding their environmental duties are Amazon and ASOS, who are making a contribution to the nation’s recycling bill, and we hope more companies choose to follow their example in 2020.”

Following the publication of the report, Tony O’Sullivan advised that online retailers based outside Ireland are wilfully ignoring their fiduciary responsibilities to Ireland’s packaging waste system and abusing a loophole in Ireland’s recycling law.

“Online retailers based outside of Ireland have an unfair advantage over Irish companies who make vital contributions towards recycling in Ireland. Unlike Repak members, these companies have no incentive to reduce the waste they generate and are not held accountable for what they place on the Irish market. It requires intervention from the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment (DCCAE) to tackle this problem by adapting the new Single Use Plastics Directive into Irish Law immediately, to make these large international online retailers responsible for the packaging waste they place on the market. The current system is grossly unfair and is distorting competition between Irish retailers and international retailers. They are ignoring any corporate social responsibility.

“This issue will only get worse in time as online shopping is currently outpacing the growth in traditional retail by more than double. We have an opportunity to enforce sustainable recycling legislation for online retailers and the longer we wait to enforce this the more costly it becomes to Irish businesses.”

The report titled, Study of Online Consumer Sales: The economic impacts of online consumer sales on additional packaging and its costs in Ireland, was prepared for Repak by Dr Pat McCloughan, Managing Director of PMCA Economic Consulting and can be found here. The report presents statistics on the increasing levels of online shopping from abroad in Ireland and the resulting packaging generated by this activity. The report also outlines the cost implications to the recycling industry of this particular form of e-commerce and highlights the lack of recycling policy within the e-commerce industry in Ireland.

According to the report, in 2019, 39 million different online items valued at €2.403bn were purchased in Ireland from abroad. Clothing/apparel, footwear and accessories were the most popular online cross-border purchases, accounting for 19% of all purchases and valued at €463m. Consumer electronics (15% valued at €361m), toys and hobbies (15% valued at €361m) are joint second and jewellery and watches (14% valued at €347m) are third.

The report also indicates that the volumes of plastic being used to package online deliveries is growing. The volume of imported plastic packaging waste from e-commerce has grown very rapidly by 23% compound annual growth rate from 2015-2019, compared with the 17% compound annual growth rate in respect of cardboard. Overall, use of cardboard as a packaging material has fallen by 4% since 2015 to 76%. The volume of plastic waste grew by 3% in 2019 to 16% of packaging waste from overseas online purchases.

The report also recommends that the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment (DCCAE) commences a proactive examination of e-commerce and its effect on the Irish recycling system.

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