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CO₂ emissions parcel delivery

The world is slowly turning into a village, in our modern world parcels can now be sent halfway around the world in record time. Due to consumerism and the fast pace of modern life, parcels are now expected to arrive in a few days tops.

In addition to sea containers, packages are now also sent on planes, which greatly increases the environmental impact. Shipping costs are also getting lower and within the UK “ordered today, at home tomorrow” has become the norm.

Even “same-day delivery” is gaining in popularity, but at what cost to our environment?

See below, an overview of the emissions from transporting one tonne of freight one kilometre. The emissions of a delivery van are relatively high because frequent stops and departures are taken into account.

Figure 1: emissions from transporting one tonne of freight one kilometre.

Delivery van

A loaded van emits an average of 154 grams of CO₂ per kilometre. Fortunately, not only your package is in the van. Also, not every package is the same weight or size. Topsector Logistiek has extensively studied the emissions associated with parcel delivery. If we lump everything together, a package sent within the UK causes an average of 0.6 kg (or 600 grams) of CO2 emissions. This corresponds to a volume of 305 litres or approximately 122 inflated balloons.

However, this does not consider the indirect emissions as investigated by SOMO in this report. A product has already had a long journey before it was loaded into a van.

Sea ​​freight

To calculate the CO₂ costs of sending a package, the mode of transport is very important. Worldwide, the shipping industry transports the largest number of goods each year. The amount of goods now shipped by sea container has increased to 1.83 billion tons as of 2017. This figure is expected to increase further in the coming years.

Total emissions from shipping, based on a multi-year average, are responsible for 2.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and emissions from international shipping account for 2.4% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This amounts to 1,036 million tons of CO₂eq per year for all see freight and 866 million tons of CO₂eq per year for international shipping.

The Port of Felixstowe is the United Kingdom’s busiest container port, dealing with 48% of Britain’s containerised trade.  In 2017, it was ranked as 43rd busiest container port in the world and 8th in Europe, with a handled traffic of 3.85 million twenty-foot equivalent units.


Air ​​freight

Despite the large amounts of CO₂ emitted by shipping, it is by far a much better way to ship packages around the world than by plane.

As calculated by Time for Change, a ton of cargo transported 1 km by a modern ship emits between 10 and 40 g of CO₂. In contrast, the same tonne of cargo transported by plane 1 km produces about 500 g of CO₂ emissions; that is up to 50 times more than shipping.

Compared to other forms of transport, shipping still has the lowest environmental impact. A modern freight train emits 30 to 100 grams of CO₂ per tonne per kilometer of transport and a modern truck or box truck emits between 60 and 150 grams of CO₂ per tonne per kilometer of transport.

Figure 2: Bar chart CO₂ emissions from different modes of transport for goods. Emissions measured as grams of CO2 per tonne per kilometre.

CO₂-neutral shipping

Many companies now offer CO₂ neutral shipping packages, for example, DPD. They do this by calculating their fuel, water, and paper they use and depending on how many miles a particular shipment has travelled, they offset the required CO₂eq through projects around the world.

While it’s so encouraging to see how large companies like DPD are tackling their environmental impact, not all companies do this. That’s why we at Kuwi.org have our compensation program to help companies neutralize the emissions of shipping packages.

Next day delivery

Speed of delivery is now a major concern. Due to the expectation of fast delivery, many companies do not optimize their delivery routes and send packages on trucks that are not full, increasing the environmental impact per item. Fast delivery also makes more use of air freight instead of shipping, which is less harmful to the environment. We are therefore very concerned about the advance of “same-day delivery”.

Something to think about

Another major environmental issue with an increasing number of packages being shipped around the world is the plastic and cardboard used to wrap and protect these packages.

An article by  Fast Company states that the cardboard shipped in the US alone in 2017 is equivalent to nearly 1 billion trees (excluding other types of packaging). Much of this eventually ends up in the oceans, where it is predicted that by 2025 there will be 1 ton of plastic for every 3 ton of fish. While this won’t all come from packaging, of course, it puts the industry’s waste into perspective.


The increasing number of parcels shipped around the world brings significant environmental costs, both through the shipping method and the materials used to package the items. Some companies are making efforts to reduce their impact on the environment, but many are not trying hard enough.

As a concerned consumer, it often feels like there isn’t much control over how you receive your products. What can you do? We can give you some suggestions:

  • less consumption! Ask yourself if you really need this product?
  • Give feedback to vendors, you can get in touch easily and quickly through social media, for example, ask why they don’t use sustainable packaging.
  • Buy local. Sometimes a product can be found cheaper at a greater distance. But the one paying the price difference is our planet.
  • Choose companies that offset their emissions
  • Join kuwi.org and offset your own footprint