Oh, Subscription Boxes.

Hello friends, welcome here!

*ahem* Excuse me as I pull out my soap box… I hate monthly subscription services. There, I said it.

A subscription box is a service that regularly (usually monthly) delivers a box of goods to your door. Some boxes are curated based off of your interests making them highly personalized, some are random items from within a category such as “beauty”. There are subscription boxes that will deliver items for your pets, your kitchen, your yoga wardrobe – if you can think it, there is probably a subscription box service for it!

If you give “Subscription Boxes” a quick Google, lots of headlines come up:

  • The Best Subscription Boxes of 2019
  • 30 Cheap Subscription Boxes for $10 or Less
  • The Best Monthly Subscription Boxes for Women in 2019
  • 60 Subscription Box Gift Ideas for Every Type of Person

The list goes on! There is a subscription box service for every person and interest at costs ranging from $10 to $100. In fact, subscription boxes can sometimes be a bargain (and believe me, I l o v e a good bargain). There is something so special about having a box that was put together just for you arriving at your door every month. It is like Christmas, you never know what you are going to get – and honestly, that is part of the problem, but we will get to that later.

So, how much do people love subscription boxes? A lot. According to this Forbes article, the subscription service market has grown by over 100% a year for the past 5 years, with the most successful services producing $2.6B in sales in 2016. Subscribers are likely age 25-44 and 15% of online shoppers have subscribed to one or more subscription service. That all adds up – fast!

Online shopping – and most of our shopping tbh – has a way of isolating our actions and purchases. We do not see the thousands of other subscription boxes that go out a month, so it is hard to conceptualize the true impact of having a monthly subscription service. So, what makes a subscription service harmful to the environment?

Oh, the packaging.

Humans LOVE packaging. Like, really love packaging, so much so that packaging is something that is considered heavily in product reviews. We love things that look good and feel good, so it is not surprising that many subscription boxes put a lot of effort into their presentation from customized boxes to tissue paper and confetti filler. All of that cute stuff is great, but it has to go somewhere, like the landfill, sad face.

Shipping, shipping, shipping.

How many times are items in a subscription service shipped before they reach your door? That is honestly hard to say. Maybe once if the subscription box is packaged in the same place the goods inside of it are produced. Maybe multiple times if the subscription service bulk orders items from other suppliers and packages them in a central facility before shipping them to your door. Basically, there are a lot of emissions that are hard to consider in the transportation of subscription boxes, in some cases more than it would take for you to go to the store to get the same items.

The waste.

At the end of the day, there is a lot of waste, not only in packaging but in products. When you spend $10 on a subscription box, it is kind of easy to just toss away something that you are not in love with from the subscription box – or end up with a dreaded stash of products that you will never use that will get tossed away in the next spring cleaning. Again, sad face.

We like our boxes of joy delivered to our doorstep, so we keep ordering them, even if we know the negative environmental impacts associated with them. This action can be explained in the idea of the Tragedy of the Commons – basically, humans are self interested actors that continue to act in self interested ways even when it does not make sense to do so… like when it harms the environment around them and their access to resources. The Tragedy of the Commons is a foundational concept to understanding roadblocks to sustainable development (but more on this in a future post, for now, enjoy this Wiki link).

I am not saying that subscription services are inherently bad, like most things, it depends. There are definitely subscription services out there that work to be as green as possible, just as there are consumers that work to be as green as possible in their consumption of subscription services. However, based off of the interactions I have had with friends and colleagues in my life regarding their monthly subscription services, I would say being a responsible consumer is not at the top of the priorities list for most people. I also know most of them have probably never thought about the life of the items they receive before they are in their hands, but care once they know. So, I have put together a list of ways you can “green” your subscription services.

Tips for Greening Your Subscription Services:

Recycle what packaging you can.

The good news about subscription box packaging is that a lot of it can be recycled! To check what can and cannot be recycled in your area Google “What can be recycled in (insert your county, state here)”. Note: It is always better to put something you are unsure of in the landfill versus the recycling to prevent cross contamination.

Limit your subscriptions to one box a month.

Keep your box of joy, just pick one box of joy! Or you could even subscribe to multiple services and have them deliver every other month! Maybe instead of having a coffee subscription box for example, you could visit different local coffee shops monthly, which would be a delicious way to support local and appreciate your city.

Don’t throw away items you do not like.

Instead of throwing away items you don’t like, have a place that you can store items you no longer want, whether they are from subscription boxes or clothing or whatever. Then, once a month take it to a local organization that could put those items to use. Or, save the items you don’t want and gift them to friends and family on birthdays, holidays, or just because!

Save packaging for future gifts and packages.

I have an entire cabinet dedicated to gift boxes, bags, and tissue paper from gifts that were given to me I use on gifts for others. Depending on how your subscription boxes are packaged, you could save the material for future gifts or packages you plan on shipping. Saves money and the planet, happy face!

Support subscription services that prioritize being green.

Like I mentioned above, there are subscription box services that prioritize sustainability in their production. In writing this, I learned there are even services that will accept certain packaging materials back, such as Blue Apron.

I am not here to tell you not to have subscription services. I do want to be here to help you become a better consumer all around. I am a believer in knowing better and doing better. I hope you can take away some knowledge and practical steps from this article to help you on your sustainability journey, especially regarding subscription boxes. I would love to hear your thoughts on subscription boxes in the comments below!

As always, love, love, love, ❤ Cyndel




5 thoughts on “Oh, Subscription Boxes.

  1. I love this, Cyndel! I have often wondered about the wastage of products you don’t like in subscription boxes. I don’t subscribe to any myself but this is great to know for the future. 🙂

    1. Nadine! Thanks for reading! I struggle so hard because I would love a subscription box but also know their impacts. I would love a Bark Box for Newt! I wish their were hard statistics out their about the waste from subscription boxes but it is so hard to calculate!

      1. That’s understandable especially with there being so many different ones out there with different packaging/products. Bark Box, that sounds adorable! 😀

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