While painful for retailers, the amount of e-commerce returns have thus far mostly been absorbed as a cost of doing business and their environmental impacts have mostly been “out of sight, out of mind”. Industry estimates suggest that over 5 billion pounds of returned goods end up in US landfills each year (Optoro Inc., 2020) – a mass equivalent to the annual waste generated by more than 3 million Americans combined (US-EPA OLEM, 2019). Although the sheer scale of product returns should give anyone interested in understanding the environmental costs of consumption some pause, what actually happens to returned products remains unclear.
Relaying on data provided by leading reverse logistics companies from the US and EU we will shed light on the full life cycle environmental impact of product returns and reveal how it might affect the environmental performance of e-commerce more broadly.
Led by the Makov Group Lab, this project is an ELI initiative in collaboration with Yale, UCLA, TU-Delft and TAU, and funded by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, the Internet Society Foundation and the German Israeli for Scientific Research & Development.
Rapid innovation and wide-scale adoption of information and communication technologies have recently enabled the rise and expansion of the digital Sharing Economy (SE). Lower transaction costs and establishment of user trust systems, such as consumer feedback and rankings, enable individuals to become producers in multi-sided markets, where they can not only buy, but also resell, rent, or share their underutilized assets with others. Although sharing is commonly thought of as a more sustainable, its environmental, economic, and social implications are not yet well understood. For example, while some find that sharing reduces environmental burdens through more intensive use of existing products, others show that the conveniences and costs savings of sharing platforms can stimulate added demand for goods and services such as cars (e.g. when people use Uber instead of public transport), or housing and air travel (e.g. in response to Airbnb's popularity).
This project will address these knowledge gaps and help inform a range of stakeholders including researchers, entrepreneurs, impact investors, policy makers, and sustainably minded consumers.
Meshulam T., Blass, V., Font-Vivanco, D., and Makov, T., “Sharing Economy Rebound- evidence from large scale P2P food sharing”
Meshulam T., Sarah Goldberg and Makov, T., "The Environmental Impacts of The Sharing Economy- A Systematic Literature Review"
Digital Food Sharing and Food Insecurity in the Covid-19 Era
Sharing food surplus via the digital sharing economy is discussed as a promising strategy to reduce food waste and mitigate food insecurity at the same time. Yet if and how the global pandemic has affected digital food sharing are not yet well understood. Leveraging a comprehensive dataset covering over 1.8 million food exchanges facilitated by a popular peer-to-peer food sharing platform between 04/2017 - 01/2021, we find that UK activity levels not only rose during the pandemic, but outperformed projections. Examining the socio-demographic characteristics of platform users, average user activity and the flow of foods before and during the pandemic, we find no compelling evidence to support the view that the platform’s pandemic era growth is due to a large influx of food insecure users. Instead, we suggest that the dramatic growth in digital food sharing relates to increased network density and lifestyle changes potentially triggered by the pandemic.
Makov, Tamar and Meshulam, Tamar and Cansoy, Mehmet and Shepon, Alon and Schor, Juliet B., Digital Food Sharing and Food Insecurity in the Covid-19 Era. Available at SSRN.
Digital food sharing and food insecurity in the COVID-19 era
Makov, T., Meshulam, T., Cansoy, M., Shepon, A., Schor, J., "Digital food sharing and food insecurity in the COVID-19 era", Resources, Conservation & Recycling (2022)
Rebound Effect and Sustainability Science: A Review
Shepon, A., Makov, T., Hamilton, H. A., Müller, D. B., Gephart, J. A., Henriksson, P. J. and Golden, C. D.,
Font Vivanco, D., Freire-González, J., Galvin, R., Santarius, T., Walnum, H. J., Makov, T., Sala, S., "Rebound effect and sustainability science: A review", (2022).
Psychological Barriers to Sustainability
Makov, T. and Newman, G. E., "Psychological Barriers to Sustainability: Understanding Consumer Demand for Products with Redundant Functionalities", (2022).
Sustainable Optimization of The Global Omega-3 Supply Chain
Interactive Visualization and Industrial Ecology
Burdens of Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Production
Eshel, Gidon, Alon Shepon, Tamar Makov, and Ron Milo (2014), "Land, Irrigation Water, Greenhouse Gas, and Reactive Nitrogen Burdens of Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Production in the United States," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of The USA (PNAS), 111 (33), 11996-12001.
Full Text Journal Website