In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Humber College and University of Guelph-Humber students living in residence and nearby apartments have taken to online shopping and food deliveries to avoid making unnecessary outings. But despite its conveniences and allowance for physical distancing, there have been concerns among students, landlords, and waste management alike regarding the excess waste produced by delivery packaging and its negative environmental consequences.

Anita Zeiger, a student undergoing training as a pastry chef at Humber College, has been living in residence for the last two years. She says that last year, she consistently ordered items from Amazon and had them delivered to the residence’s front desk for pickup. This year, however, she has noticed an increase in her own and fellow students’ online shopping habits.

“I normally do a lot of my school supply shopping online . . . There has always been a lot of people who order off of UberEATS and SkipTheDishes and Amazon, myself included,” said Zeiger. “But I’ve definitely been doing it more this year because of the pandemic.”

Zeiger cites her reluctance to going out to do her shopping is largely due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Last year, I would take the bus to Fortinos to do my groceries every weekend,” said Zeiger. “But it’s the middle of winter, public transport is limited, Queen’s Plate is too far a walk, and I don’t want to take too many risks in possibly catching the coronavirus when going out . . . It’s a lot easier and safer to just order food from my phone.”

Karen Wyatt is currently in her final year at the University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in a basement apartment neighbouring the North campus. Because of her apartment’s significant distance from the nearest shops and grocery stores, she has been heavily relying on doorstep deliveries.

“I’ve been having to order food in a lot,” said Wyatt. “I’m trying to avoid going out whenever possible, so I usually get UberEATS every few days.”

Wyatt’s landlord, Kanav Singh, has been renting out his basement to students for the last five years. However, he has also recently noticed an increase in packages arriving at his house.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of Amazon packages,” said Singh. “On garbage collection day, I usually see a lot of pizza boxes, McDonald’s bags, Burger King . . . The kids are usually good with recycling, but the cans are almost always full.”

Despite not being overly concerned, he is aware of the potential waste management issues that his student tenants pose.

“I understand it’s not safe to go out and I don’t have a problem with it, but I am worried about garbage collection,” said Singh. “I’ve had to talk to the kids about being more careful with how much stuff they throw away because there’s a limit on how much the collectors will pick up.”

Safa Al-Haji, the environmental coordinator at the Humber Office of Sustainability specializing in waste management and reducing waste on campus, expressed her concern over the negative environmental impact of excessive online shopping.

“Excessive online shopping is a problem for waste management and sustainability because of the overpackaging,” said Al-Haji.

“When you order a phone case from Amazon, it comes in a bubble wrapped paper envelope. That definitely cannot be recycled, even if you were to strip the two materials. It all comes down to packaging and where that plastic, paper, or cardboard will end up . . . Considering we have Amazon Prime now with same-day delivery, there is an even higher chance that people will order three things but at different times, which would get shipped in three different containers. This is a waste and would cause major disruption to our environment.”

Al-Haji insists that although she understands the importance of avoiding going out whenever possible in the middle of the pandemic, students can do so while simultaneously being mindful of their environmental impact.

“With Amazon, some advice I would give is to try to order everything you need in one day so everything comes in one box. Rather than ordering things at random intervals and receiving them at different times,” Al-Haji advised.

“With UberEATS, I definitely fall victim to this app, but I opt out of cutlery or plastics in general. This way I can at least reduce my footprint. However, eating in and making your own meal is definitely the way to go.”