The ‘Dirty Delivery’ Report 2021

Last year, we analysed how the pandemic had fuelled a boom in the number of Britons reliant on internet shopping, and the impact it could be having on the environment. Now, following a year where climate change, stock shortages and delivery delays have been at the forefront of political and media conversations, the team have decided to revisit the topic.

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Header image The 2021 Dirty Delivery Report

If you’re planning to do some online shopping this year, you may want to consider spreading the costs with a 0% interest credit card.

The 2021 Dirty Delivery Report looks to uncover the potential carbon cost of Black Friday - as well as the environmental credentials of delivery companies - as we head towards the busy festive period. It also analyses how UK shoppers' attitudes have evolved in the past 12 months regarding their personal views of online shopping, carbon offsetting, and the consequences of their actions as consumers.

Check out last year’s 2020 Dirty Delivery Report here.

The carbon cost of Black Friday Sales in 2021

This year, Black Friday purchases are forecast to be 10% less than online spending in 2021, according to a report by Internet Retailing. From our 2020 online Black Friday transaction estimate of 116,619,264 individual purchases, we have conservatively estimated that Black Friday purchases in 2021 could result in 104,957,338 individual transactions. 

Assuming each of those transactions results in one medium-sized parcel being delivered (which produces 3.68kg of CO2) our calculations estimate that online shopping on Black Friday 2021 could release approximately 386,243 tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, a potential 11% decrease compared with last year’s event. 

Dirty Delivery Report

To help put this overwhelming figure into a little more perspective, 386,243 tonnes of carbon is the equivalent to more than 215 flights taken between London and Sydney in just 24 hours. It is also roughly the same weight as approximately 3,679 blue whales.

Despite the huge levels of controversy surrounding the amount of carbon emissions caused by the aviation industry, it’s clear our online shopping habits can contribute significantly towards the global carbon footprint. 

Amazon could produce 23% less carbon emissions in 2021 vs. 2020

Last year it was predicted that Amazon processed 5.1m transactions on Black Friday alone. In 2021, Amazon sales are expected to decrease by 19%, based on predicted search volumes reported on Internet Retailing. Therefore, Amazon could be set to process around 4,150,037 transactions this year. 

Assuming that each individual, medium sized parcel is estimated to generate 3.68kg of CO2, we can conservatively estimate that Black Friday purchases via Amazon alone could result in 15,272 tonnes of additional CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere. Despite this still significant figure, this would nonetheless result in a 23% decrease in carbon for 2021 when compared with 2020.

What are delivery companies doing to be more carbon-conscious? 

Dirty Delivery 1

Royal Mail has retained its crown as the most carbon-conscious delivery company in our 2021 analysis. Royal Mail have 90,000 ‘feet on the street’ postal workers and have recently introduced 3,000 more electric vans to their fleet, a significant increase on the 300 plug-in vehicles in operation last year. More broadly, Royal Mail has been vocal regarding its commitment to reducing carbon emissions since 2005

With more than half (54.8%) of UK shoppers stating that they believe they’ve become more conscious of making environmentally responsible online purchases in the past 12 months; it further highlights the importance of delivery companies doing as much as they can to reduce the carbon footprint of home deliveries. 

Amazon takes the top spot for the number of click and collect parcel locations in the UK with around 16,000. Not only do these click and collect locations and lockers help the environment by preventing numerous home deliveries, they also serve to drive much-needed footfall into local businesses.

Shopping habits have undergone a drastic transformation over the last two decades, resulting in growing concerns among retailers with traditional brick-and-mortar stores. As more consumers switch to shopping online, store owners have struggled to generate enough sales to stay open, with businesses gradually disappearing from towns and cities across the UK.

However, there are signs that support for local shops has grown throughout the pandemic, and it's hoped this will inspire shoppers to return. 

This is why click and collect lockers are a good investment for towns and cities across the UK, as they incentivise customers to return to highstreets, and encourage them to shop locally and in a more sustainable way. 

This point is further emphasised by the vast majority of online shoppers in the UK (84.45%) admitting that they would opt to collect an online delivery from a local store or pickup point if offered, with more than two fifths (42.16%) of respondents doing so in order to reduce their carbon footprint. 

How carbon conscious are the UK’s online shoppers? 

To delve deep into how events of the past year have impacted how shoppers consider their environmental impact, questioned more than 2,000 British consumers on how they feel about their own carbon footprint with regards to their 2021 Black Friday and Christmas spending. 

Consumers are thinking more about making their online shopping habits less impactful on the environment; with almost a quarter (22.05%) factoring in how carbon friendly the delivery of a product will be before making an online purchase. This is up 88.1% when compared to the results of last year's research. 

In addition, more than a third of UK shoppers (34.25%) now consider being able to offset their carbon equally as important to them as obtaining free delivery, with almost two fifths (39.3%) revealing they would be more likely to purchase through an online retailer offering an eco-friendly delivery option. 

Interestingly, when looking at the importance of carbon-friendly delivery options according to age, Gen Z’ers and those aged 55-73 are the most environmentally conscious shoppers; with results highlighting that Baby Boomers are 49% more likely than their Gen X peers to opt for a carbon friendly delivery provider this Black Friday and festive season. 

Glasgow home the most environmentally conscious online shoppers 

Breaking down the insights geographically, respondents from Glasgow emerged as the most likely to factor in carbon friendly deliveries to their online purchases, with over a quarter (29.27%) of respondents noting its importance. Furthermore, a third (32.93%) of Glaswegians also admitted to feeling ‘environmental guilt’ when purchasing items online.

Considering the fact that the COP26 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference has recently taken place in the Scottish City, it is understandable that such a significant percentage of Glasgow respondents have taken note of the small things that everyone can do to act on the effects of climate change. 

Updated 20 April 2023
RankCity% of shoppers that consider carbon-friendly delivery options

At the other end of the scale, the UK city that places the least importance is Plymouth, where less than one in six (14.63%) consider carbon-friendly delivery options when shopping online, and only 4.88% consider carbon offsetting to be more important to them than free delivery.

Updated 20 April 2023
RankCity% of shoppers that consider carbon-friendly delivery options
5Manchester 19.46%

Will shoppers put their money where their mouth is?

While having the right intentions when it comes to reversing the damage caused to the environment is all well and good, how much are UK shoppers prepared to financially sacrifice when it comes to reducing their carbon footprint?

When asked to state how much they’d be willing to pay to offset the carbon produced in an individual online purchase this Black Friday, the average answer emerged as £5.66.  

However, more than one in six (17.3%) admitting they’d be unwilling to pay any additional money towards offsetting the carbon produced, which is a 13% decrease compared to the 2020 findings, suggesting that more people are happy to financially contribute to their environmental impacts. 

Interestingly, those in the Gen Z age group emerged as the most generous regarding the offsetting of carbon. The age demographic are one of the largest climate group activists which suggests why they would be more willing to pay the most to offset the carbon produced by their online purchases, with the average amount emerging as £8.84. 

The Gen Z demographic would be willing to pay the most to offset the carbon produced by their online purchases than any other age group, with the average amount emerging as £8.84.

More than one in six (17.21%) stated they’d pay between £3-£4 per online purchase, with a further one in twelve (8.41%) willing to pay as much as £5-£6. 

5 eco-friendly shopping tips to implement this festive season:

  • Wherever possible, try to purchase locally grown or sourced goods. These items will no have been transported from remote areas of the world, eliminating the issue of the shipping process emitting potentially damaging gases into the atmosphere

  • Use reusable materials as you celebrate the season. While many have already ditched plastic bags and embraced reusable bags whilst carrying out grocery shopping, far fewer have made the switch when it comes to how they consume their festive takeaway coffees. Try to eliminate your use of single-use, cardboard cups, and instead invest in a reusable cup or flask online, or from your favourite coffee chain

  • Try to purchase items sold with recycled packaging. By making a conscious effort to buy gifts and festive items from companies that only use recycled materials for their packaging, you are helping to discourage wasteful packaging procedures by manufacturers that don’t yet have this in place

  • Try to avoid impulse buys. Just like Santa, be sure to make a list and check it twice before shopping to stay eco-friendly. Those sneaky buys that lure you in at the checkouts are often the first to be discarded, and therefore the most likely to end up in a landfill somewhere. For anything that you do want to throw away, consider selling, exchanging, regifting or donating to a local charity or second-hand store

  • Reduce the amount of trips you take to the supermarket. Again, this is another example of where being prepared and making a thorough list of everything you’ll need for Christmas can help you to become a more eco-friendly shopper. Reducing the trips to the supermarket will cut how much fuel you waste on pointless journeys, and the more visits you make, the more likely it is you will fill up your baskets with perishable food items that could go uneaten and to waste

Festive spending 2021 vs. 2020

When asked to share insights on their predicted festive spending ahead of Christmas 2021, more than one in three (34.6%) revealed they are planning to spend more money than they did in 2020, while more than two fifths (42.05%) plan on spending roughly the same amount. 

Of those planning to spend less this year than in 2020, more than a fifth (21.41%) put this down to wanting to enjoy a carbon neutral festive period. 

Our research addresses similar reports stating that women have been hit harder by the pandemic in the financial sense, with females 38% more likely to spend less this Christmas than males. Furthermore, women are 47% more likely to state the reason they’d be spending less this year is due to a ‘change in personal circumstances’. 

Prepared vs panicked: How are shoppers dealing with predicted delays and stock shortages?

More than two fifths (43.6%) of shoppers admitted to feelings of concern surrounding the Christmas stock levels and delivery delays, with almost 4 in 5 (79.75%) having started their festive food and/or gift shopping in October or earlier. 

The ongoing repercussions of the global pandemic are clearly still a focus in the minds of consumers, with almost half (47.7%) planning to support local and smaller businesses this year to assist in their financial recoveries, and a further one in four (25.55%) having made connections and relationships with local brands on social media during lockdowns they now want to support. 

Tellingly, more than 1 in 10 (11%) feel uncomfortable making purchases from large, global corporations this year, and with so many clearly getting a head start on their preparations, the demand for any last-minute deliveries could be less.

Fortunately, the vast majority of shoppers purchasing festive items from a local store or brand opt for collection themselves over an online delivery option (84.45%), theoretically helping to reduce their festive carbon footprints. 

Online shopping this Winter - tips from the personal finance experts

  • Compare website prices - Start by making a list of all of the different retailers selling the product or products you want to buy. That way you can compare the websites and buy from the cheapest seller to ensure you are getting the best value for your money.

  • Sensible spending - If Christmas shopping is a big expense that you cannot afford upfront, you could consider getting a credit card. However, it is important to remember that a credit card requires a regular monthly repayment and can also accrue interest, unless you choose an interest free card. 

  • Be aware of ‘deals’ - Avoid being tricked into thinking a deal is worth it because it has a large price reduction. Offers can sometimes exaggerate the discount you are getting, for example, an item that is priced at £80 and selling for £40, when previously the item has always been retailed at lower than its original price.

  • Check the shop's reliability - Before making any purchase online, it is advisable to always check if the website and vendor are both safe and reliable. Check out our guide for some more tips on how to shop safely online.

  • Use cashback websites - Shopping through a cashback website is a handy way to make some money while shopping. Cashback sites often pay you a percentage of what you spend, when you purchase something through one of their tracked links and add the amount to your online account. 


*Based on the average parcel being delivered and the predicted 10% decrease in Black Friday online spending in 2021 (based on the predicted figure from Internet Retailing), we can conservatively estimate that a full day of Black Friday purchases in 2021 could result in 104,957,338 individual transactions. (This is based on 24 hours of Black Friday sales at 1,184 transactions a second). 

Assuming, each of those transactions results in one medium-sized parcel being delivered (which produces 3.68kg of CO2) we can estimate that 386,243,002kg or 386,243 tonnes of CO2 will be emitted into the atmosphere through our online purchases this Black Friday.

Online Delivery CO2 Calculation below: 

In 2019, Barclaycard processed 1,184 individual transactions per second on Black Friday afternoon, and with 2020 sales predicted to be 14% bigger, we conservatively estimated that a full day of Black Friday purchases in 2020 could result in 116,619,264 individual transactions. 

In 2021 Black Friday sales are set to be 10% less than 2020, so we can conservatively estimate that a full day of Black Friday purchases in 2021 could result in 104,957,338 individual transactions. 

**Survey of 2,000 UK respondents aged 18-55 about their Black Friday spending, including the importance of carbon conscious delivery services during October 2021 on behalf of

Carbon-Conscious Delivery Companies: 

We've looked at the eight delivery companies that we analysed in last year's research based on their carbon-conscious credentials to determine what changes each delivery company has implemented over a year to reveal which companies are the most dedicated to becoming more environmentally friendly. 

The carbon-conscious credentials were determined by the following metrics: 

1. Number of Click and Collect Locations

2. Satisfactory Score

3. Trustpilot reviews

4. Cycle Delivery

5. Walking Delivery

6. Number of Electric/Hybrid Vehicles

Please note: We contacted Yodel and CitySprint to obtain data from them about their click and collect locations and electric/hybrid vehicle fleet. Both companies did not come back to us and as the data is not available we have removed them from our analysis.

Amazon Online Delivery CO2 Calculation: 

Based on the average parcel being delivered and the predicted 19% decrease in Amazon online spending in 2021, based on the predicted search volumes from Internet Retailing, we can estimate that Amazon could be set to process 4,150,037 transactions this year. Assuming that each individual, medium sized parcel is estimated to generate 3.68KG of CO2, we can conservatively estimate that Black Friday purchases via Amazon alone could result in at least 15,272 tonnes of additional CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere. This would result in a 23% decrease in carbon in 2021 when compared to 2020 figures


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About Salman Haqqi

Salman is our personal finance editor with over 10 years’ experience as a journalist. He has previously written for Finder and regularly provides his expert view on financial and consumer spending issues for local and national press.

View Salman Haqqi's full biography here or visit the press centre for our latest news.