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Buying Local: A Sustainable Path Forward for The World

Have you ever wondered just how much pollution a container ship can emit? Well, an article from NewAtlas states, “One large ship alone can generate approx 5,200 tonnes of sulphur oxide pollution in a year”. To put that in context, the stats from 2009 show that 15 of the largest container ships emit around the same as the world’s 760 million cars. Let’s revisit that stat: the largest 15 container ships emit as much pollution as every car on Earth does. If shipping were its own country, it would rank sixth in the world for its contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

Governments have long championed a global economy, and in some cases are rightly doing so, whereby some countries have the natural resources to manufacture specific goods and products. In some cases, it isn’t correct though – cheap resources are sent to some countries and assembled into products due to cheaper mass manufacturing and cheap labour. Clearly, with resources and goods being moved around the world in these massive, polluting container ships, we should be doing something about it. On the contrary, more and more, shipping has become crucial to the global economy.

We believe that our government should be emphasising the need for buying local and favouring local businesses. They should put in place plans to make us a power of manufacturing again like we once were.  This would substantially reduce the environmental impact of overseas shipping and, of course, strengthen our local economy.

The Cost of Global Shipping

Demand is on the up for shipping goods around the world, which means that the harm it does to the environment is also growing. Whilst the industry is trying to decarbonise, it will take decades, so nothing on the horizon is looking rosy with shipping. There are also emissions from related industries such as ports, tugboats, trucks, and so on which add to the damage that is being done.

In the UK, we shifted a long time ago from being an industrial nation to a service-based nation. We have let others, notably China, do the heavy lifting of cheap manufacturing for some time now. Our agriculture output has also plummeted during this time.

UK economic output since 1800 (Source: Herrendorf et al, 2014)

Recently, we have heard that the Tata-owned Port Talbot will be downgrading substantially. This will mean further emissions from container ships as we import steel from around the world. Is this short-sightedness? Do we want to rely on a few manufacturing hubs from around the world? Does the government have plans for those people in Port Talbot who are being displaced from those jobs?

Buying Local

There are so many benefits to buying locally manufactured or grown products. Firstly, there is less transportation – none of these carbon-spewing container ships would be involved. That’s already a huge win for the earth. And with so many electric vehicles on the road now, this could become even more environmentally friendly.

Secondly, it stimulated the local economy as money flows from business to business, person to business, and back around again. Jobs will be created; industries will grow and thrive. And thirdly, if you buy local then you know where it has been produced, and therefore have an element of quality control over it.

Simply put, buying local will strengthen the economy and businesses surrounding you, which certainly can’t be bad. Others would be more likely to reciprocate and use your business too.


There is also the argument for the UK to start manufacturing as it supports local employment. This would cut transportation costs and help to make us self-sufficient rather than rely on cheap foreign goods. Is there going to be a government that is willing to push forward policies like this? Perhaps they need to take a look at tax incentives, subsidies, and grants for businesses like this to thrive. We also need massive infrastructure investment that can support local businesses (think of the decline of the High Street for a start…). Another area the government could look at is their role in educating the public about all these benefits of buying local.

How Do We Help?

At Letterbox, we love working with local businesses. The businesses we work with also mostly target businesses and consumers local to them. Door drop really is a champion for local economies.

We also use electric vehicles, our distributors can travel by bike, and on average they walk 20.3 miles a day! We’re based in the Barnet, and would be surprised if any companies in Barnet don’t know about us. We do work Nationwide but the majority of our client base is in London, and we love to support the local economy. And when we are working further away from London we use local teams to do the distributions – we don’t travel all over the country, as that would be counterproductive.

We don’t use container ships to transport goods globally. We’ve already massively reduced our emissions for our whole operations. We plan for the future of our business like the government should be doing.

Our founder, Simon, says, “The way we have all been living in the UK, consuming cheap foreign goods has been a false economy. The damage to the planet through transportation pollution coupled with the loss of industry and manufacturing in our own country has resulted in more unemployment, poverty, the loss of our High Street and an increase in taxes which I would not be surprised if it has wiped out any of the savings we think we have achieved.’’

Is Change Coming

Governments must think about the challenges of goods being moved around on these polluting container ships. It’s time to realise that it isn’t going to end in a good outcome for our planet and put plans in place to have smaller (and greener) manufacturing hubs in their own countries. This isn’t an easy problem to solve as there will be huge costs involved. But surely the biggest cost of all is the price we will have to pay for global warming.

Please support your local businesses. It will be better for us all in the short and long term.

Here is the link to the NewAtlas article