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Department for Transport considers compulsory charge for all online deliveries to cut pollution

Posted on 7 July 2020

The Department for Transport's Science Advisory Council recently published its position statement on last mile logistics, considering a mandatory charge across all customer deliveries and returns "to encourage consumers to recognise their true business, societal and environmental cost, and hence encourage more sustainable behaviour". The proposed value of the charge is unconfirmed, but the statement noted that it would work in a similar way to the fee implemented by the Government for plastic carrier bags. Whilst encouraging more sustainable consumer behaviour is to be commended, this does also represent a risk to the retail sector during a challenging period. A mandatory charge would introduce further pressure on consumers' disposable income, whilst the sector looks to cope with the COVID-19 crisis and is yet to face the full impact of Brexit.  

"Last mile logistics" describe the final stage of goods' delivery, from a transportation hub to the end delivery destination. There has been an increased focus in reducing the time required for last mile logistics so as to deliver goods to the end user as quickly as possible. With same day and next day deliveries becoming standard market behaviour, this has unfortunately resulted in increased traffic congestion and associated negative impacts on the environment and health. A further consequence of the increase in online orders is a growth in customer returns. These have also contributed to the rise in traffic and pollution.

Alongside mandatory charges for customers, the Department for Transport's (DfT) Science Advisory Council suggests incentivising customers to accept longer delivery times, which would allow deliveries to be better consolidated across several customers in the same neighbourhood, or explicitly passing the true cost of delivery onto the customer, to avoid unnecessary over ordering. Improving customer purchasing decisions, particularly for clothes and shoe shopping to assist with determining sizes, is also suggested as a way of reducing the volume of deliveries and returns. This technology is not new and is already used by some well-known brands.

The statement also considers a range of technical solutions to provide last mile delivery. These include electric or fuel cell powered vans, autonomous ground vehicles, drones, and neighbourhood manufacturing sites employing 3D printing. Unfortunately none of these solutions can be implemented straightaway, given the need for large scale infrastructure investment and further development of the underlying technology. However they do provide signals for the possible future of logistics services.

One of the Science Advisory Council's recommendations is that the DfT consult with the logistics and e-commerce sectors and public on possible measures to reduce the negative impacts of last mile delivery, which could include the imposition of a standard minimum charge. We therefore await the DfT's consultation to see if a mandatory charge will be used by the Government as one of the ways to tackle the impact of online deliveries on the environment. We also hope that the DfT's consultation touches upon other potential solutions, such as the extent to which consolidation of deliveries can take place.

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