E-commerce boom seals recycling's fate in China

Workers packing products at a company in Hebei province. Enterprises across China are gearing up for the spike in sales ahead of this year's Singles' Day online shopping festival. The boom in e-commerce has created large amounts of parcel packaging w
Workers packing products at a company in Hebei province. Enterprises across China are gearing up for the spike in sales ahead of this year's Singles' Day online shopping festival. The boom in e-commerce has created large amounts of parcel packaging waste.PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING • Almost 17 billion metres of adhesive tape - enough to encircle the Equator 425 times - were used by Chinese courier companies last year, a new report shows.

The State Post Bureau, in a report issued last week, has also found that 9.9 billion cardboard boxes and 8.3 billion plastic sleeves were used over the same period.

The figures are the latest reminders of the environmental impact of the boom in China's e-commerce and parcel delivery sectors.

"Although the recycling rate of wrappings in the express industry is higher than that in other industries, the sheer volume of the packages is too big to prevent plastic pollution," Mr Mao Da, a senior researcher with the Beijing-based activist group Rock Environment and Energy Institute, told Sixth Tone news website.

According to Mr Xing Kai, chairman of the Beijing-based Yiside Logistics Technology, adhesive tape itself not only adds to the country's plastic waste woes but also prevents the recycling and reuse of cardboard boxes.

To seal an average parcel box, about 1.1m to 1.5m of tape is used, he told Sixth Tone.

Excessive use of tape, he said, meant that only about 20 per cent of packages delivered last year could be reused.

Mr Xing is just one of a number of industry figures calling for a shift in the way resources are used and managed by delivery companies.

"Completely biodegradable wrappings do exist," said Mr Tong Wenhong, chief executive of the online logistics and supply chain platform Cainiao Network Technology, at a conference organised by the China Post Express Daily in Beijing last Thursday.

But delivery companies shun these eco-friendly options because the costs are too high. The amount of waste generated by delivery companies will increase with the onset of the Singles' Day online shopping festival which will run for 24 days this year.

China Express Association has estimated that the number of packages to be delivered during the world's largest online shopping event this year is likely to surpass one billion, up 35 per cent year on year, reported Xinhua.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'E-commerce boom seals recycling's fate in China'. Print Edition | Subscribe