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November 16, 2016

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Singles Day raises environmental concerns

FOLLOWING last Friday’s Singles Day shopping spree, China is pondering the environmental impact of the heavy use of packaging.

While websites registered strong sales, the prospect of greener packaging material was not so positive.

Statistics published by the People’s Daily reveal that courier services between November 11 and today were expected to have delivered 1 billion items, 35 percent more than last year.

The newspaper said courier businesses in China used over 9.9 billion boxes last year, and the length of the tape used to wrap the packages would circle the equator 425 times. It noted that the recycling rate of such packaging material was below 20 percent.

“Packaging boxes take up too much space and most get thrown away,” Li Minfeng, a Hangzhou resident, told the newspaper, adding that most of his neighbors also throw away unwanted boxes.

Packaging material such as tape, cushions and plastic bags are usually used as landfill, and the main component, polyvinyl chloride, may take hundreds of years to degrade. Burning such material also generates pollutants.

The State Post Bureau said it is considering addressing the problem through measures including the promotion of environment-friendly packaging and making recycling mandatory.

Courier service providers are also considering how to address environmental concerns., Alibaba’s delivery service platform, said it is striving to use 100% biodegradable material by 2020.

However, increased costs and lack of motivation are key obstacles to more eco-friendly packaging.

A courier surnamed Cai said using large amounts of packaging is sometimes unavoidable when shipping delicate items such as porcelain and fruit. “Our top priority is to ensure the safety of the items,” he said. “My company uses recycled containers for fresh food like meat and milk, but it is hard to incorporate recyclable material into all of our packaging. It would cost too much,” Cai said. “It would also be challenging for us to recycle packaging material ourselves — I’m already working as long as 12 hours these days.”

Green packaging demands not only efforts by postal authorities and courier companies, but also the participation and support of society as a whole, the People’s Daily quoted a State Post Bureau official as saying.

November 11 is known in China as Singles Day because the date, 11-11, resembles four “bare sticks,” a term used in China to refer to single people.

The day started to become associated with commerce when Alibaba, China’s e-commerce giant, launched a major promotional campaign centered on Singles Day in 2009.

The most eye-catching event this year was Alibaba Group’s Global Shopping Festival, which generated 120.7 billion yuan (US$17.6 billion) in gross merchandise volume.


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