China pushes greener e-commerce

An express package recycling bin is set up at an agency of SF Express in Jinhua, east China’s Zhejiang province. Couriers throw express packages into the bin, Jan. 6, 2021. (People’s Daily Online/ Li Jianlin)

The Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) recently issued a notice to advance green development of e-commerce enterprises, guiding the industry to become more friendly to the environment.

Twelve measures in four major areas, including promoting the management of green supply chain for express parcel packages, were launched.

According to statistics released by the State Post Bureau, China’s courier industry handled a total of 83 billion express parcels in 2020, up 30.8 percent year on year. The booming development of the industry has facilitated people’s daily life, but the packages of express parcels are also generating massive waste. Data from the State Administration for Market Regulation indicate that China’s courier industry produces around 1.8 million tonnes of plastic waste and over 9 million tonnes of paper waste each year.

Realizing the serious environmental problem, many e-commerce enterprises have taken measures to “slim” the packages of express parcels.

“It was recommended by a courier,” said a man surnamed Li from Yinchuan, northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, pointing to a “Feng BOX,” a recyclable express parcel package launched by Chinese express delivery giant SF Express. “I just want to contribute my part to environmental protection,” he told People’s Daily.

The Feng BOX is not sealed by traditional packaging materials, such as adhesive tapes, cartons or plastic fillings, but a smart anti-theft seal. According to statistics, each Feng BOX can be used at least 50 times, which is able to significantly reduce the consumption of packaging materials.

The MOFCOM notice requests e-commerce enterprises in key areas to gradually stop using non-degradable plastic bags and disposable woven bags, and reduce the use of non-degradable plastic cohesive tapes.

Cainiao Network, the logistics arm of Alibaba Group, replaced part of its plastic packaging with environmental-friendly bags made from bio-based materials during the “Double 11,” the largest online shopping festival in China, last year. The new bags, made from reproducible materials such as straws and ageing grains, can each save 4.4 grams of plastics at the production end, which significantly mitigates the negative impacts of express parcel packaging on environment.

Direct sourcing and direct shipping can also effectively reduce the use of packaging materials. According to an employee of JD.com, a major e-commerce platform in China, the company is encouraging merchants to apply external drop-shipping. At present, over 1,000 kinds of commodities on the platform are directly shipped from the suppliers, which reduces the use of 150 million cartons.

The notice also proposed to further enhance the capability of digital operation, encourage modern information technologies among e-commerce enterprises, such as cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence, better match supply and demand, improve stock turnover, and enhance the sharing of multi-channel logistics to reduce logistics cost and consumption.