Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Reduce packaging, make deliveries greener

By XIN LAIZHE (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-06 08:23

Reduce packaging, make deliveries greener


The rapid growth of online shopping and express delivery services has given rise to huge amounts of rubbish in China, says a recent report. Last year alone, 16.95 billion meters of adhesive tape and 9.9 billion boxes were used to deliver the purchases of online shoppers.

The contradiction in economic development, which online shopping helps boost, and waste creation and thus environmental degradation could not be more self-evident. And as China Post data show, the problem will only grow as the 48 percent year-on-year of delivery services in 2015 suggests.

Experts say excessive packaging for products dispatched through courier agencies to meet online shoppers' demand is generating increasing amounts of trash and the existing recycling system cannot cope with them. Many would argue that, if the waste cannot be recycled, why not dump them in landfills or consign them to incinerators?

But before reaching a conclusion, let us check out some facts. Zhu Lei, a Qingdao-based scholar affiliated to Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication, says that apart from the 9.9 billion packing boxes and 16.95 billion meters of adhesive tape, 2.96 billion woven bags, 8.26 billion plastic bags and 2.97 billion buffers or bubble wraps were also used by express delivery businesses in 2015. Since these waste products were in addition to the millions of tons of garbage that people generated in their usual daily routine, the magnitude of the problem should not be lost on anyone.

Disposing of this astronomical amount of waste, therefore, is easier said than done. The landfills in China are already overflowing with waste. Because a disproportionate percentage of this waste is generated by cities, landfills are required to be near urban settlements where land comes at a premium. Incinerators have their own problems. For one, there are not enough incinerators to dispose of the current flow of garbage. For another, installation of new incinerators is being opposed by residential communities in many places in China.

To tackle the gargantuan waste problem, one can wish that people stop shopping online. But if wishes were horses, beggars would fly.

One cannot, and should not, expect people to suddenly stop shopping online. The convenience of viewing and purchasing almost everything a normal shopper needs is too attractive and alluring to ignore. The joy of exercising virtual power in selection of goods and having them delivered at your doorsteps is too appealing to give up. And the comfort of getting whatever one wants at the click of a mouse is too intoxicating to trade for the rigors of visiting a real market.

The touch and feel of real products are no longer a source of delight or solace for people who are used to sharing their feelings on the Internet and conversing on their phones or laptops. Real shopping like face-to-face conversations is becoming a thing of the past for the Internet generation.

Perhaps this is where old practices, practices that were part of the daily lives of people who grew up between the 1960s and 1990s, could be worth a revisit. Old-timers might remember how they went to the market and bought only the things they needed, nothing more, nothing less, just enough.

Perhaps online shoppers could use the same tactics, and place orders for only the products they really need. Better still, they could wait to place orders for different products in bulk so that fewer materials would be used to pack them. Compulsive purchase has to take a back seat.

Perhaps only then can the waste generated by online shoppers be reduced. Other measures, such as recycling programs and a standard delivery packaging system by courier and e-business companies, may seem good but could prove illusory in the ultimate analysis.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily.

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