China's e-commerce industry is boosting the development of the domestic express delivery sector, which is gradually becoming smarter and more efficient. But the "aftermath" of China's annual online shopping spree, known as ''Singles' Day''- when hundreds of millions of tons of packaging waste is generated - is troubling the sector. This has led e-commerce firms and government authorities to show their determination in addressing environment issues, which analysts say is a good start, but warn there are still many hindrances ahead.
Every day, a batch of parcels made up of unique packaging is dispatched from the express delivery station run by Ye Zhiwei in Beijing's Haidian district.
"They [the goods] are packed in yellow durable and reusable plastic boxes, unlike many others, which are wrapped in one-time use cardboard delivery boxes or plastic bags," Ye, an employee of China's leading online-to-offline retailer, Suning Commerce Group, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
After handing over parcels to buyers in person, deliverymen bring the yellow boxes back to the station to be reused.
Suning launched the yellow plastic delivery box service in April, costing users no extra charges, but at the moment, consumers cannot opt for the service themselves.
So far, Suning has introduced 50,000 yellow boxes into the market, mainly serving randomly selected buyers who purchase valuable and fragile goods like smartphones as well as maternal and child products.
Shi Pengfei, deputy general manager at Suning's logistics unit in Beijing, said in a statement sent to the Global Times that the company is seeking to cut back on cardboard usage on environmental grounds, with the aim of gradually increasing the use of the plastic yellow boxes to 200,000 by 2018.
Meanwhile, Suning is also reducing the use of paper and tape for packaging purposes and increasing the use of electronic waybills.
Pollution and waste are two of the main problems in the domestic express delivery industry. Widely used packaging materials such as tape and plastic bags used in the sector contain components like polyvinyl chloride, which takes years to degrade.
Shi said that burning those non-degradable delivery bags and tape can generate up to 30 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
The number of woven bags used for packaging purposes last year increased by 100 million pieces from 2015 to about 3.2 billion and about 8.6 billion cardboard boxes were also used in that same year, slightly down from the previous year's measure of 9.9 billion, data from the State Post Bureau (SPB) showed.
In 2016 alone, there were 6 million tons of packaging waste generated in China and disposal costs were estimated to have stood at more than 9 billion yuan (.36 billion), according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency.
"What the environment faces will become more serious if we do not pay enough attention to the waste generated from China's fast-growing express delivery industry," Shao Zhonglin, industry analyst at Shanghai-based yongyiresearch.com, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Shao predicted that amid China's e-commerce frenzy, the packaging volume handled by express delivery companies on a daily basis will hit 1 billion parcels in the next seven to eight years from the current measure of 100 million per day.
The nationwide Singles' Day online shopping festival, which started over the weekend, is expected to lift the number of parcels handled between Saturday and Thursday by 35 percent from the same period last year to 1.5 billion, according to the SPB's estimates.