Over the next few days, many Chinese buyers will be excitedly waiting the arrival of goods they ordered online during the Singles Day sales. It's unlikely they'll have given much thought to dealing with the plastic and cardboard wrapping the products are packed in.
China's e-commerce industry is booming at an unprecedented pace. In 2015, more than 20 billion parcels were delivered in the country, according to a report by the State Post Bureau of China.
The amount of wrapping materials used in courier services was no less staggering. Last year, China used 20.7 billion express waybills, 3.1 billion Polywoven bags, 8.3 plastic bags, 3.1 billion envelopes, 9.9 billion boxes and 17 billion meters of adhesive tapes, 425 times the length of the earth's equator. The total weight of the waste is estimated at about 4 million tons.
The bureau predicted that in 2016, the annual number of post packages will reach 30 billion, and by 2018, the number will be 50 billion.
Chinese sellers' concern over risks during delivery usually lead to over-packaging.
"The retailers will be accountable if the goods are damaged during shipping. Therefore, large amounts of buffering materials will be put into the box to protect our glass-bottled products nestled inside," an online health food store owner told chinanews.com.
The dilemma is also troubling Liu Li, who sells fruits online.
"It is impossible to save materials since the delivery companies only provide standard boxes, which means we have to add wrappings that are insulated and crushproof."
To save costs, most online business and delivery companies prefer non-biodegradable packaging materials.
For example, a roll of 6 centimeter by 265 meters non-degradable tape costs about 10 yuan ($1.5), while a roll of degradable one is 40 yuan.
Many customers believe they're doing the right thing by putting paper boxes in the recycling bin, but this is causing is a huge waste of resources.
According to estimates from the China Resource Recycling Association, a ton of paper pulp can be turned into 0.8 tons of new paper, which means the remaining 0.2 ton will be filled by chopped trees. New pollution will occur and more energy will be consumed during the recycling process.
Moreover, materials such as tapes, air bags and plastic bags may take at least 100 years to degrade if buried in soil and produce massive pollutants if burnt.
In August, authorities rolled out a plan to promote "green packaging", pledging to make breakthroughs in "key enterprises and regions".
"The loss caused by inappropriate or unregulated disposal of packaging waste may be over 10 billion yuan," an anonymous expert told chinanews.com.
Chang Jiwen, an expert in environmental policies at the State Council Development Research Center, called for laws and regulations in packaging standards to be urgently developed for online retailers. Chang also noted that tax can have leverage effects in encouraging greener packaging.
Shao Zhonglin, former deputy secretary-general of the China Express Association, said it would take a joint effort from consumers, the market and the whole society to realize that goal.