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Chinese delivery industry leaves trail of tape and cardboard

Report says courier services used enough adhesive tape in 2015 to circle earth 425 times, writes Yan Jie

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As China's packaging industry booms, the use of some unrecylable materials is adding to environmental problems (Image by weibo)

The ever-growing appetite of the surging Chinese express industry for cardboard boxes and transparent adhesive tape has brought about mass waste of wrapping materials in China, according to a report from the State Post Bureau.

The report plots trends in the environmental impact of China’s delivery industry and found that Chinese courier companies in 2015 used a total of almost 17 billion meters of adhesive tape. That’s enough to encircle the earth’s equator 425 times. Over the same period 9.9 billion cardboard boxes and 8.3 billion plastic sleeves were used.

“Although the recycling rate of wrappings in the express industry is higher than that in other industries, the sheer volume of the packages is too big to prevent plastic pollution,” said Mao Da, a senior researcher with the Beijing-based activist group Rock Environment and Energy Institute.

Adhesive tape not only adds to the country’s 
plastic waste woes, but also means that the cardboard boxes on which it is stuck are more difficult to recycle or reuse, said Xing Kai, chairman of Beijing-based Yiside Logistics Technology Co. Ltd. Xing’s company produces almost entirely biodegradable boxes that don’t need adhesive plastic tape to seal and that can be opened with a single tearing motion. To seal an average box, about 1.1 to 1.5 meters of tape are used, Xing told Sixth Tone. Excessive use of tape, he said, meant that only about 20% of packages delivered in 2015 were reused.

Xing is one of a number of industry figures calling for a shift in the way resources are used and managed by delivery companies.

“Completely biodegradable wrappings do exist,” said Tong Wenhong, CEO of internet-based logistics and supply chain platform Cainiao Network Technology, at a 
conference organised by the China Post Express Daily in Beijing. But delivery companies, she said, don’t use them because the costs are too high. According to Tong, for batches of over 10 million packages, the change to biodegradable wrappings would add about 0.5 yuan (US$0.07) to the production cost of each package.

Xing’s company has been marketing its boxes without the use of adhesive tape in China for the past one and a half years. Cost remains an issue in the promotion of the company’s products, he said. “The cost of our box is about 10 to 50 percent higher than that of a conventional box needing adhesive tape,” Xing added.

In June, Cainiao announced that the company and its 32 business partners had pledged to do away with plastic materials and replace 50% of the wrappings with completely biodegradable materials by 2020.

However, in the short-term, delivery companies’ use of cardboard and plastic tape looks to only go up. A May 
report predicted the industry would deliver 27.5 billion packages in 2016, a yearly increase of 34%.

This blog is republished from Sixth Tone

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