Alibaba’s logistics arm Cainiao and China’s 5 major courier services try to put an end to packaging waste

In China, 50 billion parcels are delivered annually, causing a mountain of wasted cardboard boxes.

Photo: provided to company with the press release

Annual parcels delivered in China have exceeded 50 billion units and packaging material largely goes to waste, burdening the environment.

E-commerce companies are a driving force behind the problem, but they now also want to contribute to a solution. Alibaba’s logistics unit, Cainiao, which offers last mile delivery solutions via its pickup stations or lockers in neighborhoods and campuses, has allied with five major logistics companies to kick off an initiative in Shanghai to recycle packaging boxes, according to an Alibaba press release. Shanghai has made garbage sorting mandatory since July 1, the first Chinese city to do so.

The five couriers involved in the scheme are STO Express, ZTO Express, Yunda Express, YTO Express and Best Express.

Under this so-called “Boxes Returning Plan” Shanghai residents are encouraged to return any cardboard boxes for reuse to the bricks-and-mortar outlets of any of these couriers, or any Cainiao station. Vice versa, anytime a resident needs a box, he or she can just pick one up for free at these locations.

“There is a difficult and long way to go to achieve green development but if we take moves, we can get there,” said Lai Jianfa, the vice president of ZTO Express.

Actually Cainiao has initiated its own Boxes Returning Plan in 2017, said Alibaba in the press release, adding that during the Nov 11 shopping promotion period in 2018, Cainiao collected more than 13 million boxes returned by Alibaba users.

Another e-commerce giant JD.com has its own recycling initiative but it’s a different concept.

JD.com offers residents in seven Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, the option to choose plastic boxes for the goods they order, KrASIA reported in April.

These “green” boxes can be reused about 20 times in one life span and can even be recycled for a second life, JD.com told KrASIA then, adding that 4,000 Stock Keeping Units (SKU meaning goods available), including honey, tissue paper, smartphones and watches, can be delivered in these boxes.

As JD.com has its own couriers, its clients do not need to return the plastic boxes themselves, their couriers will just collect them from the recipients.