- Chinese consumers spent more than $38 billion on "Single's Day," an annual shopping discount event driven by online retailers Alibaba and JD.com. Postal and courier businesses sent around 331 million packages, as reported by Reuters. That's a 31.5% increase from last year, according to China's State Post Bureau.
- The shopping binge also generated 160,000 metric tons of packaging waste, including cardboard, tape and plastic, according to an estimate from Greenpeace.
- There were a total of 1.38 billion orders placed, according to Chinese state media. About 25% of those sales were electronic devices or mobile phones.
The massive sales from Singles' Day in China show that the e-commerce packaging boom is a global trend, not just a domestic one. As more consumers shop online, more packaging will be required, generating increasing amounts of plastic, cardboard and other materials used to ship goods, such as packing peanuts and bubble wrap.
The spike in online purchases comes at a critical time for the industry. Under usual circumstances, a massive increase in the use of cardboard and plastic could be seen as a positive for domestic recyclers, as Chinese manufacturers would be looking to the U.S. to supply material for packaging.
However, given China's developing import restrictions and strict contamination standards on plastic and paper material, it is unclear if there will be an increase in demand for U.S. cardboard scrap that matches the increase in Chinese e-commerce.
Many of China's landfills near population centers are filling up, leading to a dramatic expansion of waste-to-energy facilities, but the country's recycling collection infrastructure is still developing in many areas.
At the same time, growing affluence in Beijing and other parts of the country is leading to increased waste generation. The country has taken steps to limit the activity of informal recycling pickers and processors, but it's still unclear if adequate systems are in place to keep up with this growth in material and meet China's broader environmental goals.