E-commerce going green as carton prices skyrocket

Online sellers are looking to environmentally-friendly solutions in wake of soaring costs for packaging materials

Major e-commerce companies have stepped up their efforts to recycle increasingly expensive cartons and promote the use of sustainable, greener packaging materials.

Industry statistics show the price of raw paper has risen to 5,000 yuan ($750; 640 euros; £570) per metric ton – an increase of nearly 70 percent within the year – and put great pressure on carton manufacturers, as well as causing a carton shortage throughout the country.

The rise in the price of paper is a result of the shrinkage of supply, including the shutdown of small paper mills and the country’s curbs on solid waste imports to reduce environmental pollution, experts say, adding that paper manufacturers have to increase prices to cover rising costs.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said in July that by the end of the year, the country will ban imports of 24 types of solid waste, including plastics, unsorted scrap paper, discarded textiles and vanadium slag.

Cainiao Network Technology Co, the smart logistics network of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, is putting more efforts into carton recycling to deal with the rise in costs.

Cainiao says it will carry out carton recycling in several key cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hangzhou during the shopping festival on Nov 11.

By cooperating with carton manufacturers, Cainiao will reprocess packaging left behind by consumers and reproduce boxes used in the express delivery industry, in order to save a large amount of natural resources, says company Vice-President Shi Miao.

In June last year, Cainiao launched its first “Green Action” with a clear goal, equivalent to planting 36 million trees, reducing carbon emissions by 3.62 million metric tons and replacing 50 percent of its express packaging with full-biodegradation, environmentally friendly materials by 2020

And in March, Cainiao Green Alliance Charity Fund, which was jointly established by the China Environmental Protection Foundation, the Alibaba Foundation and Cainiao Network and co-funded by several logistics enterprises, planned a total investment of 300 million yuan in green packaging, recycling, delivery and intelligent processing.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the price of corrugated paper, used to manufacture packing boxes, reached 4,748 yuan per metric ton, the highest level this year. The continuous rise of carton costs will have a serious influence on downstream enterprises.

More than 20 carton manufacturers across the country have raised their prices by 100 to 500 yuan per ton since Sept 15.

“This round of price rises in the paper industry has an impact on e-commerce platforms, but the degree may differ depending on the scale of these platforms,” says a manager in charge of storage and logistics at Mia.com, an infant care online retailer.

He says that for some large e-commerce players, which have close cooperation with suppliers, the increase of costs may not be obvious, but he expects that small ones will witness a sharp jump in costs.

Mia has long-term carton suppliers, so the price rise is acceptable and the influence is very limited, he adds.

Online shopping giant JD.com Inc announced in June the launch of the Green Stream Initiative to promote the use of sustainable, greener packaging materials throughout the supply chain.

By 2020, JD expects to reduce the number of boxes used throughout the supply chain by 10 billion – the total number of all boxes used in China in the whole of 2015.


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