Reality Check : Singles Day, Online Shopping and Plastic Waste

singles day
Everyone’s shopping online by necessity, but packaging waste hasn’t improved.
Aside from impressive sales figures, Singles’ Day has also become synonymous with wasteful consumption. In the US alone, Amazon ships around 2.5 billion packages a year. That’s a lot of cardboard boxes and bubble wrap. The smaller packages are packed in padded envelopes instead of cardboard boxes. The waste problem still remains. Cardboard is relatively biodegradable. But what about the plastic bubble wrap inside the cardboard package?


Plastic Bubble Wrap Are Everywhere

The annual Singles’ Day sNov. 11 buying frenzy is a regular fillip for giant online retailers like Lazada, Shopee, Amazon, Alibaba and many other e-commerce platforms. However, the mountains of trash produced from just one day of conspicuous consumption have angered environmentalists.

roughly equivalent to a delivery van’s worth of plastic being dumped into major rivers, lakes, and the oceans every 70 minutes

According to Greenpeace, this promotion is a “catastrophe for the environment” that not only generates waste, but also increases carbon emissions from manufacturing, packaging, and shipping. It estimated that 52,400 tonnes of climate-warming carbon dioxide were added to the atmosphere last year as a result of all orders.
Until 2008, bubble wrap was made using plastic polymer film. The material is ecologically toxic. Plastic polymer film takes hundreds of years to disintegrate in landfills.
A study by Oceana found that Amazon generated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019. The number of air pillows alone, it said, could circle the globe 500 times. The environmental group further estimated that up to 22.44 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging ended up in the world’s freshwater and marine ecosystems as pollution in the same year, or “roughly equivalent to a delivery van’s worth of plastic being dumped into major rivers, lakes, and the oceans every 70 minutes.” Whatever e-commerce’s  plastic footprint in 2019 and pre-pandemic,  it was likely higher in 2022. 
Just how much packaging does one shirt need? 25 apparently.

Waste hangover after Singles’ Day buying binge

Manufacturing companies are encouraged to invest in closed-loop production and create more durable products. Following India’s announcement that it would be phasing out single-use plastics, Amazon India managed to eliminate nonrecyclable plastic packaging from fulfillment centers in the country. In June, the company announced it had achieved a “100 percent successful transition” away from single-use plastics. Roughly 40 percent of Amazon’s orders in India, in fact, are shipped in their original boxes without an outer box or other packaging.
In the meantime, the simplest thing we can do as consumers is to consume less, re-use more and go back to repairing things that are broken instead of throwing them away. One T-shirt requires 2700 liters of water, which is the amount of water that the average adult drinks in three years when they buy a used shirt instead of a new one. Are you going to buy less from now on?