2017 Reusable Packaging for E-Commerce Update
The growing e-commerce market is posing challenges for curbside recycling programs as cities adjust to increasing residential cardboard generation. Meanwhile, San Francisco is bumping up its collection fees by 14% in part the cost to cover this trend, as it reconfigures its collection truck fleet to adapt to the change.
As of June 2017, evidence regarding the Cainiao Network reusable packaging project is more difficult to unearth. According to a recent report, “Cainiao Network, the logistics arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, has established a non-profit foundation in Beijing with several leading logistics companies to promote environmentally-friendly transport services amid concerns over packaging waste.” The Cainiao Green Alliance Foundation is focusing on “packaging waste related to the country’s e-commerce boom. The bulk of packaging waste often ends up in landfills without being recycled, as the process is often deemed overly expensive.”
It will invest 300 million yuan ($USD 43 million) to support environmentally friendly practices, packaging innovations, delivery vehicles powered by clean energy, and the use of big data. There is no mention of reusable packaging in various reports.
There is a U.S.-based entrant in the reusable packaging for e-commerce space. Michael Newman of California-based Returnity states: “Our mission is to convert single-use products into multi-use solutions, with a particular focus on shipping packaging. Our innovative, first-of-their-kind reusable boxes and bags are revolutionizing the consumer unpacking experience – while providing the cost and sustainability solutions brands are increasingly seeking out.
“We have a mix of startups and prominent brands that are going live with our solutions over the coming months; those reusable packages will displace hundreds of thousands of shipments that would otherwise have been handled by cardboard boxes and poly mailer bags.”
Alibaba Looks to Replace Delivery Boxes with Reusable Bags
The needle continues to inch upward on the Packaging Revolution reusometer. Cainiao, the logistics arm of $476 billion Alibaba, is looking to use reusable packs for domestic home deliveries. According to Plastics News, Alibaba shipped 467 million orders on one day alone, an annual shopping holiday called Singles Day (last November 11). It shipped 7.6 billion packages the following week.
Author Nina Ying Sun noted:
Many of the courier packages delivered in China require the recipient’s presence and signature, which created an opportunity that Alibaba’s logistics arm Cainiao quickly jumped on. Because the online customer is present when the package is delivered, instead of having the package left on the porch or in a mailbox, it would be possible for the courier to take the content out of the packaging, hand it over to the recipient, and then take the packaging back to the warehouse.
With this in mind, Cainiao is trialing the concept in Shanghai this month, and hoping to expand it to 20 Chinese cities by the end of 2016.
According to the report, it is also testing a biodegradable single-use plastic shipping bag, although it is more expensive than a conventional plastic bag, predictably making the reusable bag a more cost-effective solution on a cost-per-use basis, where it can be successfully implemented.
There remains uncertainty about how the more expensive reusable bags would be subsidized. According to an article in China Daily on the same topic:
“Green package materials undoubtedly increase the costs, and the enormous costs cannot be undertaken by Cainiao alone. We will persuade sellers and partners to undertake the costs together,” said the source in charge of the logistics business in Cainiao.
Since green express boxes can be reused by Cainiao again and again, who will foot the cost of green express bags is a problem that needs urgent solution since currently the online sellers pay the cost of buying and delivering package materials
A reusable packaging system for e-commerce home delivery exists in Finland. Buyers of products pay a deposit at the time of purchase. Empty RePack pouches are dropped in the closest mailbox for return, and the buyer’s deposit is reimbursed upon return to RePack.