If one retailer in the world can make the largest impact on the sustainability of shipping packaging, it may well be Alibaba.
Currently ranked as the world's largest retailer, Alibaba claims 3 trillion yuan ($476 billion) in gross market value. How many orders does it ship every year? I didn't find an official number. But what we do know is that, on its annual shopping holiday called Singles Day (Nov. 11) last year, Alibaba processed 467 million orders on that day. Alibaba said it shipped 7.6 billion packages during the following week, involving 1.7 million courier staffers, 400,000 delivery vehicles, and 5,000 warehouses.
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 recipient 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.
That's exactly what Cainiao is trying to do. According to Chinese reports, the company is launching a trial in Shanghai this month to test the idea of using reusable plastic totes as delivery containers. It plans to widen the scope to 20 cities in China by the end of the year.
In the meantime, Cainiao is testing biodegradable shipping bags with a planned trial date for later this year. The company said it collaborate with the government, industry associations and plastics companies to develop the product. It pointed out that the biodegradable bags would cost a few times more than a conventional plastic shipping bag.
That makes the reusable plastic tote model even more attractive, as the reusability will drive down the average cost per use in the longer run.