It’s been a good couple of years since I last wrote to Santa but I think it’s time to again. This time though, it’s not just to ask for presents but also to ask for less stuff… but aren’t those requests mutually exclusive? I don’t think so, read on to find out why.
I hope all is well though I do have concerns after reading that the old (perennial) sea ice in the Arctic is smaller than it has been in three decades. That can’t be good for the life at the North Pole, nor gift production. China is also having some ice issues with a recent warning for ice flooding along the Yellow River. And I’m not sure if you caught it but actor Leonardo DiCaprio made a documentary exploring climate change “Before The Flood” – worth a watch.
Old sea ice in the Arctic is smaller than it has been in three decades
China is also having ice issues, with a recent ice flood warning for the Yellow River
Now for the gift part. There are some items on my wishlist (who doesn’t like presents) but above all this year, I would like to ask for less stuff and less waste. Why? Our gifting culture and festive exuberance is contributing to environmental pollution including water contamination and plastic leaching into soil. On top of this, our highly connected world with impressive logistical networks means this pollution is reaching all corners of the planet. These gifts and connectedness are costing our natural resources and us.
Our gifting culture & festive exuberance is contributing to pollution
I have fond memories of ripping open wrapping paper to find out what it was hiding but as I grew older I noticed what happened to the wrapping paper after… it got thrown away. Then there is also the packaging that the gift comes with – plastic, cardboard etc., which also got thrown away, leaving trails of waste. The packaging industry market value reached USD400 billion in 2012.
There is more. When we then send gifts/purchase gifts on e-commerce platforms, even more packaging is added as they travel around the world (sometimes also sent back as returns). This time maybe adding some bubble wrap and more cello-tape. Every Chinese person received/posted on average 10 packages a year in 2014. Nearly 14 billion courier packages were delivered across China, a 52% increase compared to 2013.
Tmall reported 657 million orders on this year’s Singles’ Day in China…
…think about all that packaging & transport, incl. bullet trains
But these numbers have likely increased with the popularity of China’s “Singles’ Day” – November 11th. This year online shoppers spent RMB10 billion in the first seven minutes after midnight on Alibiba’s Tmall shopping platform. In total Tmall reported more than 657 million orders with a total of more than RMB120 billion.
These orders are sent all across the country. This year around 1 billion parcels will be shipped by rail, double that of 2015. Some even on bullet trains that will stop at 505 cities for express delivery.
So what is all of this ‘costing’ us?
With low recycling rates the majority of packaging is ending up in landfills. In China, less than 20% of packaging waste is recycled. This rate differs for different packaging materials. Cello-tape is one of the trickiest with practically no recycling. Product returns amplify these waste issues. The average order return rate for China’s 2012 Singles’ day was 25%, according to the China Industry Research Network. Then there are water considerations. The total water use of manufacturing paper packaging materials in China was 1.6 billion m3 in 2012 – almost the same as Beijing’s municipal water use of over 20 million people in the same year.
The Oceans are also suffering with 8 million tonnes of plastic waste making its way into it every year, with an annual impact from pollution of ~USD13 billion.
Gifting isn’t bad Santa but the current ‘costs’ to our waters, landfills, soil & oceans need to change…
Less packaging & more recycling will help
I’m not saying that gifting is bad, Santa, just that these ‘costs’ seem too high and need to change. The key is to be more aware of the impact of gifts, which is easy to forget when ordering online so removed from the product or when one is caught up in the excitement of Christmas. There is no quick fix but some solutions are higher quality gifts and if possible less of them. And of course, less packaging and recycle as much as possible, including old gifts or items like smartphones with already high e-waste levels. As for the logistics, some retailers in the UK (Waitrose, John Lewis & others) are greening their deliveries this Christmas with new biomethane fuelled gas-powered trucks.
And if you’re in need of a helper Santa, China may be an option. The country is launching its nation-wide carbon trading market in 2017. Also, environmental inspection teams have been sent to seven more regions including Beijing, Hebei, Shanghai and Guangdong. After the last round of inspections more than 1,500 Chinese officials were called to account for major environmental problems.
So this festive season Santa, please help spread the word and hopefully there will be less stuff.
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