All That Online Shopping You Do Has A Negative Side-Effect

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Malaysia’s digital economy is one of the main contributors to the country’s economy and it is projected to account for 18.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year.

Realising the growing prospects in e-commerce, the government also established the world’s first Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) in collaboration with Alibaba, and it is expected to double the nation’s e-commerce growth and increase the GDP contribution to RM211 billion by 2020.

As the Christmas holidays are approaching, we assume that many Malaysians are doing some online shopping for themselves and their loved ones right now, but before you scroll and click, consider this sobering fact first.

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According to recycling organisation Repak, packaging waste from online shopping is 'growing by 28% per year' which translates to the equivalent of all waste generated by a town of 16,000 people. While this figure is only for packaging used by online retailers in Ireland alone, imagine the scale of problem to send goods to customers as e-commerce grows exponentially worldwide.

Greenpeace had previously raised the alarm that China’s ‘Singles Day’ deliveries of purchases last year resulted in 130,000 metric tons of packaging waste and they called it a “disaster for the environment.”

Recently, Lazada stated that two million new customers will adopt online shopping in 2018, with the frequency of online shopping to increase by 30% monthly.

So, before you order that irresistible T-shirt or cool IT gadget from your favourite e-commerce site, read this story first.

Recycle, Reuse Or Simply Throw Away Packaging?

Malaysian Digest decided to reach out to some local serial online shoppers to see what they do with their e-commerce packaging waste.

For 24-year-old Aida, it’s the ease and convenience of having your purchase sent you apart from not having to be surrounded by people, wasting petrol or paying for the parking ticket to obtain the item.

As much as she loves to shop online, she does see the danger of packaging waste and as such, she always makes an effort to recycle them but is sometimes faced with difficulty in determining whether the plastic courier packaging can be recycled or not.

“I don’t have trouble with paper packaging because it’s clear that it can be recycled.

“But for plastic, I’m not sure how they categorise the Poslaju plastic envelopes - when they recycle plastic, they actually categorise it according to different sections - so because I’m not sure which section the Poslaju plastic envelopes fall under, I am worried,” she said.

As such, Aida hopes that courier companies and retailers would adopt a more eco-friendly packaging.

“They can also buy it back or offer discounts to customers who submit their packaging back to their headquarters or something along those lines,” she said.

As for Sabariah, 55, the bad road condition and Malaysian drivers in general is a big reason why she does most of her shopping online, which she does twice on a weekly basis.

The frequency of her purchases means that she accumulates a lot of courier packaging and what she does with them is to keep the ones that she wants to reuse and recycle the rest, especially the plastic and paper courier packaging.

“I care what it does to the environment and hence why I put in the extra effort to separate my waste and recycle or reuse them,” she said.

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As she is a proponent of reusing and recycling items, she calls for companies to create more eco-friendly packaging.

“But at the same time, it means nothing if the company themselves do not believe in it so the company should invest more in understanding how these packaging waste are impacting the environment; perhaps partnering up with the Ministry of Environment.

“As for consumers, they need to be educated on how to handle the waste and this is challenging as consumers would ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ – so this is the company’s job in identifying how to encourage consumers to want to manage their waste,” she opined.

On the other hand, Ain, 32, prefers to do online shopping as it saves time and it is convenient due to where she is living and having six children to look after, and she does it at least thrice a month.

“And also because most of the things that I want, which consist of mostly maternity and baby items, can be found online,” she relayed.

When asked whether she has thought about the impact of the courier packages to the environment, Ain confessed that she has never thought about it but said that they do keep the boxes to be reused for her children’s art project and such, while the plastics are just thrown away.

Sharing her thoughts on this matter she said that when it comes down to it, she thinks that most Malaysians might have the same attitude as her because “Malaysians generally do not care about the environment.”

“So the company should first educate their consumers on the dangers of packaging waste. Once they educate them, they can then implement a sustainable practice such as eco-friendly packaging, get promo codes when they recycle at their nearest collection areas and etc.” she suggested.

“Most E-Commerce Businesses Are Not Really Aware Of How Detrimental E-Commerce Packaging Waste Is”

Have you seen this viral video of a customer’s shocked reaction to the amount of packaging that came with his online purchase? All this American man ordered was a bottle of dog shampoo and some doggie treats but the packaging inside stretched to 70 feet long, enough to cover all three storeys of his home including the basement!

In many countries where e-commerce has exploded like in the US, Europe and China, there is growing concern over the mounting packaging waste that online shopping has created.

E-commerce giant Amazon which statistically ships more boxes worldwide than any company on the planet had launched its Give Back Box programme more than a decade ago where consumers are encouraged to reuse the Amazon packaging to donate items to charities with free shipping provided by Amazon.

For courier company DHL, they roughly send out close to a million, if not more, packages to customers nationwide on a yearly basis, excluding failed attempts and international shipment, a DHL employee relayed to us under the condition of anonymity.

Despite the staggering amount, he said that the company has taken steps to become more eco-friendly with their packaging where the company globally switched to bio-degradable packaging in 2008.

“The boxes can be recycled and the plastic packaging is eco-friendly.

“These bags are stronger than the conventional plastic bags, reusable, recyclable and can degrade in as little as two years, provided it is in a proper setting,” he said, while explaining that the plastic bags would leave behind natural elements such as water, carbon dioxide and biomass once it degrades.

“The switch to biodegradable packaging was part of DHL’s worldwide initiative to reduce its environmental footprint across the 220 countries also to address the increasing landfill volume and contributing to the hazardous build-up of methane in landfill sites.”

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On the retailers’ side, a marketing executive and social media planner for an online retailer relayed to us the amount of packages that her company uses throughout the year during normal seasons and normal seasons.

“On a daily basis (from Monday to Friday), we have at least 15 sold goods to be posted out. So:

15 packages x 5 days = 75 packages a week

75 packages x 4 weeks = 300 packages a month

“For Raya season, our wave of orders and purchase covers over as two months, and the number actually triples the average. So:

300 packages x 10 months = 3,000 packages during normal seasons

900 packages x 2 months = 1,800 packages during festive seasons

3,000 + 1,800 = 4,800 AT LEAST PACKAGES A YEAR

As for the packaging of returned items, and even faulty packages, her company adopts a habit of sending it to the collection bin for recycling.

“This isn’t a company practice, but the habit was adopted after a former superior of ours realised how much space these plastic packaging take up when we throw them out, so she literally forced us to recycle,” she said.

Despite her company’s practice, she said that there are currently no efforts to move towards a more eco-friendly packaging to make it more sustainable for the environment.

“I think it’s because most e-commerce businesses are not really aware of how detrimental e-commerce packaging waste is, and I know for a fact that some businesses believe that consumers should be held accountable as they are the end-user,” she shared.

She added that companies in Malaysia would actually be keen to practice a more sustainable method in managing packaging waste if there was a thorough research on the impact of the waste, with complete statistics and facts.

“Additionally, the research should be done locally, because sadly, if it is done overseas people would tend to think that Malaysia is immune to the problem.

“And for the top bosses, they need this information to show to investors, partners and employees – without them, some would actually say the top bosses purposely want to waste money or make our lives miserable,” she chuckled.

“There Must Be Some Accountability On The Part Of E-Commerce Platform Owners”

The national statistics note that an average Malaysian throws 1.5 to 1.7 kg of waste per day, and that becomes a huge number when multiplied by roughly 30 million Malaysians, of which 30 to 40 per cent of the waste discarded is from food waste.

However, Yasmin Rasyid, founder and president of environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) EcoKnights, said that she is not aware of any statistics on the amount of e-commerce packaging waste in Malaysia.

“I can’t really take a guess of how much e-commerce packaging waste is out there but as a business operator, whether Lazada or Fashion Valet, they should know roughly how much they spend on the quantity of packaging products.

005Yasmin Rasyid, founder and president of EcoKnights“I’m actually not surprised if Malaysian companies don’t measure that and it is about time that they do because e-commerce is such a huge industry.

“There must be some accountability on the part of e-commerce platform owners but I don’t have the information nor do I know who is supposed to enforce this is,” she said.

Asked on whether she thinks that the burgeoning e-commerce industry will negatively impact the environment, she thinks that it could impact the environment a lot as a lot of plastic is involved.

“And I have a feeling that some of these plastics are the non-recyclable kind, and there are also paper and cardboard involved.

“I believe that half of the things can be reused or recycled, and I am very sure they can look at innovating to reduce packaging and all that but I don’t know if our companies in Malaysia took that into consideration,” she mused.

However, at the end of the day, companies are not the only ones responsible for the packaging waste as it becomes post-consumer waste once the package is delivered.

“How the consumer deals with it and how aware they are of the importance to recycle is really the question as it is out of the hands of the e-commerce platform already.

“So, on one hand it’s the companies’ responsibility to look at waste minimisation and on the other hand, it is the consumers’ responsibility to say no to excessive packaging or they can recycle the thing,” she said.

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Ideally, individuals should know what can be recycled and what needs to be thrown away so that the amount of waste that individuals discharge per day can be reduced.

“If the number is not reduced, we do not have a choice and need to have landfills, which from my perspective mean robbing people off of land and it is also resource intensive to manage,” she said.

In the 20 years of doing the work that she does, Yasmin said that there is definitely a higher level of awareness among the public and also probably a better percentage of people picking up the recycling habit but said that it is still not mainstream.

So, in the context of e-commerce packaging waste, what can the public as consumers do to manage the amount of packaging waste?

“Be mindful of the packaging that you get in the mail and minimise the need for packaging.

“If there are packaging involved in the items you buy online, make it a conscious effort to recycle,” she said.

Businesses on the other hand, need more guidelines and accountability in this matter.

“Companies should look at being more responsible to reduce consumers’ packaging and make it an opportunity to brand and market themselves as being a more responsible company as it is very advantageous for them,” she said.

-mD

 

Source: Malaysian Digest

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