If you're not familiar with the online shopping extravaganza that is China's Singles Day, here's the scoop: Every year, young people in China celebrate being single by spending their disposable income in a single day's spree. It happens every Nov. 11 (11/11), with that particular date chosen because the number 1 represents a single individual. The day has become one of the world's biggest online shopping days, putting America's Cyber Monday to shame in terms of dollars spent and packages shipped.
This year, consumers doled out more than $17 billion on Singles Day, with more than 200 countries contributing to the shopping spree, state-run news agency Xinhua reports. Shipping and delivery companies will handle more than 1 billion packages, up 35 percent from last year.
China ranks first globally when it comes to online shopping, accounting for 34 percent of the world’s internet retailing market share, according to a 2016 study on the environmental impact of Singles Day. The study also found that 1 billion packages require nearly 2 billion trees' worth of paper, not to mention the energy and fuel required to produce tape, bubble wrap and packing materials. And as CNN Money reports, most of that packaging is headed for the trash: "Packing tape contains plastic that is non-biodegradable and takes about 100 years to break down. And cardboard boxes with tape stuck to them can't be recycled."
Greenpeace, which calls the day a "disaster for the planet," estimates only 20 percent of packages in China are recycled or reused. Singles Day "encourages people to shop irrationally, and such irrational consumption is costing the environment," Ada Kong, spokesperson for Greenpeace in Beijing, told CNN Money.
Given China's already formidable problem with pollution, Kong called on Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that created Singles Day in 2009, to provide incentives for couriers to collect and reuse cardboard boxes. The company has since set up a pilot program for reusing boxes and packing with bio-degradable materials.