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Climate Adaptation

China’s Online Shopping Addiction Is Killing Its Green Packaging Drive

The e-commerce industry is trying to reduce plastic waste from the millions of packages it ships every day.

Employees pack orders at Alibaba’s logistics arm Cainiao in Wuxi ahead of the Singles' Day shopping extravaganza this year.

Employees pack orders at Alibaba’s logistics arm Cainiao in Wuxi ahead of the Singles' Day shopping extravaganza this year.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

If you worry about all the waste generated by the annual rush of holiday shopping and gift giving, it’s nothing compared to the mountains of discarded packaging that comes from a single event in China.

On Nov. 11 each year, the world’s biggest consumer market goes into overdrive as e-commerce giants like Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. and JD.com Inc. lure shoppers with huge bargains during the Singles’ Day bonanza. Alibaba reported almost 500 billion yuan ($76 billion) of sales this year, nearly four times U.S. Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending combined. On its Tmall platform, transactions reached a peak when 583,000 orders were made in a single second.