83 billion pieces of express garbage besieged, why is green recycling so difficult?

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By Liu Xueer
Editor / Chen Fang
Original title: 83 billion pieces of express garbage Besieged
83 billion pieces, a year-on-year increase of 30.8%, which is the transcript of China’s express industry in 2020. As the world’s largest express country, China has once again set a new record.
Just in the past 2020, it can be said that China’s express industry is advancing by leaps and bounds. Its business volume has broken through the two major barriers of 50 billion pieces and 80 billion pieces, and it only took more than three months to go from 50 billion pieces to 80 billion pieces.
This can be called China’s speed. In 2006, China’s express business volume was only 1 billion pieces. Eight years later, it exceeded 10 billion pieces in 2014, and six years later, it exceeded 50 billion pieces. The rapid development of the express industry is mainly due to the rapid development of online shopping. According to the data of 2020, it is equivalent to 1.4 billion people in China, and each person receives about five express mails per month.
However, behind the rapid growth of express business, the problem of garbage pollution is becoming increasingly serious.
Picture / visual China
Take Jinan municipal solid waste treatment center as an example. As early as 2017, aerial photography found that the garbage mountain here is 30 meters high. Several garbage trucks have finished dumping and bulldozing wheels have been used to push all kinds of bags of garbage to the landfill. Occasionally there is wind, plastic bags are blown all over the sky. It is understood that the city receives 4500-5000 tons of garbage every day in Jinan, and even exceeds 5000 tons a few days after the double 11, including a large amount of express packaging garbage.
Up to now, the disposal capacity of express waste has not kept up with the development of express industry. Waste and pollution are happening every day, and even the waste recycling station which goes deep into the capillary of the city can not be solved.
Some people’s livelihood
It seems that the waste recycling station is a bit separated from the city. In the high-rise Beijing North Third Ring Road, the waste recycling station near the street in a community seems to have passed through from the 1990s. The ground is uneven, with several potholes, mottled white walls, and some wall skins have fallen off. There is a wall clock and an empty birdcage on the wall. Newspapers, metal, cartons and so on are piled in the room.
This shop is Qian Jianguo’s territory. Every time someone delivers waste products to the door, he puts them on the scale at the door and weighs them. After calculating the price, he takes out small bills and coins from the aluminum pot beside him and hands them to the other party. Then he reaches out and throws the waste products into the two big trucks at the door, which are respectively placed in cartons and metal.
Qian Jianguo, who is in his 50s this year, has been dealing with waste products for half of his life. He began to engage in waste purchase business more than 20 years ago. A few years ago, he set up this store. Later, he took his wife and son to do it together. He revealed that the store belongs to a recycling company. They get a fixed salary plus commission every month, and a person’s annual income is 40000 yuan or 50000 yuan.
Qian Jianguo is very satisfied with the current market, “the price of cartons has gone up. In the past, it was 1.2-1.3 yuan per kilogram, and the worst time was 2013-2014. It was only fifty or sixty cents, but now it has gone up to 1.5 yuan.” This is of course a good thing for Qian Jianguo, because there are more and more express cartons in recent years, and cartons account for 70% or 80% of their recyclables.
This of course benefits from the rapid development of the express industry. With the increasing number of express parcels in China, the business of recycling cartons is booming. Zhang Yin, a big waste paper farmer, became the richest woman in China by breaking cartons. Born in 1957, she plunged into the waste paper recycling industry in Shenzhen with 30000 yuan after an investigation. She made a lot of money from Hong Kong, and later founded Zhongnan paper In 2006, it surpassed Huang Guangyu and became the first richest woman in China.
The wealth story of recycling carton waste has attracted more than 12 million people. There are cleaning workers and old people who don’t have much to do. Sometimes, in order to grab business, there will be a scramble for sites, some sites and some people picking up paper shells.
“Often the district is engaged in health care to prevent the picking up elderly from picking up rubbish. Before 2010, there were fighting. What I met, what sticks and shovel I saw, and the bottle had not been seen. After fighting, there was less fighting. Generally, it was noisy and scolded. After all, the alarm was not worth it to anyone.” Qian Jianguo said so.
In contrast, Li tietie and his son, who park a big truck to collect waste, are much harder. They contracted part of Wangjing District in Beijing with a renewable resource utilization company. Every day, they drove a truck to the roadside and stayed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for the Spring Festival and rainy and snowy days, almost all year round.
Father and son are from Xinyang, Henan Province. 30-year-old Li tietie has been in this business for five or six years. His wife and children are all in his hometown. A few years ago, he was too busy to take over his father. He also has a sister who works in Yanjiao. Every morning at more than six o’clock, father and son have to get up, wash and drink porridge in a hurry, and then drive from the rental house outside the Sixth Ring Road to the “workplace” of the Fourth Ring Road for an hour.
Cartons also account for 70% or 80% of Li tietie’s and his son’s recyclables. Recently, they lament that there are more and more express cartons, which can almost load hundreds of Jin every day and fill most of the trucks. The remaining space is filled with metal debris, and large bags with plastic bottles are tied on the roof. From time to time, people from nearby waste collection stations or community waste stations come over. Li tietie is generally responsible for weighing, and his father is responsible for stacking the goods. Next to it is a row of leafless trees. The edge of the withered grass in the green belt is built with cement. In his spare time, my father would wash his hands with ice on the grass and sit on the platform to smoke.
For Qian Jianguo and Li tietie’s father and son, recycling gives them a chance to settle down in Beijing. Li tietie’s simple father is quite satisfied, “income is OK, two people a year more than 100000 yuan, better than farming.” Qian Jianguo can see clearly, “this is what we live in. We have no education, no diploma, and we can only do this. It’s not very profitable, but there’s no big risk.”
Express waste disposal costs will reach 4.3 billion
Although the recycling of cartons has raised and even made a number of people rich, not all the garbage generated by the whole express industry can be turned into treasure. Those that can not be recycled can not be reused, and eventually bring serious environmental pollution problems to the society.

The report on China’s express packaging waste jointly released by China Environmental Protection Federation points out that from 2000 to 2018, the increase of express packaging waste in China’s megacities has accounted for 93% of the increase of domestic waste, and in some large cities, this index has soared to 85% – 90%.
Picture / visual China
Behind the rapid increase of express garbage is the sharp increase of the use of express packaging. From 2000 to 2018, express packaging increased from 22600 tons to 9.41 million tons, of which paper accounted for 91% and plastic bags for 9%. What’s the concept? In order to produce, use and treat 9.41 million tons of garbage, 1303 tons of carbon dioxide will be emitted, which needs 710 million trees to absorb.
However, there is much less garbage that can be recycled than expected. It is understood that China’s express packaging mainly carton and plastic bags, carton express packaging accounted for about 44.03%, plastic bags accounted for about 33.5%, about 9.47% of bagged cartons, there are other packaging materials such as woven bags, foam boxes, paper bags, as well as waybills, tapes, filling materials and other auxiliary materials.
In this case, less than 5% of the carton class was reused, 80% of them were recycled by weight, 15% were mixed with domestic waste, and the recycling rate of plastic bags was lower. In addition to the recovery rate of 70%-80% for foam boxes, adhesive tape, shipping documents and plastic bags were all “difficult to recycle”. According to the quality calculation, 99% of the express packaging waste plastics were mixed into domestic waste and burned or buried.
Zhao Shuhui is a staff member of the garbage sorting station in a community in Wangjing, Beijing. Her daily work is to welcome the small tricycle with six garbage cans, and then operate the machine to dump the garbage into the big garbage truck. “There are a lot of plastic bags and express packaging garbage in domestic garbage. There are more than ten tons of garbage every day in several nearby communities.”
In his impression, Zhao Shuhui remembers that the recycle bin no longer accepts all kinds of color and bad plastic bags. “In the past, one kilogram was charged 34 cents, or even 78 cents. Now, only white, thick and clean plastic bags are accepted. One kilogram is one yuan. Only some express garbage bags meet the requirements.”
Cartons and foam boxes are the “golden houses” for recycling people. A small man in a dark grey cotton padded jacket walks around a small garbage truck in the area of the North Third Ring Road 10 kilometers away from the area. The two big woven bags tied behind the car are clean as new, filled with foam boxes and cartons. He says no plastic bags.
Peng Junjie, assistant researcher of urban and Environmental Research Institute of Henan Academy of Social Sciences, once revealed that as a synthetic macromolecular polymer, the biggest harm of plastics is its non degradability, and a small amount of toxic gases produced by combustion, such as toluene and hydrogen chloride, can lead to blindness. In addition, the express garbage that can not be effectively utilized will increase the cost of garbage disposal. According to the growth rate of the express industry, a report estimates that by 2025, China will need to landfill 6.09 million tons of express packaging, and the processing cost will be nearly 4.3 billion yuan.
Why is green recycling so difficult?
Why does express garbage cause so much waste? In essence, it’s a number game to measure the input-output ratio.
For example, the lowest recovery rate of express plastic packaging is not very popular. The recyclable plastic recyclable material was classified as a recyclable plastic waste by Shanghai’s green and green Bureau. The stained plastic bags were blacklisted, and were “not suitable for garbage collection.”
It’s all about cost. CEO recyclable platform for garbage sorting and recycling is Zhang Hongming. It has been revealed that foam plastic can be made into foam plastic bricks after recycling, but it is large and light weight. The cost of logistics and warehousing is high. It is difficult to promote in most parts. The express delivery bag belongs to two grade plastic, which can be refined in theory, but also because of the high cost, it is regarded as a waste material which is not suitable to be included in recyclables.
Zhao Shu will have a deep understanding of this point. Although the white thick and clean plastic bags were released for recycling, she and her companions did not catch a cold, “no weight, a big bag only costs one yuan, who would like to?” At several waste purchase sites visited by AI financial news agency, the owners said that plastic bags were rarely recycled, and most of the plastic products received were plastic bottles.
It is also difficult to ban the waste of express garbage from the source. At a Yuantong Express Station in Wangjing, Beijing, the courier Zhang Feng is putting adhesive tape on a package the size of a microwave oven. Originally, he just wrapped the seal on the outside of the bag, at most three or four times, but he wound it more than ten times. The light green woven bag is covered with earth yellow tape.
“The company doesn’t care about the packing (materials). As long as the packing is good, otherwise it has to bear the responsibility. Generally, it will pack more.” Zhang Feng said. Sure enough, the large and small packages piled up in the site, whether in cartons or plastic bags, are covered by yellowish or transparent tape.
This is not uncommon. Apart from the express outlets, some businesses will overpack in order to reduce the losses caused by bumping, causing a lot of cartons, foam paper and tape to be wasted. Sometimes the volume of the goods is more than doubled.
Some people have proposed the use of green packaging, which has also been specially listed as a guidance by the State Post Office, but the promotion also faces the problem of high cost.
Niu Zhijing, head of rookie green action, once told the media that the price of non tape cartons and environmentally friendly express bags is about 1.5-2 times that of ordinary cartons and express bags, and the price of degradable tape is 5 times that of ordinary tape. It is estimated that if all 83 billion packages in China are green packaged, the additional cost will be 10 billion yuan.
This makes express delivery companies rather difficult. Due to the price war and the relationship between supply and demand, the single ticket income of Yuantong, Shentong and Yunda has been hovering at more than 2 yuan, and the increase of packaging cost is even worse. Zhu Yi, President of Zhongtong express Research Institute, euphemistically said, “low cost green consumables are very important to promote green packaging. After all, the profit of express industry is very thin.”
In December 2020, the general office of the State Council forwarded the “opinions on accelerating the green transformation of express packaging” issued by eight ministries and commissions, proposing that by 2022, 85% of e-commerce express packages will no longer be secondary packaged, and the application scale of recyclable express packages will reach 7 million, and strive to achieve no secondary packaging of e-commerce express packages by 2025 The recyclable scale is up to 10 million.

In order to solve the problem of garbage, government departments are frequently mobilized. In November 2020, Beijing issued the strictest “plastic restriction order”, focusing on the plastic reduction efforts of e-commerce express, catering, takeaway platform, wholesale and retail industries, reducing the use of non degradable disposable plastic products, and actively promoting the classified recycling and recycling of plastic waste.
At the enterprise level, some actions have been taken, such as rookie pushing the “return box plan”, JD putting in the recyclable express box “Qingliu box”, and Suning pushing the recyclable shared express box. In addition, Shunfeng, Zhongtong, Yuantong, Baishi and other express companies have also set up recycling boxes, but they are not satisfied in the implementation process.
A person in charge of an express company once disclosed that the carton recycling plan “did not achieve the expected purpose”. The reason is that both the user and the courier have weak pain points in recycling. The ideal plan is that the user will open the box after receiving the express, and then give it to the courier to take it back for recycling. But many times, the user is not at home, can’t sign on the spot, also can’t open express. For the express brother, time is money. They are busy with delivery and have no time to wait for recovery.
Even if there are fixed outlets for recycling, most users will not drag cartons to the recycling outlets. More often, they’ll just throw it in the trash can downstairs.
At present, express companies, including Shunfeng, Zhongtong, Shentong, Yunda, Yuantong, etc., are enjoying the dividends brought by the rapid development of the industry. The market value of several companies is more than 10 billion yuan, and Shunfeng is more than 400 billion yuan. To some extent, they are big enterprises and should bear more social responsibilities to reduce express garbage. However, obviously, they have not done enough and many people are not satisfied Know the recycling program they’re launching.
Under the consideration of cost, the waste and pollution caused by express waste seems to be borne inexplicably by the waste purchasing station staff at the bottom of the city.
As the sun sets, the last touch of dark yellow disappears in the shadow of the trees in the distance. Li tietie and his son are still waiting for the last late customer. After a while, the old man who was driving for three rounds came. The three men worked together to unload the cartons and bundles of building materials, and exchanged greetings in dialect about the recent cold weather and harvest. With a stack of tickets, the old man drove away, and the father and son jumped into the car and disappeared into the dark blue night under the warm yellow light.
(at the request of the characters, Qian Jianguo, Li tietie, Zhao Shuhui and Zhang Feng are all pseudonyms.)