How to achieve green and circular express packaging

  ——Research on construction of low-value recyclables management system

  【research report】

  Editor's note

  As the concept of ecological civilization takes root in the hearts of the people, people are becoming more aware of the close connection between the small things around them and environmental protection.

The impact of express packaging waste on the environment is such an important matter that seems to be taken for granted, but in fact requires urgent attention.

  The business volume of my country's express service industry has ranked first in the world for 7 consecutive years and has maintained a rapid growth trend.

Recently, real-time monitoring data from the State Post Bureau showed that as of June 1, my country's express delivery business volume in 2021 has exceeded 40 billion pieces, which is close to the level of 2017.

From March 12, my country’s first special departmental regulation on express packaging management, the "Management Measures for Mail Express Packaging", came into effect; the newly revised "Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Wastes" that came into effect in September 2020 also Courier packaging has made relevant regulations.

  What is the current status of express packaging waste management, what "blocks" are facing, and how should we effectively promote it?

At the time when another round of e-commerce shopping boom is about to set off, let us find the answer from the research report of think tank experts, and take the "Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai Free Shipping Area" where the express industry is developed as an example, to calculate the "environmental saving" of express packaging. Account".

  For most people, online shopping is an essential part of life.

Correspondingly, in recent years, the amount of express packaging waste has grown rapidly, becoming the primary increase in urban household waste and an important source of environmental pollution.

According to preliminary estimates, my country’s express delivery industry consumes more than 9 million tons of paper waste and 1.8 million tons of plastic waste each year, showing a rapid growth trend.

In very large cities, the increase in express packaging waste has accounted for 93% of the increase in domestic waste, and the increase is not decreasing.

For a period of time in the future, my country's express delivery industry will continue to maintain a rapid growth trend, and the output of express packaging waste will also continue to increase, which will bring severe challenges to the treatment of urban domestic waste.

  Express packaging belongs to low-value recyclables in domestic waste.

Such items have a certain recycling value, but due to high recycling costs and insufficient profit margins, it is impossible to rely solely on market forces to achieve effective recycling and reuse. It is necessary to build a large-scale and systematic governance system to supplement the recycling process. Only in the link of loss of interest can the "last 100 meters" of garbage classification be unblocked.

At present, there is an urgent need to build a long-term governance mechanism for low-value recyclables such as express packaging, and through the "green and circular" transformation of express packaging to help fight the battle against pollution.

Current situation: the reduction has achieved certain results, and the recycling problem needs to be solved

In the early morning of June 10, Xiao Wu, a courier in Beijing, began to collect and deliver couriers in the community.

"Now when we pack express items, we always pay attention to using narrower tape, and on the basis of ensuring tight packaging, we can wrap a few less tapes to reduce tape waste. When we pack express delivery, we also use recyclable transit bags, which are better than disposable plastic woven bags. It’s more environmentally friendly. More and more users are choosing electronic waybills, which makes our work easier and saves paper on the waybills." Xiao Wu felt that in recent years, especially since the end of last year, whether it is a courier company or an ordinary householder , The awareness of conservation and environmental protection has been enhanced a lot.

Innovative exploration and greening have achieved initial results.

In December 2020, the Office of the State Council forwarded the "Opinions on Accelerating the Green Transformation of Express Packaging" by the National Development and Reform Commission and other departments, and proposed that by 2022, a unified, standardized and binding express green packaging standard system will be established, and e-commerce express mail will no longer The proportion of secondary packaging reached 85%, the application scale of recyclable express packaging reached 7 million, and the level of standardization, greening and recycling of express packaging was significantly improved.

By 2025, express packaging will basically achieve a green transformation.

  In order to reduce the use of tape, Hainan Post has specially developed a reusable full-folding tape-free packaging box.

It replaces the five-layer double-corrugated cardboard box with a three-layer single-corrugated cardboard box, and does not require adhesive tape, glue, nails and other fixing materials when used.

However, the cost of such cartons has also risen: a single box is 0.5 to 1 yuan more expensive than before.

  With the attention of relevant departments, through the promotion of electronic waybills, prohibition of excessive express packaging, and implementation of express packaging recycling programs, the reduction and greening of express packaging has achieved certain results.

However, it should also be noted that the low recycling rate of express packaging and the difficulty of recycling are still the difficulties to be solved in the next stage.

Corrugated boxes and plastic bags account for nearly 80% of the total.

From the perspective of packaging composition, the current express packaging in my country is mainly corrugated boxes and plastic bags.

According to the "Research Report on the Characteristics and Management Status of Express Packaging Waste in China", express packaging mainly includes corrugated boxes (44.03%), plastic bags (33.5%), bagged cartons (9.47%), and document bags (5.05%) Wait.

  The average weight of a corrugated box is about 329 grams, of which corrugated paper accounts for 92.4%, other indirect packaging materials such as filled plastic film account for 5.5%, express waybills account for 1.3%, and plastic plastic bags account for 0.8%.

In 2018, my country's corrugated paper consumption reached 8.233 million tons. If it is not controlled, the resources and environment will face tremendous pressure.

In 2018, my country consumed about 851,800 tons of plastic packaging materials. 73% of plastic packaging is directly recycled from waste materials, showing gray or black; 25.6% of plastic packaging is produced from a mixture of waste and a small amount of virgin materials, generally yellow-green; and completely Pure white express packaging plastic bags produced from virgin materials (PP or PE, etc.) accounted for only 1.5%.

Most of the waste materials are of unknown origin, and environmental pollution will also be generated during the production process.

In 2020, the state issued relevant regulations, and the "plastic restriction order" was upgraded to a "plastic ban order", which on the one hand reduced the use of plastic packaging, and on the other hand stimulated the express industry's demand for corrugated paper.

It is estimated that by 2025, the potential demand for paper express packaging will increase by 16.59 billion pieces. The challenges and pressures facing my country's resources and environment cannot be underestimated.

The recycling rate is low, and the overall recycling rate is less than 20%.

After the express packaging is discarded, the packaging boxes can be partially recycled, but the recycling rate is less than 50%; while the recycling rate of plastic components such as fillers and tapes in the express packaging is almost zero, making the overall recycling rate of express packaging less than 20%.

  Taking 2018 as an example, my country's express delivery industry consumed a total of 8.373 million tons of paper packaging materials, only about 340,800 tons of corrugated boxes were reused, and about 6.889 million tons of express packaging waste paper was recycled by mobile recyclers.

In other words, only 4% of the cartons are directly reused, the remaining 82.3% need to be downgraded to waste reproduction, and about 15% are mixed into the domestic waste removal system due to pollution damage.

  Due to the difficulty of recycling, the high cost of recycling, and the insufficient profit of recycled materials, the recycling rate of plastic foam boxes is only 70% to 80%.

About 95% of the express plastic packaging bags are used because of the low recycling price, and the plastic tape and the waybill are pasted. The existing recycling channels cannot be processed, and they will eventually be incinerated or landfilled together with domestic waste.

Some auxiliary packaging materials are also facing the dilemma of large usage and low recycling rate.

For example, for marketing considerations or to avoid damage during transportation, merchants tend to use large cartons for packaging, and add a large amount of plastic filling materials such as bubble bags and bubble columns to the package, and excessive use of tape to wrap the packaging.

Most of these auxiliary filling materials have entered the domestic garbage, which brings great pressure to the sanitation system.

Bottleneck: Front-end classification is difficult to implement, and the recycling value chain is defective

The courier Xiao Zhang told the author: “Now, some customers will take the initiative to pack in the old box on hand when sending the express. But at present, more residents still throw the express package directly into the trash.”

Ms. Xiao, who lives in Xicheng District, Beijing, is an "online shopping expert". She is a little bit distressed by the complexity of express packaging: "I often buy a small fist-sized object, but receive a large box. Take it apart. , There is a thick layer of plastic film and several layers of plastic filler. In fact, a little reinforcement is enough, so much packaging is unnecessary."

Ms. Chen is a member of the CPPCC at a prefecture level in the "Jiangsu-Zhejiang-Shanghai Free Shipping Area".

During the two sessions of the city this year, her proposal was about the treatment of express packaging waste.

In the community where she lives, although there are garbage sorting facilities, there is no dedicated person to recycle the express packaging waste, and the residents also lack the awareness of special sorting for this.

"During the visit, I found that this is not a separate problem in our community. The cost of recycling express packaging is high, and the storage space in the warehouse is limited. After recycling, it is often impossible to properly dispose of it. Many cartons can only be discarded as trash." She thought of these things. Written into the proposal, it is recommended to improve policies and regulations, improve the express packaging standard system and recycling system, and cultivate the public's green consumption habits.

  From the perspective of the recovery of express packaging waste, there is still much room for improvement in my country's existing renewable resource recovery system.

Green packaging has insufficient compulsory hands and it is difficult to standardize express packaging from the source.

A sound legal system can effectively restrain the disorderly behavior of market competition and is an important backing for the smooth progress of express packaging recycling.

As my country's green packaging laws are not yet complete, it has restrained the development of green technology innovation to a certain extent.

Currently, a relatively complete legal system has not yet been formed in the entire life cycle of express packaging design, production, consumption, and resource utilization.

  First, there are few normative laws, and the existing relevant laws and regulations are mostly programmatic and principled, and do not provide specific content such as how to classify. The promotion of the development of green packaging in the express industry is still insufficient; secondly, some non-standards Legal documents lack uniformity and effectiveness. They lack universality and operability for solving the current problems of express packaging materials selection and recycling, and it is difficult to strictly regulate express packaging from the source of production.

The recycling system is not sound enough, and the recycling value chain is missing.

The complete express packaging recycling system includes screening, distributing, and categorizing recycled express packaging, and entering the two channels of direct use and recycling according to the degree of packaging integrity.

  There are mainly two modes in the recycling phase: one is direct recycling by consumers.

After the consumers with the concept of recycling sign for the express delivery, the express package will be placed on a fixed recycling station, and the express station staff will handle it in a centralized manner.

The other is that after consumers dispose of express packaging as domestic waste, the recycling unit specifically recycles it.

The survey shows that most consumers currently have little awareness of the classification of express packaging and can only rely on special recycling entities for recycling.

At present, my country lacks the main body responsible for the recycling of express packaging, and most of them rely on the personnel of the express station. When their tasks are complicated and there is no time to take care of them, the recycling of express packaging will be greatly affected.

  In the post-processing stage of express packaging, the processing center judges whether it should be repaired or recycled according to the degree of damage to the packaging.

Due to problems such as excessive packaging and pasting of receipts, the possibility of repair and reuse is low, and most of the packaging materials are treated in a harmless manner.

It is worth noting that the prices of crude oil and other commodities have fallen in recent years, which has led to the decline in the prices of low-value recyclables such as plastics, glass, and waste paper. Not only are ordinary residents unwilling to collect and sort them, but even scavengers treat them. The waste lacks interest, and a large number of low-value-added express packages can only be mixed with municipal domestic waste and processed together.

Recommendation: Focus on convenience and efficiency, rebuild the recycling system

Since March 12 this year, the "Administrative Measures for the Packaging of Express Mail" has been formally implemented.

Since then, implementation actions have been launched across the country.

For example, the Beijing Postal Administration has continued to carry out special management work on excessive packaging and random packaging of express mail. It has tried to form a complete recycling system chain by printing and issuing special management plans, supervising and urging delivery companies to improve the operating environment, and implementing main responsibilities. The nation has taken the lead in applying the "Administrative Measures on the Packaging of Express Mails" to investigate and deal with the illegal activities of shipping companies.

At a postal office in Xicheng District, Beijing, after an uncle took the courier, he told the staff that he wanted to leave the cartons here.

Through the guidance of the staff, the uncle put the basically intact carton to the carton recycling place.

It is not uncommon in Beijing to make it convenient for citizens to participate in the recycling of express packaging waste.

According to statistics, as of the end of December 2019, the utilization rate of Beijing express electronic waybills was 99%, 81% of e-commerce express mails were no longer repackaged, the utilization rate of circulating transit bags reached 76%, and the coverage rate of environmentally friendly packaging boxes in postal business outlets was 100. %, more than 1,600 postal and express delivery outlets have installed packaging waste recycling devices.

  Based on the long-term needs of green development, my country should focus on the pain points and difficulties in the recycling of low-value recyclables such as express packaging and pilot projects to build a comprehensive recycling policy system, through policy innovation, mechanism innovation, model innovation, technological innovation, and classification Formulate compulsory measures to improve the recycling quality of express packaging, give full play to the government's leading functions, strengthen the dominant position of enterprises, and realize the formal management and market-oriented drive of express packaging recycling.

Establish and improve the top-level design of green express packaging, and explore the extended system of producer responsibility.

Focus on the whole life cycle, do a top-level design from the level of laws and regulations, formulate express packaging supervision standards and implementation systems.

Specifically, it can include: stipulating material usage standards from the packaging source to improve the environmental protection level of packaging; requiring merchants to uniformly use environmentally-friendly materials and express packaging made of degradable materials; establishing an information database of express packaging manufacturers that meet the standards; introducing the responsibility of express packaging manufacturers Extend the system, with express delivery companies as the main body, assume the responsibility of product recovery, recycling and final disposal; companies promote green design and design easy-to-recycle express packaging; strengthen market access management and increase the number of companies that do not meet the green express packaging standards Crack down, strictly control the source of materials, and prevent waste materials of unknown origin from entering the express packaging production process.

Introduce a deposit return system and build an efficient and coordinated express packaging recovery system.

Carton is the most important type in express packaging, and its recycling process has the characteristics of easy identification of categories, high frequency of production, and high socialization and integration costs.

The "Internet +" new recycling platform can be used to build a deposit-based recycling system to achieve efficient and safe recycling of cartons, and open a breakthrough in the recycling of low-value recyclables.

The specific method is as follows: Consumers pay a certain amount of deposit to the express company when purchasing express delivery, and the corresponding deposit is paid to the express company when the merchant purchases cartons.

When the consumer sends the waste carton to the express recycling machine or manual collection point, the deposit settlement center will deduct the deposit of the express carton from the associated account of the express company and return it to the consumer.

This can promote the separation of express packaging from domestic waste and enter the closed-loop and safe recycling channel to achieve secondary recycling.

Introduced a subsidy system for recycling low-value recyclables to unblock the chain of recycling benefits.

The government is the main beneficiary of the externalization of waste recycling and disposal benefits. It should study and formulate urban low-value recyclables subsidy accounting policies that follow the operating rules of the socialist market economy, and further implement low-value recyclables subsidies to form a long-term operation of recycling processing mechanism.

For example, establish a catalog of low-value recyclables, calculate the full life cycle cost of different types of low-value recyclables, determine subsidy standards, explore the establishment of a three-level financial guarantee for provinces and municipalities; make full use of the information platform to explore "Internet + recycling" path.

According to the type, quantity, and value of low-value recyclables that are collected daily on the platform, calculate the subsidies that enterprises should enjoy, expand the profit margin of the express packaging recycling system, consolidate the effectiveness of recycling, and mobilize the enthusiasm of merchants and express companies to promote green packaging ; Promote the effective connection between domestic waste classification and express packaging resource recovery, and create a recycling system for low-value recyclables from "source classification" to "end resource utilization".

  (Author: Du Huanzheng, member of the Expert Advisory Committee of the National Joint Conference on the Development of Circular Economy, researcher of Shanghai Xi Jinping Research Center for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era, Director of the Institute of Circular Economy of Tongji University; Fan Yanan and Xu Yuanrong are both Marx of Tongji University Ph.D student of the School of Doctrine; Shuwei Song is a master student of the School)