120,000 mobile phones sold in a minute, 1 billion things sold in one day - this is the reality of Singles' Day. It's the world’s biggest online shopping day and it's happening on November 11.  

Created by the Chinese company, Alibaba, in 2009, Singles' Day is now a big event for Chinese and international spenders, where online consumers participate in a massive 24-hour shopping spree. They are on track to top last year's sales of $17.8 billion.

That's more than the total e-commerce sales of Brazil in 2016. Alibaba founder Jack Ma refers to Singles' Day as a “Global Shopping Festival” and retailers around the world are quickly picking up on the trend.

But it's intensifying the worst aspects of consumerism; environmental damage, unnecessary spending, wasteful behaviour and dissatisfaction for shoppers.

Online shopping amplifies environmental costs of consumption

The production of the goods sold on Singles' Day use natural resources and pollute our environment. Fashion alone accounts for 28.5 % of the sales and has a direct impact on the local environment. 20% of rivers and lakes in China have been contaminated as a result of dying, printing, and treatment from the textile industry.

 “Singles' Day is a catastrophe for the environment. Not only does it create huge amounts of waste, but the CO2 emissions from manufacturing, packaging, and shipping are enormous,” says Greenpeace East Asia toxics campaigner, Nie Li.

Details from China indicate that:

  • Singles' Day apparel sales produced 258,000 tonnes CO2 emissions. We would need 2.58 million trees to absorb it all. 

  • The use of cell phones and computers to place online orders produced 3.22 million tonnes of CO2 in 2015.

  • The recycling rate of packaging materials remains low. Less than 10% of paper, cardboard and plastic packaging used in delivery are recycled.

From the shelves directly into waste

The aggressive 'Buy NOW' marketing that accompanies Singles' Days promotions amplifies our impulse to buy. People “keep getting duped, but because the items are so cheap, they don’t mind and just keep buying and buying, fuelling a vicious circle,” says Greenpeace campaigner Walton Li from Greenpeace Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Shopper © Sam Fong 2015 Greenpeace Hong Kong Shopper, 2015

In a survey commissioned by Greenpeace Hong Kong, the most cited reasons for throwing away unused goods from Singles' Day shopping sprees were poor quality, wrong fit and the product looking different from what shoppers expected.

One in every four fashion items that Hongkongers buy online are not worn more than twice before being thrown away. All of this is results in an estimated 5.8 million garments being disposed every year.

Walton Li: “Sure, the cost of regret is low, but the environment is footing the bill, and those costs are high.”

Shopping doesn't make us happy

Evidence suggests that shopping is not leading to real happiness. It's a way to kill time, relieve stress, and avoid boredom. But the cheap thrill of buying something new dies away pretty fast. Half of the people surveyed said that the immediate excitement of a shopping spree lasted less than a day.

A new survey, commissioned by Greenpeace, of the shopping habits of people in Europe and Asia             Results from a Greenpeace commissioned survey on the shopping habits of people in Europe and Asia 

If you are tempted to buy something on Singles' Day, think of the consequences. Shopping is done in an instant, but the consequences for our beautiful planet linger. 

Why not MAKE SMTHNG instead of going shopping?


 

Lu Yen Roloff is the communications lead for the Detox my Fashion campaign.