Is AliExpress sustainable? The truth about the popular online store


The era of online shopping is defined by speed and affordability: shoppers want their goods to arrive as quickly as possible at the lowest possible price. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible for companies to offer products that tick both of these boxes in a sustainable way, although they tend to hide this reality well.

AliExpress is an online store known for its endless supply of products, most of which are much cheaper than those on Amazon or similar websites. This has earned it growing popularity, with millions of visitors shopping every month.

But what is it, exactly, and is AliExpress sustainable? Here’s everything you need to know before making a purchase.

What is AliExpress?

AliExpress is an online shopping platform. Founded in China in 2010, the site now includes sellers from all over the world.

Many products are sourced directly from Chinese manufacturers, allowing AliExpress to keep costs extremely low compared to competitors. Just like Amazon, the site offers an aggregation of products and brands on a single platform, all discoverable with a single click.

AliExpress is part of the Alibaba Group, which also operates the Alibaba e-commerce platform. The difference between the two is that Alibaba is specifically designed for wholesale transactions with other businesses, while AliExpress is open to all consumers.

Customers and Shipping Practices

AliExpress is available in 220 different countries, with over 150 million active consumers on the platform. In May 2022, it was predicted that there were up to 401.5 million visits to the website in that month alone. AliExpress has become one of Amazon’s biggest competitors, especially in the huge market of China. Its overseas influence increases every year.

As far as AliExpress is concerned, product arrival times may be much less reliable and efficient than those of competitors. This unreliability means that some sellers don’t deliver products as promised, so you have to be careful where you direct your dollar. In fact, AliExpress itself states that it is customary for its standard shipping to take 15-45 days, which may surprise those who have become accustomed to overnight shipping.

PFA and problematic registrations

Although AliExpress penalizes sellers who don’t meet established standards of conduct, there are still ads on the site that are cause for concern. A 2021 survey conducted by Marketplace found high levels of PFAS in products purchased on AliExpress. According to the EPA, PFAS are chemicals potentially hazardous to human and animal health as well as the environment, many of which break down slowly and build up in systems over time.

Faced with such discoveries, AliExpress reacted quickly by removing the listings, but given the amount of offerings on the site, many problematic products likely went unnoticed. Additionally, product quality tends to be directly correlated to advertised prices, which means that lower price tags lead to items made with cheap and unsustainable materials and therefore a shorter lifespan.

Is AliExpress sustainable?

black and orange card on brown wooden table

AliExpress is not sustainable. It has no consumer-focused sustainability plan to speak of, and there are no accessible ethical standards of conduct requiring factories to source materials sustainably or treat workers fairly. Its product production rate is also harmful to the planet, as it is estimated that over 100 million products are available for purchase.

For the sake of its workers and the planet, we hope to see more regulation and higher standards of conduct from AliExpress in the near future.

Sustainable alternatives to AliExpress

woman standing next to a shelf

1. Avoid impulse buying

Cheap prices and an abundance of items create the perfect circumstances for unnecessary impulse buying – and online marketplaces like AliExpress provide the ultimate venue.

Rather than filling your cart with poorly made products, take a moment and reconsider. You’ll likely find the motivation to seek out the same or similar parts through more sustainable sources, or to buy nothing at all. Which brings us to…

2. Buy less

Pause. Seriously, pause. Do you really need everything in your basket? Or are you a victim of the ever-increasing mentality of our consumer culture?

Take stock of what you use, what you wear, and the benefits you have in your day-to-day life. Junk goods are fun to buy, but if they’re not needed, they’ll probably end up in the landfill sooner than you think. TLDR: Buy less.

3. Buy local (or thrifty!)

Shopping online can make patronizing local businesses a less appealing option, but supporting stores in your neighborhood or city translates to supporting your community.

If you’re shopping for kitchen utensils, home decor, or clothing, take your intentional purchase one step further and pop into a local thrift store, consignment store, or antique store.

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