The Truth About AliExpress: How Sustainable Is the Online Marketplace?

"Sometimes it feels like we have an overwhelming amount of decisions to be making when it comes to online shopping. Let's take a look at how e-commerce giant AliExpress holds up in terms of sustainability."

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

AliExpress is an online store that’s known for its endless amount of products, most of which are much cheaper than those on Amazon or similar websites. That has caused it to rise in 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 around the world.

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

AliExpress is owned by the Alibaba Group, which also runs the Alibaba e-commerce platform. The difference between the two is that Alibaba is made for wholesale transactions with other businesses specifically, while AliExpress is open to all consumers.

Consumer Base and Shipping Practices

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

When it comes to AliExpress, product arrival times can be much less reliable and efficient when compared to competitors. This lack of reliability means that some sellers do not deliver products as promised, so you have to be cautious when directing your dollar. In fact, AliExpress itself states that it is customary for its standard shipping to take 15 to 45 days, which may come as a surprise to those who have become accustomed to overnight shipping.

PFAs and Problematic Listings

While AliExpress does penalize those sellers not following set standards of conduct, there are still listings on the site that are cause for concern. A 2021 investigation by Marketplace found elevated levels of PFAS in products purchased from AliExpress. According to the EPA, PFAS are chemicals that are potentially hazardous to human and animal health as well as the environment, many breaking down slowly and building up in systems over time.

When confronted with such findings, AliExpress responded promptly by removing the listings—but given the sheer amount of offerings on the site, many problematic products have likely gone unnoticed. In addition, product quality tends to correlate directly with the prices touted, meaning that lower price tags lead to items made with cheap, non-durable materials and thus a lower lifespan.

Is AliExpress Sustainable?

black and orange card on brown wooden table

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

For the sake of its workers and for 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 beside shelf

1. Avoid Impulse Buying

Cheap prices and an abundance of items create the ideal circumstances for an unnecessary impulse purchase—and online marketplaces like AliExpress offer the ultimate venue.

Rather than filling your cart with poorly-made products, take a beat and reconsider. You’ll likely find the motivation to track the same or similar pieces down through more sustainable sources, or not buy anything at all. Which brings us to…

2. Buy Less

Pause. Seriously, pause. Do you really need whatever’s in your cart? Or are you a victim of the ever-more mentality of our consumer culture?

Take stock of what you use, what you wear, and what benefits you to have on-hand in your day-to-day life. Superfluous goods are fun to buy, but if they’re unnecessary they will likely end up in the landfill sooner than you think. TLDR: Buy less.

3. Shop Local (or Thrift!)

Online shopping may make patronizing local businesses seem like a less appealing option, but supporting shops in your neighborhood or city translates to supporting your community.

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

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Sometimes it feels like we have an overwhelming amount of decisions to be making when it comes to online shopping. Let's take a look at how e-commerce giant AliExpress holds up in terms of sustainability.

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