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Last updated: 2 May 2024

Is Temu Bad for the Environment? An In-depth Examination

Exploring the Environmental Impact of Temu

Temu, a recently launched e-commerce platform, has gained significant traction for its low prices and extensive product selection. However, the environmental impact due to excessive packaging waste, carbon emissions from transportation, and potential overconsumption is a rising concern. 

Its parent company, PDD Holdings, having already captured markets with Pinduoduo, now aims to dominate the e-commerce landscape with Temu, marrying affordability with an extensive product range. This approach has propelled the platform to outshine giants like Amazon and Shein in app downloads, highlighting its quick ascension to prominence in fast-fashion retail.

Questions surface as Temu weaves into daily shopping habits, especially when the company dispatches more than a million packages globally daily.

Data centres are the backbone of e-commerce platforms like Temu, yet they're also among the largest consumers of electricity, much of which comes from non-renewable sources. This consumption contributes to a significant carbon footprint, impacting global warming.

As the digital marketplace continues to expand, the environmental impact of online shopping platforms like Temu becomes a critical topic of discussion. The question "Is Temu Bad For The Environment?

We will explore various aspects of Temu's operations, from its supply chain logistics to its packaging methods and the overall sustainability of its business model. This article provides a comprehensive overview of Temu's environmental footprint by examining relevant statistics, current trends, and factual insights. 

What is Temu exactly?

Temu, launched in August 2022 by PDD Holdings Inc., is a Boston-based e-commerce platform quickly becoming one of the most downloaded shopping apps in the US alone. It offers a wide range of products at very low prices, from electronics to fashion and home essentials. 

Temu connects consumers directly with manufacturers, primarily in China, allowing for significantly reduced prices through economies of scale and minimised intermediary costs.

Understanding Temu's Business Model

Temu's approach to e-commerce is deeply intertwined with its origins and operational strategies. This has quickly escalated to a significant player by connecting buyers directly with manufacturers, predominantly in China. 

It is centred around providing products at near-wholesale prices by leveraging a vast network of over 11 million merchants available through PDD Holdings. This model, known as Next-Gen Manufacturing (NGM), optimises everything from product development to delivery, ensuring cost savings passed on to consumers.

This model allows for significantly reduced prices as it eliminates middlemen, providing goods directly from factories to consumers.

Key Aspects of Temu's Operational Strategy

  1. Direct Shipping from Manufacturers: Temu's products are shipped directly from manufacturers in China, which extends delivery times but drastically cuts costs, enabling them to offer lower prices than traditional retailers.
  2. Heavy Utilisation of Social Media for Promotion: The company employs a unique marketing strategy that incentivises users to promote Temu on their social networks. This increases its visibility and drives user engagement and growth through a gamified experience.
  3. Data-Driven Advertising: A significant part of Temu's strategy involves collecting extensive user data to enhance targeted advertising, increasing sales efficiency.

By examining these facets of Temu's business model, we gain insights into how the company maintains low prices and rapid growth, albeit with significant environmental and ethical challenges that need addressing.

The environmental impact of Temu, highlighting key areas such as carbon emissions from transportation, excessive packaging waste, and the consequences of overconsumption driven by low-cost, high-volume business practices

The Environmental Cost of Temu

Despite its popularity, Temu has faced criticism for its environmental footprint, a common concern for fast fashion and e-commerce entities. The rapid turnover and low-cost nature of products encourage overconsumption, leading to significant waste and increased carbon emissions from transportation.

According to a study by Brightly, online shopping generates 4.8 times more packaging waste than offline shopping. With Temu shipping over 1.6 million parcels daily, packaging waste accumulates rapidly. Individual shipments create more packaging waste than traditional retail. 

Temu emphasises quantity over quality, resulting in poorly made products that deteriorate quickly after just a few uses. This encourages a throwaway culture where consumers buy more, contributing to the waste cycle.

Another aspect is the cross-border shipping model, where products are transported directly from China to consumers worldwide, contributes significantly to carbon emissions. As reported by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 131 billion parcels, or 80% of cross-border e-commerce, are now transported by air, a mode of transportation with a higher carbon footprint than shipping.

The company's operations, heavily reliant on fast fashion, contribute to substantial resource depletion and pollution. Annually, the fast fashion sector, which includes Temu, is responsible for producing approximately 92 million tons of waste and consuming nearly 79 trillion litres of water. This massive consumption exacerbates the strain on our planet's resources, leading to severe environmental degradation.

Additionally, the need for more transparency regarding Temu's sustainability practices and the impact of its rapid growth on the environment is alarming. 

MetricValue
Temu App Downloads (Oct 2023)235 million
Temu's Share of Small Packages to the US (2023)30%
Temu's Parent Company Revenue £14.7 billion
Bar graph showing the monthly global downloads of the Temu app from its launch.
Age GroupAverage Transaction (GBP)Transactions in 2024Estimated Total Spend per Age Group (GBP)
18 to 24£21.322.8£25,776,000
25 to 42£22.963.6£77,472,000
43 to 58£22.964.8£130,176,000
59 and older£212.5£24,240,000
This table reflects the spending behaviour of Temu shoppers across different age groups in 2024

What is the impact of Temu?

Total annual impact: Based on estimates, if Temu maintains its current volume of 1.6 million parcels daily, the company will facilitate over 584 million shipments annually. With each air shipment from China producing roughly 10kg of CO2, Temu's operations could generate over 5.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, not including other sources like packaging waste and energy usage. 

The platform's business model encourages overconsumption, increasing packaging waste and contributing to landfill overflow. 

Impact per day: Temu's 1.6 million daily parcels translate to approximately 16,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from air transportation alone, in addition to vast amounts of packaging waste and other environmental costs.

Impact per usage: Each Temu order contributes to overconsumption, packaging waste, and carbon emissions from manufacturing and air freight transportation. A single Temu purchase can produce over 10kg of CO2, not accounting for the environmental toll of the product itself. The low cost and high volume of transactions encourage more frequent purchases and, consequently, a more significant cumulative environmental impact. 

Top Temu Purchasing Countries

Various sources show Temu has made significant inroads in several key global markets. The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia are among the top consumers of Temu's offerings. This rapid growth has been fueled by Temu's £696 million annual marketing budget. 

Here’s a quick look at Temu's reach and its top purchasing countries:

  1. United States: The United States stands out as Temu's largest market. Over 40% of Temu's total downloads are from a user base that engages with the platform. The appeal in the US can be attributed to Temu's aggressive pricing strategies and vast product range, appealing to a value-driven consumer base.
  2. United Kingdom: Following the US, the UK is Temu's second-largest market, embracing the platform's competitive pricing and variety. British consumers have embraced Temu for its competitive pricing and the convenience of online shopping, reflecting broader e-commerce trends in the region. 
  3. Japan and South Korea: Temu has overtaken Shein in these markets, topping shopping app rankings and achieving millions of downloads within months of launching. This success is driven by effective localisation strategies and marketing investments that resonate with local consumers.
  4. Australia and European Countries: Temu has also made inroads into Australia and various European countries, including France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. They capitalised on the growing demand for fast fashion and affordable household items.  These regions contribute to the platform's global reach and user diversity, supporting Temu's expansion strategy outside traditional Asian and North American markets.
  5. Middle East and Southeast Asia: With recent expansions into Israel and the Philippines, Temu is rapidly gaining ground in these regions. 

Here's a breakdown of the top countries by region

A look the regions where Temu is actively present

While Temu's primary focus has been the North American and European markets, the company has been actively broadening its reach to other regions. 

In July 2023, Temu introduced its services in Japan and South Korea, expanding its Asian footprint. The following month, Chile became the first South American country to gain access to the Temu platform.

This reliance exacerbates the carbon emissions challenge, making it imperative for e-commerce giants to rethink their logistics.

Their rapid expansion can be attributed to their unique business model, Next-Gen Manufacturing, which leverages data-driven insights to match supply with demand efficiently. However, the high volume of shipments contributes to substantial carbon emissions, while the demand for fast fashion accelerates resource depletion and waste production.

Temu, a rapidly growing global e-commerce platform, sends millions of parcels daily. Can you imagine how this type of long-distance shopping impacts our fragile climate? With the absence of this information, the general public is in the dark about what impact shopping on Temu has on our planet.

Statistics, Facts, and Figures About Temu

The e-commerce platform has made waves in the global market due to its competitive pricing and vast product range. However, its impact extends beyond consumer savings, raising concerns about environmental sustainability and carbon footprint. 

Here's a closer look at Temu's statistics and their implications on a global scale. Sourced from different environmental impact studies

  • The US alone has over 82 million active users, a staggering 1266% growth since September 2022.
  • Temu ships an estimated 1.6 million parcels daily, contributing substantially to global packaging waste.
  • Online shopping generates 4.8 times more packaging waste than traditional retail.
  • Despite Temu's claim of planting over 5 million trees, sustainable products represent less than 1% of their offerings. 
  • In Europe, particularly in the UK (7.6 million) and Spain, Temu has gained popularity with millions of downloads.
  • Revenue rapid growth saw its gross merchandise volume soar to approximately £820 million by mid-2023, reflecting the scale at which it operates.
  • Temu appeals to a diverse demographic, with 25-44-year-olds making up the largest section of website visitors at 23%.
  • Temu predominantly sources its products from Asia, with a significant portion from China.
  • Five hundred eighty-one complaints were filed against the company with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) as of July 2023, leading to a C- rating.
  • Ranked as the most downloaded app in the US for several months in 2022 and 2023.
  • In June 2023, Temu's monthly gross merchandise volume skyrocketed to £770 million. 
  • Lack of transparency regarding environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Over 40% of global downloads originate from the US and UK.

Pricing Business Model

Temu's primary draw lies in its shockingly low prices, often undercutting competitors like Amazon by significant margins:

  • Men's running shoes for under £7.70.
  • Drill brush set for £4.62. 

Temu achieves these prices by cutting out middlemen and shipping directly from manufacturers in China to consumers. 

Is Temu Ethical?

The e-commerce platform has sparked a global debate over its ethical standing. Recent scrutiny by US lawmakers has brought to light serious ethical concerns regarding their business practices, particularly the risk of forced labour in its supply chain. A US Congressional Report from June 2023 highlighted an "extremely high risk" of products being sourced from regions like Xinjiang, known for human rights violations.

Temu's Ethical Controversies

  • Labour Practices: Reports suggest Temu's products may come from regions with forced labour. This raises red flags about the ethical sourcing of their goods.
  • Environmental Impact: Temu's business model promotes overconsumption, contributing to waste and pollution. The environmental cost of fast goods production is significant. Despite claims of carbon-neutral deliveries, they have yet to publicly disclose the specifics of these environmental efforts, adding to the opacity surrounding its sustainability initiatives.
  • Data Privacy: Allegations of Temu spying on users and accessing private data without consent have led to lawsuits. A class action lawsuit accuses the company of spying on its customers by using malware and spyware within its app. This undermines trust and raises serious privacy concerns for consumers.
  • Misleading Ethical Claims: Temu's website promotes ethical and sustainable practices, yet its association with Pinduoduo Inc., known for questionable labour practices and environmental impacts, contradicts these claims. This manipulation of public perception through potentially deceptive practices casts a shadow over Temu's ethical stance.
  • Financial Implications: While appealing to consumers, their aggressive pricing strategy threatens small businesses and raises questions about the sustainability of such low-cost operations. 

Is Temu Sustainable?

Currently, the answer is no. The business model promotes overconsumption due to its aggressive marketing of low-priced items, leading to excessive waste and increased landfill contributions. Moreover, using cheap materials often results in quickly discarded products, exacerbating compounding waste issues​. 

Investigations have highlighted that Temu needs to adequately audit its suppliers to ensure adherence to ethical standards, particularly those preventing forced labour.

In a world where consumer choices can drive significant change, it's crucial for platforms like Temu to adopt sustainable practices. Sustainability isn't just about being green; it's about ensuring a viable future for our planet and its inhabitants. 

Despite claims of sustainability efforts, Temu must provide more public information on its actual environmental and social governance (ESG) actions. This lack of transparency raises questions about the authenticity of its sustainability claims. The term "greenwashing" appears relevant here, as Temu's public relations efforts prioritise appearances over substantial environmental action​. 

However, as the demand for greener practices grows, there is a significant opportunity for Temu to further its sustainability efforts by incorporating renewable energy sources into its operations. For an e-commerce giant like Temu, transitioning to renewable energy aligns with environmental goals and positions the company as a leader in sustainable business practices.

One typical example would be on-site renewable energy generation, which can be done by installing solar panels at their warehouses. This on-site generation can significantly reduce the company's reliance on fossil fuels for electricity, lowering its carbon footprint. It could also be said that the company can encourage or even require its partners to adopt renewable energy practices.

This approach supports the growth of renewable energy and provides Temu with cost predictability.

Can Temu Products Be Recycled?

Many products sold on Temu are made from plastics and synthetic fibres, which are difficult to recycle. For instance, acrylic, commonly used in inexpensive clothing and accessories, is a form of plastic that can take hundreds of years to decompose and is rarely recycled effectively.

The company's use of materials often associated with fast fashion and consumer electronics suggests a complex recycling scenario.

Environmental Impact Compared to Everyday Things

How does Temu's CO2 level stack up against the items we use most often?

To put this into perspective, let's compare Temu's carbon footprint to everyday items and activities that are part of our daily lives.

While exact figures for Temu's CO2 emissions per package are not public, the company has initiated carbon offset programs to mitigate its impact. In comparison, commuting or using household appliances often results in significant carbon emissions.

However, air freight, which Temu relies on heavily, emits approximately 50 times more CO2 for a 1 kg package than sea freight. The sheer volume of deliveries compounds this high carbon shipping cost. The environmental impact is significant, especially compared to everyday activities contributing to our carbon footprint.

Let's consider the carbon footprint of everyday daily activities:

  • Driving a car: The average passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 per mile.
  • Eating meat: A single kilogram of beef can be responsible for up to 27 kg of CO2 emissions.
  • Using electricity: The average household's annual electricity use emits about 4,600 kg of CO2.  This translates to one kilowatt-hour of electricity (UK average) 0.233 kg CO2. 
  • Video Streaming: Watching an hour of video streaming only emits about 55g of CO2, making it a relatively low-impact activity compared to others

CO2 Emissions

ActivityCO2 Emissions (kg)
Temu parcel (air freight)50x more than sea freight per kg
Temu Dress 6.3 kg
Plastic Bottle 0.03 kg
Cheeseburger 3.1 kg
1 Mile by Car 0.4 kg
1 Hour TV0.07 kg
Household electricity (annual)4,600 kg

This data reveals Temu's substantial environmental impact. Producing a single dress emits over 200 times more CO2 than a plastic bottle. Even a cheeseburger has half the emissions of a Temu garment. Driving one mile in a car produces 15 times less CO2 than manufacturing a Temu dress.

Note that in terms of their CO2, the fashion industry alone, a significant part of Temu's offerings, is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions. This is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

What Are Alternatives to Temu?

Temu has several alternatives for affordable online shopping. Some popular options include:

  1. Amazon: Boasts fast shipping, a vast product range, and exceptional customer service. Amazon Prime members enjoy added benefits.
  2. AliExpress: A marketplace connecting buyers with sellers worldwide, providing affordable products and features like Flash Deals.
  3. Rakuten: An e-commerce site with cashback offers and discounts on various products from multiple retailers.
  4. Flipp: An app aggregating weekly ads and deals from local retailers, helping users find the best prices.
  5. eBay: Provides a unique platform for new and used items, allowing for product bidding. It's great for finding deals and rare items.
  6. Etsy Stands out for handmade, vintage, and unique goods. It supports small businesses and artisans, making it ideal for unique finds.
  7. Wish: Known for its extremely low prices, it offers a gamified shopping experience with daily giveaways and Blitz Buy deals, making it an engaging alternative to Temu.

Is Temu Better Than Its Alternatives?

While Temu offers low prices and a broad selection of products, its alternatives often excel in customer protection, product quality, and niche offerings. Platforms like AliExpress provide competitive pricing with benefits such as free shipping and buyer protection, which might appeal more to consumers looking for value beyond low prices​. 

However, when it comes to product quality, customer service, and shipping times, some alternatives offer better experiences. For instance, Amazon is known for its fast delivery and customer service, while eBay provides a platform for unique and second-hand items. 

Temu may present cost savings, but established competitors balance affordability and dependability better.  Remember, actual value encompasses more than just the initial price tag.

Comparisons Between Temu and Other

PlatformAverage Shipping Time (days)Average Price RangeProduct VarietyCustomer Service RatingEnvironmental Impact
Temu5-251-10HighLowHigh
Amazon1-4 (with Prime)5 - 100Very HighHighModerate
eBay3-71-100Very HighHighLow
Wish5-201-20HighModerateModerate
AliExpress10-301-50HighModerateHigh

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