The Sunday Times says

Time to send waste packing

The Government's announcement that it would legislate efforts requiring companies to use sustainable resources in packaging and to reduce packaging waste within the next three to five years was inevitable. After the dismal results after almost a decade of trying to persuade firms to do so voluntarily, push had to come to shove. Last year, the reduction was less than 1 per cent of the annual amount of packaging waste which accounts for a chunk (one third) of the waste Singaporeans produce. Legislation is timely because such wastage is easier to tackle once the right policy is in place compared, for instance, to reducing wastage caused by human consumption.

The Government is also right to start with the easier target: producers. Currently, cost-efficiency encourages wastage. When firms need not bear the cost of disposing packaging waste, most plan their packaging for one-time usage rather than for repeats. Legislation should nudge firms towards re-using and recycling their packaging, which can trigger significant reductions in wastage. Incentives, especially for smaller, cost-sensitive firms, can help spur moves in this direction.

But legislation as the mandatory arm of policy is half the answer. The harder part is to convince consumers to take personal ownership of packaging waste reduction and to build a culture of collective responsibility. Education and publicity are vital tools. But as the nation's record in crafting an anti-litter attitude has shown, incentivising consumers for acting responsibly and disincentivising them when they don't are measures one must also consider adopting.

It will take time before firms and consumers replace the current use-and-dispose practices with a virtuous cycle - a green and sustainable economy where people re-use and recycle things habitually and reduce wastage to its very least. The quicker citizens make a start, the better.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'Time to send waste packing'. Print Edition | Subscribe