Tougher eco-labelling rules for 'green' paper products

Singapore experienced the worst haze on record in 2015. The almost-annual occurrence is the result of seasonal fires in Indonesian forests, oil palm estates as well as plantations supplying pulp and paper firms.
Singapore experienced the worst haze on record in 2015. The almost-annual occurrence is the result of seasonal fires in Indonesian forests, oil palm estates as well as plantations supplying pulp and paper firms.ST FILE PHOTO
Mr Chong says consumers can expect to see products certified under the enhanced scheme in the second half of the year.
Mr Chong says consumers can expect to see products certified under the enhanced scheme in the second half of the year.

Pulp and paper firms must do more to show their anti-haze efforts in order to get new label

Consumers shopping for items such as kitchen towels and toilet paper will be better armed to hit companies that contribute to the haze where it hurts: the pocket.

The criteria for an eco-labelling scheme for pulp and paper products are being made more stringent. Companies that want to tout the "green" label have to do more to prove they do not contribute to the miasma that drifts over to Singapore from countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Among other things, pulp and paper firms applying for the certification must improve their peatland management and commit to early detection and suppression of fires when they occur. This includes buying fire-fighting equipment and having a standard operating procedure to assess fire danger ratings daily, said the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) yesterday. The charity administers the 25-year-old Singapore Green Labelling Scheme.

Previously, the companies need only prove that they use sustainable sources and manufacturing processes, and pledge that zero-burning occurs on their plantations.

There are 25 requirements under the new criteria - up from the previous 10. The new scheme is more robust in that it includes upstream measures such as how plantations are managed.

  • Tafep in touch with SEC and 3 ex-staff dismissed by council

  • The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) is in touch with the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and the three senior staff it dismissed on short notice last year, The Straits Times has learnt.

    This comes after the SEC terminated the employment of the trio - executive director Edwin Seah, assistant executive director Gerard Christopher, and communications director Shirley Chua - within three days last November. No reasons were given at that time.

    On Nov 8, Mr Seah, 46, was asked to leave after a month-long suspension. This was despite a disciplinary inquiry clearing him of all charges.

    The charges were never confirmed by the SEC. But ST understands that they include an allegation that Mr Seah did not follow standard operating procedure during an SEC event.

    There were also suspicions that he was behind an anonymous e-mail that was sent to media organisations early last year alleging a conflict of interest, which an SEC review dismissed as non-existent.

    Three days after Mr Seah's termination, Mr Christopher, 43, and Ms Chua, 45, were both asked to leave, too.

    When asked about the case yesterday, SEC chairman Isabella Loh declined to give reasons for the terminations, saying the SEC board did not permit discussions on these issues. She also declined to say who the candidates identified for the executive director role are.

    Mr Seah told ST that he, Mr Christopher and Ms Chua met Tafep last month. During that meeting, Tafep had said it would be writing to the SEC to request a meeting, Mr Seah said. It is not clear if the meeting has taken place.

    The trio had written to the Manpower Ministry, which referred them to Tafep, Mr Seah added.

    Tafep promotes the adoption of fair, responsible and progressive employment practices among employers, employees and the general public.

    It did not respond to requests for comment.

    Audrey Tan

Some 25 pulp and paper products could carry the green label under the old criteria. Applications for the enhanced certification opened yesterday, and the process may take up to six months. The old logo will be phased out next July.

Consumers can expect to see products certified under the enhanced scheme in the second half of the year, said Mr Chong Khai Sin, the council's head of eco-certifications. He was seconded from the National Environment Agency.

Consumer goods giant Kimberly- Clark, which has in its suite of products paper goods such as Scott and Kleenex hand towels and bath tissues, said it will be applying for the revised eco-label for both products.

'Make revised criteria public'

Mr Anuj Lal, group general manager for Asia-Pacific at Kimberly-Clark Professional, said: "We understand consumers today are better educated and more discerning and will support companies that have good environmental business practices."

Ms Zhang Wen, executive director of the volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze, said the revised criteria should be made public to improve transparency and increase consumer confidence.

Seasonal fires in Indonesian forests, oil palm estates and plantations supplying pulp and paper firms cause smoke haze to waft to Singapore almost yearly. In 2015, it experienced the worst haze on record.

The SEC, under its former executive director Edwin Seah, suspended the use of the green label on Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) products - one of the Indonesian firms blamed for the haze. It led to supermarkets pulling APP products off the shelves. SEC chairman Isabella Loh said the growth of environmental consumerism depends on reliable and trustworthy eco-labelling programmes.

Yesterday, a workshop was held for paper-manufacturing companies to help them understand the enhanced criteria. APP told The Straits Times its representatives attended to get an understanding of the new SGLS criteria. It previously said it would try to re-apply for the label.

Civil servant Ong Chun Yeow, 40, lauded the more stringent requirements, saying: "This gives more confidence to eco-conscious consumers..." But he added that the SEC should make the certification process transparent to consumers as well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Tougher eco-labelling rules for 'green' paper products'. Print Edition | Subscribe