SINGAPORE - It is a common misconception that biodegradable materials are more eco-friendly and should be the obvious choice to make packaging greener.
But biodegradable boxes or cutlery do not magically disintegrate when they are thrown into landfills or chucked away.
These materials need to undergo organic recycling in composting facilities, and Singapore does not have such scaled-up facilities to cater to this yet, said Ms Allison Lim, vice-president of corporate and public affairs for the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, on Friday.
Some materials said to be biodegradable, such as oxo-degradable plastics, will break down into microplastics, she added.
To correct this and other misconceptions, and help producers and retailers cut down on packaging waste and improve its recyclability, a new guide to help companies adopt more sustainable packaging-related practices was announced at the Singapore Manufacturing Federation's Packaging Partnership Programme x Packaging Council of Singapore Conference on Friday.
The project was overseen by Enterprise Singapore. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste and the National Environment Agency are among about 20 organisations that put together the Technical Reference 109 Sustainable Packaging Guiding Framework and Practices, as the document is called.
The seven-chapter e-guide covers the whole lifespan of packaging materials - from the design of greener materials to carrying out end-of-life options, which include reusing and recycling. The guide's content is applicable to all industries.
It will be available for purchase at the Singapore Standards' online shop by the end of October.
The new guide will support a recent scheme which requires companies to submit yearly reports on the amount of packaging they use for their products here, and their plans to reduce, reuse or recycle them.
Under the Mandatory Packaging Reporting scheme, brand owners, manufacturers, importers, and retailers with a gross annual revenue of above $10 million are required to submit their first reports by March.
Packaging Council of Singapore industry group chairman May Yap said some companies told her it was an uphill task to adopt sustainable packaging practices, as green packaging is a broad term and there is little guidance for companies.
The new e-guide aims to fill those gaps.
The guide also explains the trade-offs between reusing materials and recycling them. For example, cartons that are meant to be reused will be made of more than one material, so that they are more durable. But it then becomes trickier to recycle items made of more than one material.
"Hence, a proper analysis of these trade-offs should be conducted to understand if (a company's decision) truly results in a more sustainable packaging with respect to the waste, carbon emissions, and other relevant sustainability metrics," said the organisations involved in the making of the guide.
The guide also shows producers how to make accurate and credible green claims about their packaging and the extent of its recyclability, so that they do not mislead consumers.
Packaging waste is a major waste stream in Singapore, with a third of domestic waste comprising packaging. More than half of the packaging waste in 2021was plastics, but nationally, only 6 per cent of plastic was recycled.
Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor, who spoke at the conference, said: "Adopting sustainable packaging design... also has practical economic advantages for businesses, such as building brand affinity, as consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious."
The creation of the guide comes on the heels of multiple reports and schemes this year targeted at reducing packaging waste, as the country gears up for its Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme on this waste type.
The EPR scheme - due to start no later than 2025 - will make producers, manufacturers and importers responsible for the collection and management of the packaging they put on the market.
Commenting on the new guide, the Singapore Environment Council's executive director Jen Teo said: "The guide is a good starting point for setting the direction on a set of standards that can be applied across sectors. Industry adoption is crucial, though this would mean a rethink and redesign of the product and packaging supply chain."
To that end, brand owners and retailers must be willing to rethink their supply chain and look for packaging suppliers that use more eco-friendly materials, although cost would be an issue, she added.