Firms will have to submit annual reports on details of the packaging they produce, as well as their plans to reduce the resulting waste, under a law that will be enacted in the next three to five years.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli announced this yesterday, noting that it will take the Singapore Packaging Agreement, a non-binding initiative where 171 companies have pledged to reduce their packaging waste, a step further.
He commended the signatories of the agreement, whose efforts since 2007 have reduced packaging waste by about 32,000 tonnes, amounting to over $75 million in material costs. "However, the amount of packaging waste reduced - about 6,300 tonnes per year - constitutes less than 1 per cent of the annual amount of packaging waste disposed of in Singapore," he said.
Each year, a third of all household waste here is made up of packaging material. Last year, this was around 580,000 tonnes, enough to fill 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Reacting to the upcoming law, Mr Sunny Koh, deputy president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, said one concern is that it could turn off overseas businesses which export to Singapore.
"We need to look at the plus and minus of the requirements, how to implement them," he said.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it will work out the details of the requirements with feedback from industry. It has consulted over 140 representatives from 100 organisations across various sectors, including manufacturing, and food and beverage, between December last year and May this year.
At the meetings, a mandatory requirement on the recyclability of packaging materials was also discussed. The NEA said the response was generally positive, with companies recognising that the mandatory requirements on packaging are a means to reducing overall waste in Singapore, which has grown from 5.02 million tonnes in 2005 to 7.67 million tonnes last year.
Countries like Germany already have packaging waste regulations, with manufacturers required to reuse or recycle the packaging that they have placed in the market, or have this done by a third party.
Mr Edwin Seah, executive director at the Singapore Environment Council, suggests that companies producing seasonal food items such as mooncakes and Christmas goodies, which have elaborate packaging, should take a different approach by focusing less on packaging design. "We believe that the basic principle of waste prevention is that by preventing waste material from being produced in the first place, there will be less waste to manage," he said.
At the 3R Packaging Awards ceremony at Marina Bay Sands yesterday, Mr Masagos also said that businesses in particular play an important role in reducing packaging at its source.
He said much could be learnt from the winners of the award, who not only thought out of the box, but have "gone one step further to think about how to eliminate the box itself".
One winner was F&N Foods, which reduced the aluminium used in the lids of its 100Plus and other F&N carbonated canned drinks, reducing the weight of the lids from 3.8g to 2.8g, potentially saving $117,000 per year.
Local fishball and processed seafood manufacturer Thong Siek Food Industry reduced the size of its plastic packaging for some products, cutting the material it uses by 3.5 tonnes, which amounts to $40,000 in cost savings a year.
Ms Lim Xiao Fei, 33, general manager of production and product development at Thong Siek, said: "It's a win-win situation."