Manufacturers and retailers report packaging use for new scheme to cut waste

With more people turning to online shopping, managing packaging waste is becoming a growing challenge. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A scheme requiring companies to report the amount of packaging they use has finally kicked off, a year after it was delayed because of the pandemic.

The first reports under the Mandatory Packaging Reporting scheme were submitted to the National Environment Agency (NEA) by March 31 this year.

Producers of packaged products that had to submit reports were brand owners, manufacturers, importers, as well as retailers such as supermarkets whose gross annual revenue is above $10 million.

The reports detail the type and amount of packaging companies use for their products in Singapore, and their plans to reduce, reuse or recycle them.

Examples of packaging that must be reported include plastic bags, bottles, carton boxes, ribbons, labels and tape.

This comes on the heels of other moves to reduce packaging waste in Singapore, such as a disposable bag charge at large supermarkets from mid-2023.

With more people turning to online shopping, managing packaging waste is becoming a growing challenge.

Singapore's domestic recycling rate last year was 13 per cent, a 10-year low and unchanged from 2020 figures.

Packaging waste made up about a third of the 1.82 million tonnes of domestic waste thrown away in 2021.

Singapore’s only landfill, Semakau, is expected to run out by 2035 at the current rate of waste generation.

The annual packaging submissions will pave the way for an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for managing packaging waste, which will be implemented no later than 2025.

The EPR serves to improve recycling rates for packaging, and reduce the amount of package waste sent to the landfill.

RedMart staff packing supplies in December 2020. The packaging submissions will pave the way for managing packaging waste. PHOTO: ST FILE

Following the first round of report submissions, Mr Colin Goh, a chief engineer from NEA's Waste Management Division said on Monday (April 25) that the agency will work closely with companies to improve the accuracy of the packaging data submitted, and address any gaps in the reports.

NEA will also review the current reporting process and feedback received from companies.

Mr Goh was speaking at a virtual discussion organised by NEA and the Singapore Manufacturing Federation under their Packaging Partnership Programme, which helps companies fulfil their annual reporting obligations, as well as future EPR requirements.

Packaging Partnership Programme chairman Matt Kovac said since this was the first time companies submitted the reports, there were some teething issues.

Some firms - especially those that use different forms of packaging and materials - struggled with calculating and reporting them accurately.

"Some companies were probably a little bit worried because the implication through the Mandatory Packaging Reporting is that they are going to be audited as well. And no one wanted to make mistakes."

Mr Kovac also said some smaller companies that are just over the $10 million turnover threshold did not manage to submit their reports by March 31, and NEA gave them a short grace period.

He noted that smaller companies may not have the resources or expertise to tackle the reporting process.

Some companies that were busy running their businesses may have left the mandatory reporting to the last minute, he added.

"The majority of companies understand that this was a helpful exercise for them to understand their packaging footprint, and how to reduce that in the future, and every year when they go through the reporting," said Mr Kovac.

The Packaging Partnership Programme provides resources to help companies grasp the reporting scheme. These include workshops, training and a packaging guidebook co-developed with NEA.

A number of companies that are on the mandatory reporting scheme also attended the virtual discussion on Monday.

They included ExxonMobil and Singapore Airlines in-flight retailer KrisShop, which shared its best practices.

In packing products, KrisShop has replaced bubble wrap with a biodegradable paper wrapper that has an outer honeycomb structure.

This allows the wrapping paper to be twisted into place, without needing to be secured by tape.

Mr Kovac said the move to find more sustainable forms of packaging will not necessarily translate into higher prices for consumers. KrisShop, for instance, decided to absorb the cost of the honeycomb wrapping paper.

But with inflation and ongoing global supply chain issues, cost would be a concern now, he added.

"If you were to revolutionise or innovate different types of packaging materials, there may be a cost implication that has to be passed on to the consumer, but that is within the dynamic environment of today," said Mr Kovac, noting that prices of materials are high now because of the global situation.

The EPR for packaging waste will start with a return scheme for drink containers, such as bottles and cans, that is expected to start next year.

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