More options for refillables may lower carbon emissions from packaging disposal: Report

More options to refill products such as drinks and detergent can lower over 110,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. PHOTO: AFP
The Singapore Environmental Achievement awards ceremony held at Novotel Singapore, on Aug 23, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - More options to refill products such as detergent and drinks in Singapore can lower over 11,000 tonnes of carbon emissions generated from disposing of domestic packaging waste here last year, or the equivalent of over 350 dumpster trucks travelling around the circumference of the earth.

These were among recommendations of a report on Tuesday (Aug 23) by the Singapore Environment Council and KPMG to improve the management of packaging waste here, which historically has relatively high generation and low recycling rates.

Toothpaste tablets, for instance, can be packaged in refillable storage containers instead of toothpaste tubes or unnecessary paperboard packaging, the report said, citing US-based company Bite.

Last year, about 523,000 tonnes of domestic packaging waste were discarded, contributing to emissions, said chairman of the Singapore Environment Council Isabella Huang-Loh. This is sufficient to fill more than 1,000 Olympic-sized pools.

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

This comes despite the bulk of more than 1,000 local consumers surveyed for the report saying they have an appetite for eco-friendly packaging.

Most, however, were hindered by barriers such as cost, insufficient information on such packaging and its benefits.

About 65 per cent of respondents also said they depended on the Government and businesses to inform them on purchasing and recycling sustainable products.

"(Demand for disposable packaging) will continue to grow with the insatiable desire of our consumers, so again, in line with promoting the shift towards recycling and reducing waste, we should be looking at the business model... B2B business is extremely important to empower green consumerism to change their habits," said Ms Huang-Loh.

To encourage the flow of packaging materials in a circular manner, stakeholders including brand owners and e-commerce businesses must act, she said.

Redesigning products, such as by substituting plastics for paper, can potentially reduce the amount of waste from 510,000 tonnes to 306,000 tonnes, the report noted.

Other recommendations proposed improvements such as creating a separate collection point for biodegradables, in addition to recyclables.

Currently, there is only one bin for recyclables, resulting in food contamination.

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Publication of the study's results was held in conjunction with the Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards, which was attended by Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu as well as about 160 guests, including industry leaders and sponsors.

Lauding the report's recommendation to make refillable products more accessible, Ms Pamela Low, 27, told The Straits Times that she would like refillables as a readily available alternative to packaged goods in supermarkets and convenience stores.

The founder of climate advocacy group Tingkat currently buys package-free rice from zero waste grocery bulk food store Unpackt and makes her own dishwasher liquid, she said, noting that this has led to savings of up to 20 per cent.

"While there are package-free products in Singapore and they are cheaper, it's not as convenient as going downstairs, making the barriers of entry to refilling bottles much taller than the benefits for most people," she said.

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