More than 50% of consumers in S'pore will not pay more for sustainable packaging: Study

Packaging waste formed about a third of the 1.82 million tonnes of domestic waste thrown away in 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - While 95 per cent of consumers in Singapore are inclined to choose products with sustainable packaging, more than one in two will avoid doing so if such packaging costs more, according to a report by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) published on Tuesday (Aug 2).

The study on consumer attitudes regarding packaging waste in Singapore was conducted in collaboration with KPMG and drew on surveys conducted last year involving more than 1,015 people here across household types, ages and income levels.

Beyond seeing consumers as reluctant to put their money where their mouth is, the results suggest that manufacturers will need to lower the cost of sustainable packaging for consumer habits to change, said Ms Cherine Fok, director of sustainability services at KPMG in Singapore at a media briefing.

In fact, 20 per cent of respondents identified price as the only deciding factor for purchasing a product with sustainable packaging.

Said Ms Fok: "Cost remains one of the key issues - and we know we need to manage costs in times of recession and economic distress, as well as for low-income families, for people who are struggling and cannot afford a premium for sustainable packaging.

"Perhaps it is up to the manufacturers and all of us to think about how to develop sustainable packaging that is much more affordable."

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

Plastic packaging accounted for most of the waste at 289,000 tonnes, enough to fill 32,111 dumpster trucks, said SEC.

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

Further education is keenly needed among consumers on recyclable items in Singapore, said Ms Fok.

When it came to recycling, seven out of 10 consumers lacked a complete understanding of which materials can be recycled, with over half of those citing insufficient information on sustainable packaging and its benefits, the report found.

For example, 175 individuals of those surveyed misidentified styrofoam as a material that can be recycled here, she noted.

Confusion about recycling packaging is exacerbated by the absence of clear labelling, with 78 per cent of respondents stating that they were unable to tell whether they could recycle packaging based on the information printed on it.

This highlights the importance of eco-labelling, since most consumers reported that they relied on the packaging or the Internet to determine whether the material could be recycled, said SEC senior environmental engineer Augustine Quek, who helped conduct the study.

In the next few months, SEC plans to work with schools and various interest groups to educate the public about what can be recycled, Dr Quek added.

Businesses could also look into reducing packaging material and embracing eco-friendly options such as minimalist packaging, said SEC, citing how seven in 10 respondents believed that packaging material could be reduced for most products that they bought.

The study comes on top of national efforts to reduce waste and improve Singapore's woefully low recycling rates. The national domestic recycling rate last year was 13 per cent, a 10-year low and unchanged from 2020 figures.

Since March 31, for instance, companies have had to report the amount of packaging used.

The annual packaging submissions will pave the way for an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for managing packaging waste, which will reduce the amount of package waste sent to the landfill and is expected to be implemented no later than 2025.

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