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Most Singaporeans care about packaging waste but don't know which materials are recyclable: Study

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans are concerned about the sustainability of packaging materials for consumer products, but most are not fully aware of what materials can be recycled, and it does not help that such materials are often not clearly labelled, a study has found.

A study found that cost was still a much more important consideration than sustainability for consumers when it came to purchasing decisions.
A study found that cost was still a much more important consideration than sustainability for consumers when it came to purchasing decisions.
  • A study found that most people believed packaging materials could be reduced for the products they buy 
  • However, most were unsure of what materials can be recycled
  • Experts noted that there are not enough labels on packaging to provide information on the sustainability of the materials used
  • Price remains the most important consideration when consumers make purchasing decisions, the study found
  • The Singapore Environment Council urged businesses to go for minimalist packaging, which would help them cut down on costs 

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans are concerned about the sustainability of packaging materials for consumer products, but most are not fully aware of what materials can be recycled, and it does not help that such materials are often not clearly labelled, a study has found.

A study by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and audit firm KPMG on consumer attitudes around packaging and packaging waste found that 70 per cent of respondents believed that packaging materials could be reduced for the products they buy. 

The same proportion admitted that they were unsure of what materials can be recycled, while 78 per cent said that they were unable to discern if the packaging materials may be recycled based on the information found on the packaging. 

The findings were gathered from 1,015 Singaporeans through multiple-choice questions and the respondents were representative of the population. 

During a media conference on Tuesday (Aug 2), Dr Augustine Quek, a senior environmental engineer at SEC, said the findings showed that there is an opportunity for a more targeted approach for educational campaigns in schools. 

He added that eco-labels, which indicate whether products meet specific environmental performance criteria, may also plug this knowledge gap. 

Echoing his sentiments, Ms Cherine Fok, director of sustainability services and KPMG impact at KPMG Singapore, said that the study findings also reflected the importance of eco-labelling, to indicate whether products meet specific environmental performance criteria.

She said: "Any information that is found on the internet has to be accompanied by good and robust teaching."

The study also found that cost was still a much more important consideration than sustainability when it came to purchasing decisions.

Although 95 per cent of respondents said that they would be inclined to buy a product that used sustainable packaging, more than half (53 per cent) of the total respondents said that they would opt for a sustainable packaging option only if it did not cost more than the alternative.

Still, only one in five said that price was the only factor when they were deciding on whether to buy a product with sustainable packaging. 

Besides the lack of labelling and price considerations, another barrier preventing the switch-over to sustainable packaging was the prevalence of misinformation on the topic, which may further confuse consumers who want to find out more, the experts said.

Although consumers want more information on sustainable packaging, the internet "is not the best place" to find detailed information on packaging waste, Dr Quek said. 

WHAT BUSINESSES CAN DO

SEC said in a statement on the study that since overpackaging is a major concern for most people, businesses should "rethink product packaging and embrace more eco-friendly options such as minimalist packaging."

This would help them cut down on costs in packaging, which can in turn be passed on to consumers, it added. 

Businesses could also produce more environmentally friendly packaging and streamline processes in waste disposal to minimise wastage, the council suggested. 

For example, businesses could adopt a leasing model to reduce waste, which would allow consumers to rent instead of buy a product and help drive the shift towards a circular economy.

Another possibility is for businesses to collect and undertake the proper treatment of used packaging, which would help further Singapore's zero-waste goal

Ms Fok from KPMG said that in the long term, achieving commercial viability and price parity with products of other less sustainable materials will be the key challenges for the industry.

"It may take collective industry effort to boost private and public education alongside green innovations and cost-sharing mechanisms, even as supporting policies such as sustainability labelling are developed." 

In his Budget speech in February, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said that the Government aims to achieve net zero emission by around the mid-century. 

Previously, Singapore aimed to peak emissions by 2030 and halve them by 2050, before reducing to net zero in the second half of the century. 

Related topics

packaging environment waste consumer recycling Singapore Environment Council KPMG Singapore label

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