The Importance of Going Packaging Free in Singapore

Slowly but surely, the packaging-free movement is growing in Singapore. The country has increased its focus on sustainability in recent years, improving everything from its water management systems and building architecture to its trash disposal. However, residents of Singapore realize that its lack of sustainability in certain areas cannot be fixed by one act alone. Instead, residents must commit to making changes in their daily lives to create a brighter future, including reducing or eliminating single-use plastic packaging.

  • What is Zero Waste Nation?
  • What is the Zero Waste Nation plan?
  • What happens to trash in Singapore?
  • What is packaging-free shopping?
  • How can businesses support packaging-free shopping?
  • What items can you buy without packaging?
  • What stores in Singapore are packaging-free? 

What is Zero Waste Nation? 

Over the last 40 years, Singapore has increased the amount of waste it produces seven-fold. In 2017 alone, the country produced roughly 7.7 million tons of garbage — enough to fill 15,000 Olympic swimming pools. To combat its impact on the environment, Singapore designated 2019 as its Year Towards Zero Waste with a project called Zero Waste Nation.

The goal of Zero Waste Nation is to help Singapore increase its sustainability by reducing residents' consumption of single-use materials and reusing or recycling all materials possible. According to the Zero Waste Nation website, "Singapore will adopt a circular economy approach to sustainable waste and resource management. We will strive to close the waste loop, just like how we have closed the water loop by recycling water endlessly."

Singapore intends to publish a Zero Waste Masterplan to increase awareness of waste issues in the country and define the government's plan on creating a sustainable circular economy to resource management and waste practices. "The Masterplan will detail the key policies and strategies that the government will be implementing in the next few years, supported by industry transformation and research and development," says Zero Waste Nation.

What Is the Zero Waste Nation Plan?

Many aspects of Singapore's infrastructure already contain extensive sustainability efforts, including reclaiming wastewater through the country's National Water Agency, increasing energy intensity through solar power, and emphasizing construction projects obtaining Green Mark Certification.

According to the Zero Waste Plan, adopting a circular sustainable economy in Singapore will require an investment in initiatives such as:

  • Improved recycling facilities: The project suggests installing dual refuse and recycling chutes in every new Housing and Development Board (HDB) apartment complex and new non-landed private homes built higher than four stories.
  • An optimization of the country's waste system. HDB communities will feature a pneumatic waste conveyance system, also known as PWCS, to dispose of trash. This automated waste transportation system utilizes underground pipes to collect and transport household waste. The waste travels through the pipes and into a sealed container, which is then collected and disposed of.
  • The construction of Tuas Nexus, a water reclamation and waste management facility that aims to maximize the country's ability to recover energy and resources from the disposal of solid waste and wastewater.
  • Mandatory packaging reporting. In 2020, the government began implementing a mandatory reporting process to determine the types and amounts of packaging a company contributes to the overall market. Once the study is completed, the goal will be to work with companies to reduce packaging.

What Happens to Trash in Singapore?

The disposal of trash in Singapore is unique because of the island country's small size. Nearly 79% of the country's domestic trash is burned at one of four waste-to-energy incineration facilities. Cargo ships transport the ash from the facilities and any trash that isn't able to be incinerated to Semaku Landfill.

In 1999, Singapore became the first country in the world to create an offshore landfill, which is also now the country's only landfill. Semaku Landfill covers roughly 350 hectares and is located approximately eight kilometers off the coast of the island nation.

The landfill was created by joining two islands, Palau Sakeng and Palau Semaku. The islands are connected by a seven-kilometer barrier that creates an area where waste can be compacted. The landfill is filled with an impermeable membrane, rock, and marine clay to prevent pollution from seeping into the ocean.

The Singapore government anticipates that at the current pace, Semaku Landfill will accommodate the country's waste production until 2040. Although most landfills are unsightly, smelly, and unpleasant places to be, Semaku Landfill was built with a tremendous emphasis on its aesthetics. The island is free of odors, clean, and aesthetically scenic, and the surrounding ecosystem is alive and thriving. The government opened the island to visitors for recreational purposes in July 2005. The landfill has become an attraction for nature lovers who travel to the island to observe wildlife and increase animal and plant life.

What Is Packaging-Free Shopping?

If you sit down and think about it, the amount of trash that each person accumulates in a day is staggering. Packaged cereal and wafers. Bags of rice and candy. Single-use cups and bottles. Grocery bags. The amount of packaging we produce after one visit to the supermarket can quickly fill up a small trash bin. When you add in packaging from drinks, food, shampoo and conditioner, and cleaning products, the list really starts to add up.

In 2018, Singapore residents disposed of roughly 1.6 million tonnes of waste. One-third of that was packaging, and of that third, more than half was plastic. Although plastic is relatively easy to reuse, only four percent of plastic is ultimately recycled. The amount of packaging trash we produce in a single day doesn't even take into consideration the material companies use to protect items during shipping or how products are displayed for marketing purposes.

As an island, Singapore is restricted in how it disposes of trash. Although the Semaku Landfill is expected to last another 20 years, prolonging that time is critical. Unnecessary packaging does more than produce waste; it depletes resources.

Packaging-free shopping is a way to reduce the amount of trash and waste we create by being more intentional in shopping for goods and services.

As a consumer, there are several ways you can help encourage businesses and companies you support to make the sustainable choice and reduce unnecessary packaging:

  • Be intentional with your purchases. Purchase products with little to no packaging and items that carry the eco-label for reduced packaging.
  • Avoid buying single-use items. Whether you're craving coffee or stopping by the grocery store, avoid using single-use products such as takeaway cups, carrier bags, or bottles.
  • Always be prepared with your reusable items. Carry reusable bags or totes with you in your purse, backpack, briefcase, or car in case you need to purchase something unexpectedly. When going out to eat, bring your own to-go containers as well as utensils.
  • Practice smart recycling practices, personally and in your community. Encourage your neighbors to join as well to help spread the importance of community participation.  
  • Shop from stores that practice sustainable manufacturing. Brands like Gen Woo are great options for sustainable children’s fashion. Be sure to do your research and choose smart and sustainable options for every aspect of your life, whether it’s fashion and accessories or dining.

How Can Businesses Support Packaging-Free Shopping?

Emphasizing the importance of a circular supply chain and sustainable living occurs at more than just the consumer level. For the idea to work, businesses must be active participants in the process and grow accustomed to being proactive about their use of packaging. Although a circular supply chain may seem more demanding at first, the payoff is in the long run.

Reducing the amount of packaging and waste a business creates makes sense to the environment and the organization's bottom line. Demonstrating a commitment to sustainable living is more important than ever to customers and getting ahead of the curve means you can be more unique in your packaging choices.

Here are some tips and tricks that businesses can utilize to decrease their waste:

  • Change the packaging style. Businesses have several options for reducing the amount of waste they contribute to the environment due to packaging. They can reduce the size or thickness of their packaging, eliminate unnecessary packaging, use packaging that is better sized to their product, and eliminate any packaging that isn't essential.
  • Reevaluate your production process. Changing your product's design to be more sustainable or reused or recycled more easily increases the likelihood that a person will recycle it. For example, clothing company Patagonia accepts all its products for recycling once the item has reached the end of its life. Customers can drop off their items at the nearest Patagonia store or ship their items to the Patagonia Service Center. Either way, they have the satisfaction of knowing that none of their old clothing will end up in an incinerator or landfill.
  • Select eco-friendly packaging materials. Instead of packing peanuts, use crinkle paper that is sustainable and more easily recycled. Choose to print your packaging materials with algae ink and choose compostable mailers for a sustainable alternative to poly bags and mailers. Do your research to find the best solution that works for your company and the environment.

In Singapore, more than 230 businesses have voluntarily signed the 2007 Singapore Packaging Agreement. This agreement certifies a company's commitment to reducing its packaging waste. Between 2007 and 2018, the companies have collectively prevented an additional 46,000 tonnes of packaging waste from entering the supply chain, saving more than $100 million. The government also implemented an incentive program in 2017 with retail outlets to encourage shoppers to bring their own bottles, containers, and reusable shopping bags. Over 430 retailers participated in the program, called Bring-Your-Own Singapore, preventing over 2.5 million pieces of plastic from entering the country's waste supply.

What Items Can You Buy Without Packaging?

Once you begin to increase your awareness of the amount of packaging you use, the easier it is to find alternatives. When shopping online, unless you select in-store pick-up, it's impossible to purchase items without any packaging. You can find items with less packaging, but if your goal is to shop packaging-free and fully sustainable, it will be necessary to shop in-store.

By purchasing your own containers, it's possible to shop package free at several places.

Here are a few tips for general shopping trips to increase your sustainability and reduce packaging:

  • The first item you will need is a set of reusable shopping bags. You can purchase these at dozens of different stores, or you can make your own from items you have at home. You'll also probably need produce bags if you like to buy things like green beans, apples, or small potatoes. When you're selecting items, only buy things if you're able to purchase them without packaging.
  • Search out stores specifically designed to offer packaging-free shopping. You can find everything from soap and shampoo to dried fruit, nuts, and rice at stores that offer zero packaging. 

What Stores in Singapore Are Packaging-Free?

If you're in Singapore and want to increase your sustainability by shopping from stores that offer packaging-free items, you're in luck! There are more packaging-free stores than ever in Singapore, so you have plenty of options. Here are five options we recommend checking out:

  • The Source Bulk Foods: This zero-waste retailer has two locations in Singapore, one at Cluny Court and the other at Great World City. You can purchase everything from grains and flour to kombucha and detergent — but don't forget to bring your own containers.
  • Scoop Wholefoods: This Australian retailer is a fantastic choice for cold-pressed oil, organic chocolate, roasted nuts, and loose-leaf tea. Scoop Wholefoods also offers a section dedicated to fermented foods and a DIY option where you can create your own soap, cleaning products, and lip balm.
  • Eco.le: The store's products change regularly, but expect to see everything from grains, cereal, and condiments to candles and reusable cups. Eco.le also offers a sewing machine rental and beeswax rap repair.
  • Unpackt: Grab your containers and be prepared to snag everything from nuts and baked apple chips to olive oil and cane sugar. Unpackt allows you to purchase your items according to weight, so you'll always go home with the exact amount you want.
  • The Social Space: This store offers everything from a florist and a café to a lifestyle store and a nail salon. If you want to stock up on cleaning products, stopping by The Social Space is a must. Pop into The Refillery for laundry detergent, shampoo, and dishwashing detergent — all with filling stations so you can dispense your amounts!


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