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New Packaging Agreement aims to reduce waste

By Hoe Yeen Nie, Channel NewsAsia
05 June 2007

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) feels it is time to take a harder look at reducing waste.

So it has teamed up with over 500 industry partners (companies from five industries) to cut down on the amount of packaging waste produced.

Singaporeans dispose of nearly 7,000 tonnes of solid waste everyday, according to 2006 figures.

Most of it comes from packaging.

According to the NEA, the volume of solid waste has increased by nearly six times in the last 30 years.

The NEA believes building more landfill sites and incinerator plants is not a long-term solution.

One way forward is to reduce the amount of packaging produced.

And the Packaging Agreement, which takes effect in July, is a positive step towards this.

It is based on the idea that those who make, sell or use products should be responsible for their environmental impact.

This is called product stewardship.

And industry players say they support the move which they feel comes at the right time.

"I think industry is ready, because a lot of us are exporting, and some of them are also facing problems with regulations on packaging in some other parts of the world," says Albert Lim, Chairman of the Packaging Council of Singapore.

So the information-sharing processes provided for in the agreement will allow them to better understand and comply with these regulations.

"Right now, with the cost of packaging going up so high, the freight costs going up so high, the logistics costs going up so high, they may want to cut back. But can the consumer accept? That is one big question mark," says Sunny Koh, Chairman, Food & Beverage Industry Group, Singapore Manufacturers' Federation.

"Now the only fear ... is whether the consumer can accept, or whether they will be seen as cutting corners."

But others believe Singaporeans will come round to the idea.

"The agreement also tries to drive more eco-friendly types of packaging, packaging that can be more easily recycled for example, or packaging that is derived from material that is sustainable in nature.

"So in a way you can have your elaborate packaging, you have to be a bit more innovative about how that packaging is designed and what it's made from," says Howard Shaw, Executive Director, Singapore Environment Council.

The Packaging Agreement lasts for five years, and will first target the Food and Beverage industry.

The NEA says this is because the level of recycling of F&B packaging waste is the lowest compared to say, the construction industry.

This is partly due to stricter regulations on food-safe packaging that limit recycling.

F&B packaging waste also tends to be contaminated by other waste, making it costly and difficult to recycle.

It is also voluntary.

"Voluntary agreements allow some scope to be flexible, because once you insist on legislation then what will happen is that it will become hard and fast, and costs will go up.

"What we want to do is for people to learn as we go along, what is the best way to adopt environmentally-friendly packaging design," says Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister, Environment and Water Resources.

Fast food chain KFC has done away with paper mats on its trays, an example cited by Dr Yaacob on how companies are cutting down on waste. - CNA/yy

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