Is Singapore Ready for Circular Economy?

With the increasing negative perception of plastic, many consumers are influencing brands to move away from plastic due to the technical issues of insufficient infrastructure to collect, sort and recycle plastic waste. There are a lot of alternatives being developed but many are short-lived, as they may deplete more natural resources or are simply too expensive for the market to afford.

Paper packaging is a contributing factor to deforestation, increase paper consumption with 55% attributed to packaging can be blamed for the loss of forests and biodiversity.

Glass packaging production also requires quartz sand and high consumption of this material can lead to depletion of its reserve and damage to the environment. Recycling glass requires a large amount of heat to melt the glass and has a high carbon footprint.

PET packaging — the most popular bottle packaging for soda and mineral water — is also widely used in containing oils, cleaners and other household items. It is cheap, light, easily molded, non-breakable and is rather inert to most products. In many countries, PET packaging is recycled but insufficient understanding of their responsibilities by consumers in many countries for the disposal of used packaging and poor collection infrastructure results in a lot of these waste contaminated and unable to be recycled.

In Singapore, we do have recycling but it seems to be far from ideal. Singapore has a National Recycling Programme having big blue recycling bins in many public housing estates. However, much of the recyclables are contaminated, resulting in the contaminated recyclables ending up in the incinerator.

Singapore does have various Green Stores that support the Green Movement. The Green Collective have a lot of Eco-friendly alternatives such as reusable wax wraps, reusable silicon bags for Sous Vide and other organic and sustainable products to help you reduce your carbon footprint. Unpackt and Zero Ways are stores which sells products in bulk, allow you to buy what you need putting them in your own containers.

TerraCycle — a private recycling company that focuses on capturing and repurposing hard-to-recycle items — has a new initiative, Loop. Loop is a circular economy online store that bridge the gap between consumers, corporations and waste. They work with brands to provide reusable packaging for common consumer products and has already launched in many cities with offerings of 300 different items.

With the growing focus on sustainability, many recycling companies have seen more investments and growth. The governments are also playing a bigger role to push to reduce waste. Singapore’s only landfill will run out of space by 2035. There is limited space for building new incinerator plants or landfills in Singapore. There are a lot of talks to reduce plastic waste but till date, Singapore has not successfully banned any single use plastics.

With Loop and the growing movement of circular economy, along with other refilling station projects and growing popularity of bulk groceries like Unpackt, Singapore seemed to be a perfect place to launch a circular economy initiative as the Island is relatively small and the top down government can pass legislation easily to make it happen. With our scarce land use, the threat brought by climate change and our landfill running out of space, will we see the big brands take on a bigger role of starting a circular economy initiative to reuse their containers, or will the government mandate companies to reuse packaging as more countries are doing so?