The Future of Packaging: How Singapore Can Lead with Compostable Innovations

Tuesday, May 28th, 2024

Unveiling the potential of compostable packaging to revolutionise waste management and consumer habits. By Jeremy Yeo, BioPak Asia Director

Singapore faces a significant threat that impacts its sustainability aspirations: a staggering waste problem. Despite decades of advocating the 3Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – Singapore grapples with 7.39 million tonnes of waste generated per year.

The plastic recycling rate is in the single digits at just six percent in 2022 in comparison to the 87 percent rate in Japan and the 73 percent rate in Taiwan.

With the soaring popularity of food delivery platforms, takeaway single-use plastic food packaging is now one of the highest contributors to our waste and Singapore’s approach to foodservice packaging and its end-of-life management requires urgent attention.

As we face the stark reality of our only landfill nearing capacity by 2035, compostable packaging presents a viable solution.

There is a widespread misconception regarding what “sustainable packaging” is. Unfortunately, many believe that as long as packaging is made from paper, it automatically qualifies as an environmentally friendly product. However, the majority of paper packaging on the market is lined with polyethylene (PE), a plastic derived from fossil fuels.

Plastic lined packaging is not compostable, and it is also not recyclable as it is hard to separate the plastic coating from the paper and therefore once used, it is destined for landfill.

Compostable Packaging
At BioPak, we believe that compostable packaging is the best solution for the foodservice industry specifically, as composting helps divert food waste and food contaminated packaging from landfill.

There is also an urgent need for legislation and single-use plastic packaging bans that will guide the market on using sustainable packaging solutions that are aligned with the circular economy helping aid the waste crisis.

Another challenge a lot of industries currently face is greenwashing – not only in packaging, but fashion and beauty, too. Greenwashing is when organisations make their products, services or practices seem more environmentally friendly than what they actually are.

For example, they can use loose claims and buzzwords like “eco cups” and “environmentally friendly” without any verified evidence or certifications.

The term “biodegradable” is particularly controversial as it is misused a lot in Singapore. Ultimately, everything is technically biodegradable – so the real question is how long it will take.

Plastic bottles, for example, can take around 500 years to decompose. In comparison, certified compostable coffee cups will take around 12 weeks to degrade in an industrial composting facility.

Due to the lack of accountability, the market is rife with exaggerated, aspirational or downright untrue sustainable claims and it is important that Singapore implements regulations to curb this practice and ensure transparency in verifiable product labelling.

Greenwashing is concerning because it makes it difficult for customers and consumers to make environmentally conscious decisions. Not to mention, the negative impacts on the environment.

Independent international certifications that set global industry standards and are easy to verify, create transparency and help businesses and consumers feel confident in the products and services they support.

Packaging must undergo a stringent compostability test by a verified third-party provider like DIN CERTCO or TUV to receive a compostable certification.

Customers should look for two types of compostable labels: Home Compostable (NF T51-800) and Industrially Compostable (EN13432). The certification logo on the packaging must display three elements – the certification logo, the type of certification and the company licence number. If one of these is missing, it is most likely not certified.

Another important certification is the FSC logo. Paper and wooden products with that logo and accompanying company licence are made from material that is sourced from responsibly managed forest plantations that don’t deplete natural resources.

Unfortunately, not many people recognise and understand these logos. There is widespread confusion and ambiguity, making education and resources around correct disposal a key priority for the industry.

The processing of certified compostable packaging and food waste on an industrial level is easy as both can be conveniently disposed of in one bin. That means there is no need for manual segregation streamlining the logistical challenges. The end product – nutrient-rich compost – offers a sustainable alternative to chemical fertilisers, reducing environmental impact and promoting agricultural sustainability.

Composting also helps combat climate change as food waste decomposition in landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more potent than CO2. If food waste was a country, it would be the world’s third largest CO2 emitting country after China and the US.

The challenge in Singapore is the waste management infrastructure. As mentioned previously, recycling rates are low, and unfortunately, composting facilities here are almost non-existent making landfill and incineration the default option for tackling our waste.

As our landfill capacity reaches critical levels, compostable packaging is a promising, scalable and viable solution to mitigate Singapore’s waste burden, but government legislation and support are critical to help incentivise the private sector to build a comprehensive network of industrial composting facilities.

Addressing this challenge requires an omnichannel and collaborative approach, encompassing legislative measures, commercial strategies, and consumer engagement initiatives.

However, with concerted efforts from policymakers, businesses, and consumers, we can navigate these and pave the way towards a more sustainable future for Singapore — one characterised by responsible consumption, efficient waste management, and environmental stewardship. The time for action is now, for the stakes are too high to delay.