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How to buy online without so much packaging waste – why small changes matter

Shop with zero waste

The end-of-year shopping sales season is upon us, which can only mean two things: thousands of incredible bargains and mountains of packaging from all of your online shopping and in-store purchases.

It’s these mountains of packaging that we’re presently concerned about: millions of carry bags, plastic wrappers, polystyrene foam, bubble wrap, shipping pillows, wrapping paper and cardboard boxes are going to be thrown out all over Singapore in the coming months.

e-Commerce adds to growing packaging waste problem

The growth of e-commerce and popularity of online sales like Singles’ Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday has contributed massively to the packaging waste problem here, making up a third of Singapore’s 1.56 million tonnes of domestic waste annually¹.

Online sales are followed in quick succession by pre-Christmas sales, Boxing Day sales, New Year Sales and Chinese New Year sales which also generate tons of discarded plastic, wrapping paper, cartons, cardboard boxes and red packets.

It is our collective responsibility to try and cut down on the tons of packaging waste created by shopping online or at our favourite boutiques.

Making a few simple changes can make an enormous difference during the mega sales and the festive buying season. This guide will show how to shop online in a more thoughtful way and help reduce your packaging waste.

1. Say ‘No’ to Overpacking

Before the Internet, goods were shipped in bulk to a warehouse, then transported to stores where people shopped and carried them home. That still happens today, but more and more purchases are being shipped directly to people’s homes.

With this new system, shipments are being broken down into individual packages for personalised delivery. Retailers want these goods to arrive in perfect condition too, which is why ‘overpacking’² is common.

‘Overpacking’ is putting a small item like a handbag inside a much larger box. Then filling it with polystyrene foam beads, air bags, bubble wrap and every other extra layer of e-commerce packaging that comes to mind.

Bottles of nail polish or batteries wrapped in bubble wrap, packaged into boxes the size of a microwave oven and filled with plastic bubble wrap or air pillows have become Instagram sensations in recent years as shoppers have made the whole world aware of packaging overkill and waste.

Say “No” to overpacking by reducing or not shopping with retailers that practice it, or at least make it known to them (email your feedback) that you’d like them to change their practice of overpacking.

Whether you’re buying online, in-store or both, take some time to think about what you can do to reduce the growing volume of retail packaging waste that you are contributing to in the coming months. We must all reduce, re-use and recycle so that Singapore can become a Zero Waste Nation by 2030.

If your favourite retailer is overpacking, voice your concern and urge them to change

2. Buy less, waste less

One of the easiest ways to reduce packaging waste is simply to buy less. Ask yourself whether you really need a new pair of shoes or kitchen cooker. Be selective and do not just fall into the sale fever trap.

Of course, when you’re buying gifts for friends and family, it’s difficult to cut down on purchases in the spirit of celebration. However, by cutting down the number of presents, you can make a massive difference to packaging waste. Buying one memorable present can be better than buying loads of cheaper items, especially when it comes to buying gifts for children.

If you do make purchases online, request that everything is sent together if possible. An increasing number of online retailers now let you combine or consolidate multiple items into one package – it’s a win-win-win situation because it also gives the retailers an extra day or two for delivery. This is a great way to cutdown on packaging and the constant arrival of single packages at your front door day-after-day.

Being selective with the way to buy and get items delivered can make a big difference to packing waste

3. Reuse, reuse, reuse

We all know that kids – and many adults – love popping bubble wrap. Instead of throwing bubble wrap, shipping pillows and cardboard cartons away once the package is opened, reuse them for other purposes.

Pack everything into the cupboard cartons they arrived in and store them in a cupboard. Bubble wrap and shipping pillows can be reused for packing and are perfect for protecting plates, crockery and other delicate household items if you ever move. You can also pass it on to family or friends who are moving into a new home or apartment.

With a little imagination, bubble wrap can be reused in other creative ways too. Such as keeping your new handbag or boots in perfect shape or helping to prevent your necklaces getting into a tangle. Some people even use bubble wrap to line boxes before filling them with dirt and growing their own herbs from seedlings. That’s the perfect way to go green.

In Singapore, bubble wrap is recyclable – just deposit it into one of the blue recycling bins you see all over the island.

Reuse bubble wrap in imaginative ways instead of throwing it out

4. What goes around can go around again

Recycling is becoming increasingly popular in Singapore as more people become conscious of the damage plastics, polystyrene and other non-degradable consumer goods are doing to the environment.

Today, entire communities are taking more responsibility for depositing their rubbish properly as Singapore works hard to develop its Zero Waste initiative.

Recycling the packaging of items bought online, along with carry bags and wrapping paper from items bought in-store, are all top-of-mind for Singaporeans working towards a greener future.

One thing above all others has become the perfect icon of buying things online: the cardboard box. In 2018 alone, 1.053 million tonnes generated was paper/cardboard and only 56% of the materials were recycled³.

Cardboard is perfect for recycling – just flatten the box or sleeve before putting it out for recycling with your other cardboard items. Make sure you remove any parcel tape and labels before sending it off for recycling as those materials are often non-biodegradable.

The delicate paper that boutique shopping assistants wrapped your new dress in, the Christmas wrapping paper, and the Chinese New Year red packets can also be recycled. Wrapping paper can only be recycled if it passes the scrunch test, so remove any sticky tape and decorations like ribbons and bows (foil or glitter-decorated paper needs to go into general waste). The most important thing to remember is that there should not be any contamination from any food or liquid as it makes the paper unrecyclable.

Recycling is something every Singaporean can do in our efforts to reduce waste from shopping

5. Shop at Singapore’s zero waste stores

Zero waste shopping is gathering momentum in Singapore. Stores are opening across the island to cater to the growing needs of individuals and communities looking to reduce their dependence on packaging and plastics. These zero-waste businesses are an important addition to the local economy at a time when packaging continues to be a big contributor to Singapore’s trash. Around 7.7 million tonnes of waste is generated every year in Singapore, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA)³.

Here’s a shortlist of the 3 most popular zero waste stores in Singapore where shoppers can bring their own containers and bottles or purchase these in-store:

1. UnPackt

At UnPackt, dried food, oils and cleaning supplies are all stocked in self-service dispensers that line the shelves. Prices are determined by weight, so you can fill your personal container with as much as you want. This is also a good way to stop people from over-shopping, which is common in regular supermarkets where impulse buying is encouraged. This can mean huge savings on your weekly grocery bill.

UnPackt buys in bulk from local suppliers and supports local artisans who produce items like handmade soaps, so while you’re reducing waste, you’re also supporting local businesses. Buying and using their deodorants and reusable facial rounds is the perfect way to get comfortable with the idea of sustainable shopping.

2. The Social Space

Another popular zero-waste store in Singapore is The Social Space. This multi-concept store has its own tea bar and café, a fair trade retail area and nail salon. Their aim? To change the habits of individual Singaporeans, the community and the planet through sustainable and more accessible conscious living. It’s the perfect place to stock up on shampoo, eco-friendly dishwashing and laundry liquids before a refreshing Tropicana smoothie.

3. Eco.Le

This zero-waste enterprise was founded on the principles of ecologically-conscious and sustainable living. The store sells a wide range of grains, nuts, cereals and condiments along with toiletries, oils, soaps, shampoos and enzyme cleaners, which all come without packaging. Bring your own containers or use one of their free re-useable ones.

Eco.Le stocks reusable straws, lunch boxes, and other products that support the zero waste movement too. You can bring in your candles for refills and there’s even a sewing machine that you can use to patch up clothes as part of their sustainable philosophy.

The absence of individual packaging and the economics of bulk-purchasing allows UnPackt, The Social Space and Eco.Le to provide quality goods at competitive prices too.

Try our tips on zero waste shopping to reduce the amount of packaging and plastics you use

Baby steps: Try these tips out one little step at a time

Zero waste shopping is about taking small steps that make a difference, just as responsible consumption means thinking about whether you can give something to another person or recycle it before throwing away.

We must all learn how to shop with respect for the environment: before the online mega sale season moves into high gear this year, take a moment to think about zero waste shopping. Pick-up the bargains that you really want, but ask about consolidating your items into one package for delivery. Then reuse or recycle all of the packaging materials.

If you are going to shop consciously, make the card you use to shop work hard for you too: use the Spree Credit Card from Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore) Limited to obtain up to $60 cashback monthly*. No minimum spend is required, and you can earn cashback on all eligible online transactions charged in a foreign currency, eligible transactions on vPost (based on merchant description “PAYPAL *VPOST” and/or “VPOST SHIPPING” and/or “VPOST SHIPPING SERVICE”), eligible online transactions charged in Singapore dollars, transactions made using mobile wallets and/or contactless transactions and other eligible retail transactions.^

We must all learn how to shop online with respect for the environment if Singapore is to meet its goal of becoming a zero waste nation by 2030.

Shop mindfully and make a real effort to reduce your packaging waste

This article is brought to you by Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore) Limited. All information provided is for informational purposes only.

¹Source : Eco-Business – Ready to report: How Singapore firms are preparing for new packaging mandate

²Source: Week in China – Overpacking

³Source: National Environment Agency – Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling

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