Sustaining the Earth by giving new life to single-use packaging

By the SMU Corporate Communications team

The COVID-19 pandemic created an exponential rise in online shopping globally and locally.  Rachel Han (Lee Kong Chian School of Business and School of Social Sciences, Year 1), together with a friend (Rachel Lee, King’s College London) she met in a Telegram community during the circuit breaker observed huge amounts of packaging waste generated by the e-commerce boom. They also saw an increasing demand for sustainable packaging by businesses, partly in response to consumer pressure. (According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), packaging makes up one-third of domestic waste in Singapore.) It was then that the two youths decided to start a circular packaging system to channel typical single-use e-commerce packaging back to businesses for reuse, to provide a more sustainable option to new packaging. They work by first collecting various single-use packaging from consumers, through mail or meet-ups, then sorting and redistributing them to back to retailers for re-use.

As the first second-hand e-commerce packaging initiative in Singapore, they were initially worried about the receptiveness of consumers and businesses. However, support for their project started to pour in after just a month, from the increasing attention to their cause on social media. The initiative also received several press coverages from various media, which included The Straits Times, CNA938, Channel 8 and Mothership Earth.

Package Pals has since grown to a team of 20 volunteers. Last year, they conducted a consumer research project in partnership with Lazada and Ipsos and discussed the findings with the Lazada Insider team in March 2022, in addition to addressing business concerns around using second-hand packaging.

When asked what the Package Pals team is most proud of, Rachel Han said excitedly, “The consumer research study with Lazada and global market research firm Ipsos was a huge feat in establishing ourselves amongst stakeholders like key e-commerce players and other mass market businesses and consumers. We were also delighted to have received a $20,000 grant by the National Youth Council, under the Youth Action Challenge (Season 2) last year. Additionally, in conjunction with our one-year anniversary, we moved into a proper space where we conduct our operations, store packaging, and in the near future, to connect with our volunteers!”.

Recently, Package Pals also wrapped up a 3-part series of sustainability workshops at Our Tampines Hub based on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), where they shared about packaging waste and engaged participants in hands-on sorting activities. Participants also had the opportunity to sign up as long-term volunteers to help with packaging collected from their Our Tampines Hub drop-off point.

On future goals, the team hopes to reach out to more businesses and drive impact in the mass consumer market. Rachel Han said, “Although Package Pals started out as a simple idea, we’ve been super fortunate that many businesses and organisations resonate with our cause and have reached out to collaborate. Though we started out as a small team of 19-year-olds, this has shown us that we have the potential to make an impact on a corporate level. Thus, we are not only seeking to show the demand and consumer receptiveness for more sustainable packaging options, but also striving to work with retailers to tackle packaging waste on an operational level. Sometime in the future, we also hope to develop truly reusable packaging and pioneer its use in Singapore. This is very much aligned with our goal of promoting the idea of circular packaging, and we look forward to speaking with other stakeholders to develop this idea.”