would you return your e-commerce packaging? WWF-Singapore says yes. 

Recent pilot initiative spearheaded by WWF-Singapore highlights consumers’ willingness to opt for reusable e-commerce packaging, with a return rate of over 50%.


Plastic is one of the greatest contributors to waste here in Singapore, with about 900 million kg of waste being discarded every year. In fact, packaging waste contributes to about one-third of household waste generated locally, with 2-3% of packaging waste coming from e-commerce. While it might seem like a small number, this could very well double by 2025, especially with the advent of online shopping. The number of people who are shopping online has only increased yearly – exponentially so during the pandemic – and plastic used in e-commerce packaging is one manner eco-friendly alternatives can be introduced. 

details about PACT.

image from WWF-Singapore.

This is where WWF-Singapore comes in. Launched in April 2022 and together with UOB, SingPost and Better Packaging, WWF-Singapore has launched their business initiative ‘Plastic ACTion (PACT)’. This initiative is aimed at promoting the scalability of reusable e-commerce packaging in the hopes of achieving a circular economy in line with Singapore Green Plan 2030. A more comprehensive look at the report can be found here

Taking place over 6 months, this pilot has enabled the concept of reusable packaging to be tested, as well as highlighted the feasibility of Singapore’s national postal network in managing packaging returns. The 6 months allowed the plastic to be reused over and over again, since a minimum number of uses is required for reusable e-commerce packaging to be environmentally friendly (from four to six uses, depending on its design and material).   

Mr R. Raghunathan, Chief Executive Officer at WWF-Singapore, emphasises, “We are heartened by the findings from the pilot as it demonstrates Singaporeans’ willingness to do more for the environment while emphasising the pivotal role of retailers and industry players to create a new, sustainable e-commerce ecosystem that appeals to the public. The findings from the pilot will also provide practical resources for retailers and organisations looking to implement or transition to reusable packaging.”

how did customers deal with reusable packaging? 

The way the initiative worked was simple. Customers involved in the pilot would be able to opt-in for reusable e-commerce packaging from 12 participating retailers like REFASH, Unpackt or Thryft. Once they received their goods, customers could then return the packaging at no cost directly to the courier or any SingPost posting box during the pilot. Retailers will then reuse the packaging for the next order by other participating customers. 

During the pilot, about 15,000 customer orders were processed, with 1 in 3 customers opting in for the reusable packaging option. Interestingly enough, the opt-in rate varied greatly across all twelve retailers. The range was between 6% to 62%, with the main reason for such disparity being the clarity of communication between each retailer to their customer. Still, the initiative only highlights the potential of consumer interest and support for the reusable packaging concept. 

how did retailers deal with reusable packaging? 

After participation in the pilot, all retailers supported the concept of reusable packaging. There were simple to minimal IT changes necessary when having to implement an opt-in function of their e-commerce platform. Furthermore, there was little resistance once employees were informed about the alternative packing option with its environmental benefits. 

Third-party logistic providers also provided positive feedback regarding the pilot: there was no spoilage or breakage of products when fulfilling the delivery of purchases. If this concept were to scale, further reviews must be made in regards to the suitability of packaging sizes and compatibility of shipping labels with reusable packaging. 

further pilot findings.

infographic from WWF-Singapore.

The results of a post-pilot survey among consumers who opted for reusable packaging are heart-warming. 81% of respondents attributed their decision to opt-in to sustainability concerns – once again highlighting the willingness of consumers to adopt this method of packaging when they are sufficiently informed. On the other hand, for those who chose not to opt-in, it was mainly due to the fact they were unaware of the option or concept of reusable packaging, or that they wanted to keep the packaging for their own reuse.

Other results also demonstrated there was an average return rate of 56% across all 12 retailers. And for retailers who took an active stance on consumer education and also sent return reminders, they saw a boosted return rate and a 30% reduction in the time taken to return the packaging. 

Lastly, convenience proved to be the most important factor when ensuring timely returns. Consumers preferred convenient locations to drop off packaging, rather than receiving incentives such as discounts. Though incentives can influence the opt-in rates (with a retailer seeing a 32% improvement with the introduction of a lucky draw), it seems as if convenience is a key prerequisite for the timely return of reusable packaging.

scaling up & improving future programmes. 

Seeing the positive results of the pilot initiative, it means exploring the ideas of reusable packaging in Singapore is definitely worth consideration. WWF-Singapore’s pilot brought to light many possible revelations and considerations for future programmes, which can assist in the goal of a circular economy.

For example, educating consumers and providing access to return touchpoints with clear instructions can help increase awareness of consumers on the impact of their decision. Imagine returning packaging and finding out how much plastic waste you could have saved from being disposed of! 

In the same vein, making sure to optimise return logistics by increasing the number of drop-off points islandwide, as well as leveraging on the extensive postal system here in Singapore, are other considerations. Making sure to implement this can increase the convenience felt by consumers, which will in turn increase returns rates.  

Most importantly however, findings from the pilot highlight the urgent need for collaborative participation regarding the implementation of reusable packaging. That means stakeholders like companies, retailers, e-commerce platforms, shipping and other logistic players, alongside government bodies. They need to come together and campaign for a comprehensive approach towards recyclable packaging beyond the pilot initiative. 


If you liked this article, you’ll enjoy 6 easy ways you can celebrate Earth Day 2023 in Singapore or Epson and WWF’s partnership towards rainforest conservation

raeanne

The copywriting intern who likes spending way too much of her free time looking for small trinkets and watching two hour long youtube video essays.

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