The Sustainability Project: An online shopping experience without pricking your conscience
The convenience and allure of online shopping is great, no doubt, but unfortunately, this has led to a staggering amount of packaging waste being generated in Singapore.
Polymailer or some sort of paper/plastic bag, cardboard box, bubble wrap, plastic wrap (usually)…then finally, the product you’ve ordered. That’s four layers of packaging destined for the trash bin.
While there are efforts to regulate the amount of packaging waste generated by industries, such as the Mandatory Packaging Reporting (MPR) and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) frameworks which aim to reduce packaging waste from both the beginning and end-point of a product’s lifecycle, more can still be done by businesses and consumers alike.
Support businesses that encourage and use re-used packaging
One such business that has adopted a zero waste ethos is The Sustainability Project (TSP). Founded by Joline Tang (Jo) in 2017, TSP first started out as a blog to encourage people to lead a greener lifestyle and has since transformed into an online business carrying a wide range of eco products.
The beginnings of TSP can be traced back to 2011, when Jo was still an accounting student. Back then, awareness about sustainability was low among her peers. Jo was dismayed to see her classmates throwing away A4 papers that had only been used on one side. Her concern was later piqued again when she started working in the CBD and saw how much single-use packaging and plastics were being used by office workers.
This led her to start sourcing for eco products to sell through TSP in 2018. At the same time, Jo also extended TSP’s education arm, actively sharing eco tips on TSP’s blog and holding customised talks and workshops for schools and corporate clients.
Keeping in line with her zero-waste vision, Jo also started to review how the downstream operations in the retail arm could stay true to the spirit of sustainability.
One person’s effort can make a difference
From the very beginning, TSP’s orders were sent out in used packaging. And in 2020, after a few years of sharing this practice with others, Jo decided that it was time to consolidate everyone’s efforts and provide a tangible platform to encourage more people to make this change.
Thus, the Zero Waste Packaging Initiative (ZWPI) was born in an effort to get more businesses to adopt a circular packaging system. The goal was to save 20,000 pieces of packaging by 2025. Jo explains:
“I didn’t think it made sense to buy new packaging to send out our orders, because we are trying to encourage people to reduce their waste after all. That’s why I made the choice for TSP to make use of reused packaging — I started by just going around collecting used packaging that were in a good condition. I wanted to share with more retailers that it was possible to pack orders with used packaging, and that led me to set up the Zero Waste Packaging Initiative.”
Getting the ZWPI off the ground was challenging at first. The issue wasn’t because she couldn’t find sufficient used packaging to repurpose. Instead, it was the retailers themselves who were hesitant to participate because their brands had to adhere to strict operational and branding guidelines. This meant that packaging with inconsistent shapes and sizes, or reusable packaging that carried other products’ branding had to be rejected, even though they were in good condition.
Fortunately, with the boom of e-commerce, many small-scale online sellers — who didn’t have strict brand guidelines to follow — entered the market. This was coupled by an increase in consumer acceptance on used packaging (i.e. consumers didn’t mind receiving their purchases in mismatched or used packaging). Jo also started working with some sellers who were willing to provide ZWPI with a supply of new but slightly defective packaging that would otherwise be disposed of.
In 2020, the ZWPI partnered with Package Pals, which focuses on collecting single-use plastic packaging such as polymailers, bubble wrap and padded envelopes for reuse.
The good news? As of March 2022, ZWPI had already met (and exceeded) their target of saving 20,000 pieces of packaging by 2025 — way ahead of time!
What else can individual consumers do?
If you don’t mind packaging that isn’t the norm, suggest to your favourite brands and shops to consider reusing packaging!
If you are a frequent online shopper and have many pieces of packaging leftover from your online shopping, which are clean and still in good condition, do donate them to organisations such as Package Pals and The Sustainability Project’s Zero Waste Packaging Initiative (but only when donation calls are open for the latter please!).
BONUS! TSP also houses the “A Million Books” initiative, which sells preloved books. 100% of profits goes to tree planting initiatives in Singapore. Check out their collection here.