Product packaging a big contributor to landfills, says expert

  • Community
  • Monday, 21 Mar 2016

AS THE per-capita income increases, we splurge on things maybe we once never needed.

Even the packaging of these things is excessive.

In most cases, this unwanted extra packaging rarely has any second-hand use and would end up in a landfill.

StarMetro spoke to a few experts to understand the situation and the need to reduce waste at the source.

Currently, there are no regulations to avoid excessive packaging in the country.

1 Dr Theng said that there needs to more regulations to control how products are packaged to limit waste.
Dr Theng said that there needs to more regulations to control how products are packaged to limit waste. 

Environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong said the absence of proper regulations with regard to excessive packaging had resulted in many consumer products being overly packaged causing plenty of material to got to waste.

At present the control on manufacturers are focused on emissions and pollution such as wastewater and chimney emission.

There are no regulations on product design and specifications which contribute to environmental issues.

Theng said the industrial and waste management sectors were still fragmented and not integrated.

“Unfortunately everyone is working separately.

“Solutions for overall environmental issues and waste management should be more holistic in the long run,” said Theng who is also the vice-chairman of the Association for Environmental Consultants and Companies of Malaysia (AECCOM).

He cited examples of products such as snacks, mooncakes, cookies and hampers often wrapped in fancy packaging.

These sort of packaging usually emerges during the festive season such as Chinese New Year and Hari Raya.

He said it was commendable that there were product packaging laws in countries such as Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and some European nations.

The law there restricts packaging material used by the manufacturers.

“For example the packaging for a box of chicken essence is stipulated.

“There are specific regulations of the distance between the bottles inside the box. This is to avoid the packaging from looking too bulky,” he said.

Theng said there were many products in the country which were “ridiculously” packaged.

5 Some products are packaged in larger than necessary boxes to make it look more grand and expensive.
Some products are packaged in larger than necessary boxes to make it look more grand and expensive.   

“Some of the packing looks like it was intended to cheat customers by giving a false impression of the product size.

“Sometimes it is a just a small item which does not require any excessive packaging,” he said.

From the waste management point of view, the country is facing problem in managing the daily generated waste.

The problems range from the lack of landfill space, low recycling rate, pollution and littering, said Theng, adding that the problem needed to be solved from the source.

“There should be control on the types of packaging by the manufacturers.

“At the moment, only multinational companies have better environmental policies,” he said.

These companies take the environmental factors into account. Their products undergo the life cycle assessment. They create designs which are environmentally friendly and based on certain standards.

Theng said it was a pity that most companies made products aimed solely for profit and care less about the environment.

“It is always about attractive strategies in terms of packaging and how great, big or pretty the products looks,” said Theng.

Theng has urged the relevant authorities in the country to look into the possibility of establishing packing laws for manufacturers.

He believes those with the legal powers over manufacturers lack understanding regarding environmental issues.

2 This big box of ginger tea on stores a packets.
This big box of ginger tea on stores a packets.  

“We can actually set regulations for these manufacturers to follow.

“When I invited the relevant authorities to attend meetings on environment-related topics they would actually send a reply stating that the topic was not relevant,” said Theng explaining the lackadaisical attitude over matters related to environment.

Theng said in Japan the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plays a significant role in controlling the manufacturers in aspects related to the environment and waste management.

There should be clear and farsighted strategies set for the manufacturers of packaging and product quality issues otherwise the waste management sector will keep facing challenges to deal with the tremendous amount of waste generation, he said.

Based on reports by the Government, Theng said 33,000 tonnes of waste is generated in the country and this was based on data sampling done in 2012.

He estimated that waste generation in 2016 could be close to 40,000 tonnes. Theng also felt the rate of recycling was under reported.

“It was reported in 2013 that 10.5% of our waste was recycled. It should be close to 20% now.

“Most of the recycling activity data is still not captured by the authorities because it is done in private,” he said.

He cited examples of almost 100% recycling taking place at the restaurant, car workshops and offices.

6 The American Ginseng occupies a thin layer of the box. While the rest of the packing is merely for decorative purpose.
The American Ginseng occupies a thin layer of the box. While the rest of the packing is merely for decorative purpose.  

Nevertheless there are still considerable amount of waste between 15%-20% with recyclables disposed at the landfill.

“The landfill operators claim the amount of recyclable materials disposed at the sites has been lessening.

“It depends on the location and if the recycling activities were well promoted in that area,” he said.

Petaling Jaya Solid Waste Management and Public Cleaning director Lee Lih Shyan said the ‘excessive’ packaging of products was linked to public behaviour.

Lee said it would be ideal if more companies adopt the environment efficiency policy and more consumers were environmental conscious.

“Malaysians actually like the grand-looking packaging. Take a look at the flower gift bouquets during special occasions. They are wrapped with so many layers of coloured papers.

“You want to give the flowers but it comes with all the fancy wrappings. All that packaging only goes to the landfill once the flowers dry up,” he said.

Lee said companies such as IKEA has adopted the flat packaging policy which is environmental friendly.

“Products are packaged in a manner where less material is required and this means fewer boxes to use,” he said.

Lee added in some countries, manufacturers were taxed based on the packaging waste they produce. This encourages manufacturers to think creatively and package their products in the most innovative manner and results in minimum waste.

Some countries have also opted for the Green Labelling Scheme. Products that are awarded these labels are sought after by public. These products are acknowledged by the respective governments for minimised production waste or using recycled content.

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM) Anthony Tan said waste separation was the key for a cleaner environment.

He welcomed the reduction of packaging layers. However, he said it was important to have packaging that has a re-usable value.

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