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Introduction to packaging waste

The rapid growth of e-commerce has made packaging waste harder to sweep under the carpet.
© Adam Smith Center, Singapore

Packaging is a connecting link between production and consumption. Excessive packaging, however, has become particularly pronounced in urbanized countries.

Packaging materials commonly refer to the container or wrapping used for the transport, handling, protection, marketing or sale of a product. Some of the most common packaging materials include glass, paper, cardboard and plastic. These materials often wrap or encase consumer goods like food, beverages and household products.

Packaging waste, therefore, refers to the aforementioned materials which are discarded. One reason why packaging waste has risen exponentially can be attributed to the advent of e-commerce. Today, e-commerce and the wildfire of online shopping events have swept the world over.

Within Asia Pacific, there was 15.5% year-on-year growth in retail e-commerce sales in 2020. In Southeast Asia alone, the online commerce market was worth US$62 billion, over a third of which was generated by new shoppers.

The convenience of e-commerce and online shopping, however, has taken a toll on the environment. Today, excessive packaging materials and the rise in bulk purchases have compounded the problem.

On a global scale, the e-commerce industry generated 2.1 billion pounds of plastic packaging in 2019. It is projected that e-commerce plastic packaging use will continue to grow in the coming years, reaching an estimated 4.5 billion pounds by 2025.

© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
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