Singaporeans' receptiveness to second-hand packaging for online purchases

Study shows that Singaporeans are receptive to second-hand packaging for online purchases; expect brands to do more to protect the environment.

A new study commissioned by Singapore start-up Package Pals reveals that the majority of Singaporeans (77%) recognise that single-use packaging generates significant waste, and an overwhelming majority of respondents are open to brands and e-commerce merchants reusing second-hand packaging for deliveries.

The Package Pals study, which sought to understand the perceptions and receptivity of second-hand packaging in Singapore, and to uncover motivations and barriers towards receiving and donating second-hand packaging, was done in collaboration with Singapore’s leading online shopping platform, Lazada Singapore, and conducted by global market research company, Ipsos.

Second-hand packaging refers to the reuse of single-use packaging materials such as poly mailers, mailing envelopes, bubble wrap, etc., by using it for packaging and mailing parcels, more than once. Package Pals was founded on the principles of circular packaging, or reusing to minimise waste.

Consumer mindfulness and efforts towards sustainability

The study revealed that 77% of Singaporeans agree that there is a lot of waste generated when single-use packaging is used to mail products to consumers, and showed that many Singaporeans are already recycling packaging in their personal capacity, while further expecting brands and merchants to do the same, if not more. Nearly four in five (79%) believe that it is important for brands to reduce unnecessary packaging when mailing products to consumers, and only 7% of those surveyed completely rejected the idea of using second-hand packaging.

In their personal capacity, Singaporeans are taking efforts to recycle by using collection points dedicated to packaging (28%), and use of regular recycling bins provided near their homes (50%). In terms of reusing packaging materials, 41% of Singaporeans say that they have personally used or reused second-hand packaging to mail parcels to others, while 36% have received a parcel from an online shop which was mailed to them with second-hand packaging.

“The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of digital transformation of brands leading to an expansion of digital channels, touchpoints, services and experiences. Competing in the current landscape requires brands to communicate a brand purpose that connects with their consumers in a relevant way,” said Melanie Ng, Director of Market Strategy and Understanding at Ipsos in Singapore.

“Our study showed that nearly 8 in 10 Singaporean consumers feel positive towards brands that support the use of second-hand packaging. Other than the obvious benefit to the environment, going green is an opportunity for brands and merchants to be and stay connected with Singaporean consumers.”

Added Rachel Han, co-founder at Package Pals, “There is a need to bridge the gap between consumers’ desire for sustainable business practices and businesses’ perception of consumers’ attitudes toward second-hand packaging. Consumers can encourage businesses to adopt second-hand packaging and show that there is a demand. Businesses can also gauge whether their customers are open to second-hand packaging through an opt-in or opt-out system, where customers can choose whether they would like new or reused packaging for their orders.”

The majority of Singaporeans (88%) say they are receptive towards donating their used packaging. In addition, 62% of Singaporeans are receptive to receiving second-hand packaging - Seven in ten (71%) of whom cited a desire to support initiatives that reduce waste or are sustainable, and half of them (47%) having no preference when it comes to packaging.

Singapore's leading online grocer RedMart, the supermarket arm of Lazada Singapore, has been one of the first companies nationwide to reuse packaging with its carton delivery boxes, to great reception from its shoppers. Recently, it started using sustainable packaging for its house-brand products, including swapping plastic for lower carbon footprint paper packaging, and also adopted a greener way of transporting cold groceries by innovating food storage solutions during transport.

“As a household name in Singapore, RedMart has an important part to play in the grocery business where there are many possible areas of excessive packaging waste. We have a strong focus on sustainability, and do what we can while maintaining strict safety and hygiene standards expected of us. RedMart is part of the Packaging Partnership Programme by NEA, a reflection of our ongoing commitment to evolve and adopt more sustainable practices. We urge all our customers to do their part and return our carton boxes to RedMart delivery drivers whenever possible,” noted Gerald Glauerdt, Chief Logistics Officer of Lazada Singapore.

Expectations, barriers and concerns in adopting second-hand packaging

Despite the high receptivity to second-hand packaging, there are some immediate consumer concerns about accepting second-hand packaging. These include fear of product tampering (57%), hygiene (50%), and product authenticity (47%). To help encourage the practice, consumers indicated they are looking to pay less for second-hand packaging, as well as new guidelines and assurance around guarantee of quality and authenticity of products that are delivered in second-hand packaging materials.

For the 38% of consumers who are not receptive to second-hand packaging, about half of them (52%) have expressed receptivity if presented with a choice or opt-in model, or if advance notice is given by merchants that the product will be shipped with second-hand packaging (47%).

The overall receptivity towards receiving second-hand packaging differs across categories. The highest receptivity was for products in the Automotive & Motorcycle (74%), Home & Lifestyle (72%), Electronic Devices (69%), Sports & Lifestyle (67%), Men (65%) & Women’s (63%) Fashion categories.

Categories that consumers were least receptive towards include Health and Beauty (47%), TV & Home Appliances (44%), Watches & Bags (43%), Babies & Toys (42%), and Groceries & Pets (40%).

From the e-commerce merchants’ perspective, their hesitation to use second-hand packaging comes from a lack of cost incentive, as use of virgin packaging is of relatively low cost to the business. Furthermore, some packaging manufacturers offer packaging made from recycled plastics, which gives merchants an opportunity to play their part in being environmentally responsible.

Merchants believe that customers are indifferent to sustainable practices, and that more important drivers of purchase for the customer are price/value for money and product quality. They concede that customers might be more open to second-hand packaging for less delicate product categories, but merchants are sceptical about the cleanliness and usability of second-hand packaging. Like their customers, they are concerned that the quality of their products will be compromised, or that customers will not be able to ascertain if their packages have been tampered with while en route to them.

“While there have been tremendous efforts made by global brands towards sustainability, adoption of green practices by smaller brands and merchants is still nascent. In the case of second-hand packaging, merchants are hesitant not only because virgin packaging costs very little, but also because new packaging assures them that the cleanliness and quality of their products will not be compromised in that last mile to the customer”, said Ms Ng.

“Perhaps the first step is to recognise that there is a misperception that consumers are indifferent to sustainable practices. Consumers are doing what they can to recycle and reduce waste but they feel that the greater environmental impact will come when businesses adopt such green practices at scale.”

“Circularity is quickly becoming the norm in the Europe and North America markets, with reusable packaging initiative Loop achieving fast, exponential growth through major partnerships with international brands such as Tesco in the United Kingdom, Kroger and Walgreens in the United States, and Carrefour in France. Circularity is also gaining traction in Southeast Asia, with supermarkets in Thailand and Vietnam ditching plastic packaging in favour of banana leaves. In Singapore, start-ups such as Barepack and Muuse have established long-term partnerships with a growing number of partnerships with F&B brands, as well as with major food delivery partners Grab, FoodPanda and Deliveroo,’ added Rachel Lee, co-founder at Package Pals.

“A societal shift in attitude towards waste is greatly needed for both consumers and businesses. Instead of seeing waste as something that should be out of sight and out of mind, we need to view it as a potential resource for new products or exploration. Consumers and businesses share a mutualistic relationship, and both sides can influence each other to reduce waste and reuse existing resources.”


About the Study:

These are the results of an online survey conducted by Ipsos from 3 - 9 September 2021, among a nationally representative sample of 800 adults aged 18 - 64 years old in Singapore. Participants are considered to be main purchase decision makers for e-commerce and have made a purchase from an e-commerce website or application in the 4 weeks leading up to the survey period. Quotas were set on age and gender as per the general population.