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Singapore

Consumers of pre-packaged drinks may have to pay 10-20 cent deposit under proposed recycling scheme

The deposit will be refunded to consumers who return the cans and bottles at designated points. 

 

03:23 Min
Consumers of pre-packaged beverages may have to fork out 10 to 20 cents more as a deposit for their favourite drinks if a proposed scheme meant to encourage recycling and reduce waste is implemented. Chloe Choo reports. 

SINGAPORE: Consumers of pre-packaged beverages may have to fork out 10 to 20 cents more as a deposit for their favourite drinks if a proposed scheme meant to encourage recycling and reduce waste is implemented. 

In its initial stages, it will likely involve only metal cans and plastic bottles, with a flat deposit amount applied to each container regardless of size. 

This means that if a deposit amount is 20 cents, a can of coke that originally costs S$1.20 in a convenience store will retail for around S$1.40. 

Consumers will, however, be able to get their 20 cents back upon returning the can to designated return points that have yet to be confirmed.

The proposed beverage container return scheme is currently in its consultation phase.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday (Sep 20) invited the public to give feedback on the scheme's parameters, such as the amount of deposit to be charged. 

After details are firmed up, the scheme will likely be rolled out by mid-2024, with a grace period for producers to ensure that pre-packaged beverages comply with the new packaging requirements.

The scheme will not apply to drinks prepared on the spot, such as bubble tea. 

THE SCHEME'S RATIONALE

The scheme was first announced at the 2020 Committee of Supply debates. It aims to reduce packaging waste, which forms about a third of domestic waste. About 60 per cent of such waste is plastic. 

More than 1 billion pre-packaged beverages are supplied domestically every year. 

In 2020, around 660 million metal cans and 390 million plastic bottles were used and according to NEA's figures, only 4 per cent of plastic waste was recycled that year. 

The beverage container return scheme is a step towards the goal of reducing the amount of waste sent to Singapore's only landfill, hence extending its lifespan beyond 2035. 

The goal, under the Singapore Green Plan 2030 and the Zero Waste Masterplan, is to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill per capita per day by 20 per cent by 2026, and 30 per cent by 2030, and to increase the national recycling rate to 70 per cent by 2030.

The beverage container return scheme will also be the first phase of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach to manage packaging waste. The approach aims to make beverage producers - which includes manufacturers and importers - more responsible for the collection and end-of-life management of their products. 

Speaking to reporters about the scheme on Tuesday, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor stressed that the scheme was not a "tax" on pre-packaged drinks. 

Dr Khor was speaking outside a Sheng Siong outlet at Block 451 Bukit Batok West Avenue 6, one of the supermarkets expected to have a beverage container return point when the scheme is rolled out.

Asked to address concerns about a potential price hike in pre-packaged drinks, Dr Khor said: "I would like to emphasise that this deposit really is not a tax on the beverage because consumers will be able to get a full refund of the deposit paid as long as they return the used container. So the idea really is to encourage them to return to get back the deposit, inculcate recycling habits." 

She added that the government did not expect a "significant increase" in beverage prices from the scheme due to competition amongst importers and manufacturers. 

"(Consumers) can choose different beverages as well as buy from different retail channels, and price competition really will moderate any changes in beverage prices." 

FINDINGS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES, PAST PUBLIC ENGAGEMENTS

Singapore's scheme takes reference from similar programmes under different names in around 50 other jurisdictions.

CNA observed one such programme in Sydney, called the Return and Earn scheme, through which consumers received a 10-cent refund for each container they dropped off at return points such as automated depots. 

Other countries such as Norway, Germany and Lithuania have generally seen return rates of more than 90 per cent. Their deposit amounts ranged from the Singapore equivalent of 10 cents to 40 cents. 

In addition to overseas precedents, Singapore sought feedback from those with vested interest in the industry, such as beverage producers, retailers, waste management companies, environmental groups and members of the public.  

Most participants in focus group discussions and a dialogue session agreed to include plastic bottles and metal cans due to the ease of recovery and large quantities used. These materials are also easier to collect and compact. 

Other recyclable materials, such as beverage cartons and glass bottles, may be considered at a later phase. 

To avoid confusion, all beverages - including alcohol and dairy products - that come in metal cans and plastic bottles will be eligible.

Based on past feedback, the deposit will likely be a flat amount of between 10 cents and 20 cents that will apply to all containers regardless of size. 

A higher deposit amount may discourage consumers from buying beverages, while a lower rate may fail to motivate consumers to recycle. 

WHAT THE PROCESS MAY LOOK LIKE

The scheme will likely be managed by a not-for-profit entity that will take charge of operations, such as the collection of used containers, and the handling of deposits.

This operator will be required to report its operations and performance, and achieve a return target set by the NEA, which will regulate and monitor its compliance. 

In similar overseas initiatives, producers of pre-packaged beverages are legally responsible for the collection and recycling of used containers. They register as a member with the scheme operator to collect and recycle beverage containers on behalf of the operator and also fund the scheme. 

Barcodes of pre-packaged drinks must be registered with the operator. This helps the operator track the numbers and types of containers covered and also serves to prevent consumers from claiming a refund for inapplicable containers, such as those bought overseas. Barcodes can also be scanned when returned to reverse vending machines.

Apart from a barcode, containers will be labelled with a deposit mark to help consumers identify those that are covered under the scheme. 

As to where the containers can be returned, the Government is mulling mandated return points at large supermarkets with a total area of more than 200 sq m. These supermarkets - of which there are around 400 - are also the preferred return locations for survey respondents.

Other return points will be considered after balancing their convenience and accessibility to consumers against the operational costs of an extensive collection network. 

Return points could take the form of over-the-counter manual returns handled by cashiers, or automated reverse vending machines. The scheme operator will pay these return points handling fees to compensate for associated costs.

As to how food and beverage operators may carry out the scheme, Dr Khor said that operators may choose to pour the beverage into cups for customers and keep the containers, or they might hand the container over to customers themselves. 

Upon return of the containers, consumers may get their refunds through electronic transfer, cash, cash vouchers or may also opt to donate the amount to charity. 

Based on the past survey, cash and electronic transfers were the most preferred options. 

The public is invited to give their feedback and views, particularly on the type of beverage containers to include, the deposit amount and return point locations, via go.gov.sg/nea-bcrs. The survey will close on Oct 14, 11.59pm.

Editor's note: This story has been amended to remove the reference that supermarkets where the containers can be returned to account for one-third of prepackaged drinks sold in Singapore. We apologise for the error.

Source: CNA/wt(gr)
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