Sustainability was out the window when the COVID-19 came

Date : 02 May 2020

Report Version


  • The Demand for packaging is increasing in groceries, healthcare products, and e-commerce transportation. These rises will offset the fall in other packaging categories.
  • The threat of coronavirus and the fear of consumers has pushed back against bans on single-use plastics. However, there is little evidence to show that single-use plastic is safer.


Several More Piles of Waste

In 2018, World Bank forecasted that by 2050, the world is likely to generate 3.40 billion tons of waste per year or 2.01 billion tons more from that year. East Asia & the pacific was accountable for about a quarter of the total wasteFor ASEAN, waste management has already been a problem; only a few cities can deal with their pre-pandemic waste volume in their homes. A report from Asian Development Bank (ADB) has estimated that cities in ASEAN could expect at least an additional waste of 150 tons a day into their waste collecting system. These figures below didn’t include the amount of single-use plastics in groceries, healthcare products, and e-commerce transportation, all of which are on the rise


Instead of going out we’re ordering in

People put their money where their mouth is, and that was what we are doing under the lockdown. Only this time we are ordered online and checking our phone to track the delivery. This increase in adoption is across all generations, including baby boomers, who have previously been slow not just to “buy” but even to “be” online.


Old habit dies hard

People around the world have succumbed their environmental values of “No” single-use plastic to the fear of COVID-19 infection. The temporary relaxation on single-use plastic bans is likely to have a long-term effect on consumer behaviour. As people have returned to their old habits; the use of plastic bags, this practice could become normalised once more.


How will COVID-19 drive the industry’s megatrend?

The context of the pandemic certainly has raised people’s concern about hygiene and food safety. The question is, would this same context make consumer reevaluate the trade-offs between temporary hygiene-and-safety and the long-term sustainability performance of our world?

The answer is “No.”

According to McKinsey’s survey, plastics have made their ways back as most of us are still in the precautious mode. We need to manage the turmoil, except the access waste from home deliveries, go for cheaper option while remaining on safety alert. Some of the examples are; a coffeehouse is temporarily banning reusable cups during the outbreak or numerous retailers are not encouraging the bring-your-own-bag measures at their cash registers. 


But there is something we can do?

Piles of plastic waste that would take another 500 years to decompose are indeed scary, but there is something we could do when it comes to sustainability. Here are some of the initiatives


Reusable - Free alcohol only if you bring your bottles

The philanthropic arm of Temasek holdings was distributing sanitizer to the Singaporean. Nearly 600,000 people came to collect 500 ml of sanitizer for free. The only condition was for people to bring their containers. "In giving out free hand-sanitizer to 1.5 million households in Singapore, we really do not want to create an additional 1.5 million worth of new plastic bottles," explains Ng Boon Heong, the chief executive of the Temasek Foundation.

An exchange and return model for home delivery

DeliverZero; a food delivery startup in New York City, has been working with restaurants and customers on their application to exchange the previous food containers with their next delivery. “When it’s time to return the containers, you return them to the delivery guy on your next order,” Farbiarz says. “You essentially are swapping out containers.”



1. World Bank: what-a-waste

2. ADB: Managing Medical Waste

3. McKinsey & Co: Global View of Consumer Behaviour

4. McKinsey & Co: The packaging industry and Coronavirus

5. The Conversation: Lots of plastic during coronavirus

6. GCTN: COVID-19 worsen plastic waste problem

7. Business Insider: Online Grocery Report

8. QZ: Startups solve takeout plastic problems


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