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Introducing Reusable Packaging to Singapore’s Hawker Centers

Muuse chose Unravel Carbon to conduct an LCA in order to evaluate the impact of its reusable container pilot program for hawker centers.

Introducing Reusable Packaging to Singapore’s Hawker Centers

Muuse, which stands for “multiple use,” is a company headquartered in Singapore that is committed to eliminating single-use waste through robust, data-driven reuse systems.

The company has successfully diverted more than 200,000 single-use items from landfills with large-scale events and festivals, projects with corporations and universities, and cafe networks across Asia and North America.

After receiving a grant from the SG Eco Fund—a government program that promotes environmental sustainability through community involvement—Muuse was able to launch a pilot program that focused on gauging the impact of promoting reusable packaging within Singapore's hawker centers.

At Unravel Carbon, we had the privilege of collaborating with Muuse by conducting a comprehensive life cycle analysis (LCA) for their pioneering project.

The LCA not only shed light on the efficacy of reusable containers in minimizing single-use waste, but also underscored the significant potential for carbon reduction when scaling such initiatives.

In an interview with Muuse's CEO, Jonathan Tostevin, we delved into the details of their groundbreaking effort, explored the findings of the LCA that was carried out by Unravel Carbon, and learned about Muuse’s plans for using these insights in order to advance and broaden their sustainability initiatives.

Could you tell us about Muuse's hawker center pilot program?

Hawker centers hold a special place in the heart of Singapore's culture, and ever since I joined Muuse in 2019, we’ve wanted to find ways of supporting the community through reusable packaging.

Singapore is actually very well set up for reuse—every neighborhood has its own hawker center, many with washing facilities, and tons of people regularly head to these centralized spots for their meals every day.

Unfortunately, there always seemed to be one challenge or another that made it difficult to kickstart the projects we had in mind.

What really changed things was when we received a grant from the SG Eco Fund, courtesy of the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment.

With their support, we were able to overcome those obstacles and launch a container rental system pilot with the Hawker Centre @ Our Tampines Hub.

Muuser borrows reusable container directly from the Muuse Engagement Booth, a centralized pick-up point located at the Hawker Centre to facilitate easy access for consumers and to help raise awareness about the program

Over the course of the program, we worked with 8 hawker stalls, had almost 10,000 reusable containers borrowed, and reduced carbon emissions by 80 percent via shifting away from disposable takeaway packaging.

That's really how the whole thing came to life—it was something we'd always wanted to do, and the perfect opportunity finally presented itself.

In terms of Muuse partnering with Unravel Carbon on the project, how did that come about?

We felt pretty strongly about having a life cycle analysis (LCA) done for the pilot program.

Specifically, we recognized the pivotal role that an LCA can play in demonstrating the advantages of reusable packaging compared to single-use alternatives, as well as the business opportunities that may arise from making these findings accessible to potential partners.

Plus, we knew that the insights we’d gain from the analysis could help us improve operational efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint as well.

When I started looking into the process of having an LCA done, it became apparent pretty quickly that it’d be a fairly complex task to undertake on our own.

However, having our SG Eco Fund grant enabled us to seek out partners who could conduct a really comprehensive LCA, which is why we decided to get in touch with Unravel Carbon.

It felt like a natural choice to work with another Singapore-headquartered company that understands this region incredibly well, is aligned with our mission of fighting against climate change, and could leverage their expertise to carry out a really thorough and insightful analysis.

Could you tell us about the LCA’s process of quantifying the emissions impact of reusables?

We wanted to understand and compare the impacts of reusable vs disposable containers across their entire lifecycle, and so as a result, Rebekah (Unravel Carbon’s Decarbonization Solutions Manager)—who did a phenomenal job of leading the LCA—recommended that we adopt a cradle-to-grave approach.

Dropping the used reusable container into the return station

To do this, the team at Unravel Carbon looked at how many reusable containers were in use on a weekly cycle and then calculated how many disposable containers could be displaced over various time periods, i.e. the project lifetime or one full year.

For disposable containers, the manufacturing and upstream transport emissions occur each time a container is used, as do the end-of-life emissions and associated downstream transport. In other words, this makes it easy to model the related emissions.

When it came to reusables, these upstream and downstream emissions only occur once, so we had to divide certain emissions by the total number of possible uses of a reusable container to get the per-use emissions. Rebekah and the team also accounted for the emissions generated through the washing of containers and transport to the washing site.

By comparing the emissions generated by the use of a set number of disposables per week with the emissions generated by the equivalent uses of reusable containers per week, we were able to compare the two situations and measure the benefit of the reusables.

Based on the LCA, what were some of the program’s most promising findings?

It’s worth noting that going into the analysis, we didn’t actually know if we’d be getting a positive result.

At scale, there’s no doubt that reuse is more efficient than single-use, but because this project was only a partial rollout, we weren’t sure what the outcome would be.

Given this, it was really amazing to see that the net impact of our reuse project was an 80% reduction in emissions produced by the use of takeaway packaging.

To date, our program has been responsible for saving 1.2 t CO2-e, which is the equivalent to driving 7,000 kilometers in a typical car.

We were curious to know what the outcome would be if every takeaway item in the hawker center was reusable, and that number came out to be 21 t CO2-e saved per year—that’s equivalent to taking 10 single-trip flights from Singapore to Toronto.

If you multiply that by all the hawker centers, food courts, and coffee shops across Singapore, you start to get quite a big number, which is really exciting.

Showcasing the range of reusable containers available @ Our Tampines Hub

What are some of the ways that Muuse hopes to leverage these findings?

I think the most important learning was gaining insight into how the methods and locations we choose for end-of-life treatment of containers can influence total lifecycle emissions.

We explored sending old or damaged containers to mechanical recyclers in Malaysia and found that by engaging with Plastify, a local ground-up organization that upcycles old plastics into new products, we can reduce our end-of-life emissions and bring total lifecycle emissions down by 7 percent.

It’s a really fantastic idea, and we’ve actually already started doing this for products that were damaged during the pilot or are no longer usable.

The other thing was seeing clear evidence to support the fact that, in terms of reducing emissions, washing containers on-site is more effective than transporting these items to an off-site facility.

Muuser borrows reusable container at I'm Thai, one of Muuse’s partner hawker stalls at the Hawker Centre @ Our Tampines Hub

This is something we knew intuitively, but having an extremely detailed LCA that actually bears this out is an incredible resource to have.

In our partnerships with government agencies, these insights can be really helpful when discussing what the future of sustainability efforts within hawker centers looks like, and how we can ensure that every location has the support, capacity, and infrastructure it needs to implement a reuse program successfully.

To the point of partnerships, do you think this data-driven approach can help Muuse establish more initiatives with government agencies and large companies?

I definitely think so.

Especially for larger clients, being able to quantify and share that kind of data is really important. For them, it’s about enhancing their sustainability efforts, and also, being able to measure the success of their projects and collaborations.

Right now, we operate mostly out of Singapore and Hong Kong, have great partnerships with Starbucks and PepsiCo, and I really do believe that we're at the forefront of a revolution around packaging, particularly in Asia.

Muuse user borrows Starbucks reusable cup at NUS UTown from Starbucks barista

Also, we’re really encouraged by the commitment of governments to leverage regulations in order to address the problem of single-use waste.

For us, we’re incredibly grateful to be in a position where we can make a meaningful contribution to these efforts, and to be able to partner with companies like Unravel Carbon along the way.

Now, the goal is to move quickly and hopefully, become a global leader in the reusable packaging space.

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