Convenience vs environment: Southeast Asia’s single-use plastic bottled water consumption persists

Convenience vs environment: Southeast Asia's single-use plastic bottled water consumption persists

Across Southeast Asia, the persistent prevalence of single-use plastic bottled water is evident, with 21 per cent in the region purchasing single-use plastic bottles as their primary source of water consumption. This reveals both the scale of the issue and the potential for improvement.

Across Southeast Asia, the prevalence of single-use plastic bottled water persists, with many consumers disregarding the increasing awareness of environmental issues and exacerbating the region’s ongoing plastic pollution crisis. Milieu Insight, Southeast Asia’s leading consumer research firm conducted a survey among 3,500 respondents across the region to understand how policymakers and organisations can help foster a greater culture of recycling plastic water bottles.

Milieu Insight, Southeast Asia’s leading consumer research firm, conducted a survey among 3,500 respondents across the region to understand the prevalence of single-use plastic bottles, and delve into the reasons behind their use, and the recycling habits of Southeast Asian consumers, in response to a recent UN report.

The study found that Singapore (6 per cent) the Philippines (7 per cent) and Indonesia (9 per cent) had the lowest rates of purchasing plastic bottled water as their main source of water consumption in the region, highlighting the varying levels of reliance on plastic bottled water among the Southeast Asian countries.  

Respondents across the region cited key reasons for why they continue to consume single-use plastic bottled water: Bottled water is readily available (69 per cent), is hygienic/clean (48 per cent), and affordable (44 per cent). Despite having clean tap water, 31 per cent in Singapore cited hygiene reasons for consuming single-use plastic bottled water. 

Notably, Indonesia (56 per cent) and the Philippines (50 per cent) were more reliant on plastic gallon bottled water used in water dispensers, while Thailand was the highest across the region (63 per cent) for single-use bottled water consumption.

The study also found that on a regional level, the top three factors for not recycling were the lack of easily accessible recycling bins/chutes/areas (44 per cent), insufficient storage space for recyclables (43 per cent), and a habit of disposing rather than recycling (35 per cent). In Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, the inaccessibility of recycling bins/chutes was the primary reason for not recycling single-use plastic bottles. 

The inconvenient truth

When asked what would make them more motivated to recycle 52 per cent of the Southeast Asian respondents stated that they would be inclined to do so if recycling areas were more accessible. Additionally, 44 per cent expressed their desire for a designated space to store their recyclables, while an equal percentage felt that a reward, whether monetary or non-monetary, would serve as an effective incentive to encourage them to engage in recycling more often. In Vietnam, however, the top motivator is when everyone around them is also recycling, with 64 per cent indicating so. 

The study also highlights that majority in the region (85 per cent) acknowledge that the consumption of single-use plastic bottled water has a substantial environmental impact and that everyone has a role to play in reducing single-use plastic bottles. Respondents indicated that carrying one’s own water bottle to reduce purchases of bottled water (79 per cent) was the most popular when asked what they would be willing to do to minimise single-use plastic bottles.

Additionally, 43 per cent are keen to purchasing bottled water in larger volumes instead of multiple small bottles and 35 per cent express willingness to opt for packaged water in sustainable materials such as tetra pack or paper packaging. These findings reflect a growing consciousness and highlights the willingness of Southeast Asians to embrace sustainable practices.  

The survey revealed that across all age groups, 2 in 10 respondents admitted to rarely or never recycling their plastic bottles. Thailand saw the largest group of proactive individuals with 3 in 10 indicating that they would always recycle their plastic bottles. Regionally, the inclination to always recycle rather than dispose of plastic bottles is notably higher among those 45 years and older (33 per cent would always recycle) while 44 per cent of younger respondents within the 16-24 age band rarely or only sometimes recycled.   

Nudging consumers towards sustainable practices

In Singapore, to make recycling convenient for households and raise awareness among residents on the benefits of recycling, the National Environment Agency launched a Recycle Right campaign earlier this year. Every residential household in Singapore was encouraged to collect a free home recycling box, known as a Bloobox to help kickstart their own home recycling efforts.  

In the Philippines, SM Malls offers a trash to cash incentive program every first Friday and Saturday of the month at 74 SM Supermalls to encourage waste segregation and recycling among its customers, tenants, and the community. Regional offices have also implemented similar programs to motivate more consumers to collect their recyclables and exchange and convert their recyclable wastes and single-use plastics into Environmental Points (EPs) that can be used to buy groceries, goods, and even pay for utilities like electricity, water, and internet service. 

Across the region, Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) have also been popping up to drive behavioral change by incentivisation, supported by both the public and private sector. Klean, a Malaysia startup provides smart RVMs (Reverse Vending Machines), where citizens can drop off their PET plastic waste to collect points which they can redeem them for deals from their merchant partners, which include  TouchnGo, Boost and Grab. In Indonesia, state-run PT ASDP Indonesia Ferry has also deployed reverse vending machines (RVMs) and drop boxes at several ports and its branch offices to collect used plastic bottles. 

It is a cause of concern to observe that many consumers remain relatively complacent and continue to cite inconvenience as a reason for not recycling, especially when a significant majority of nearly 8 in 10 respondents (77 per cent) agree that single-use plastic bottles present a pressing environmental problem.

Globally, Asia-Pacific’s plastic recycling market is expected to witness the fastest CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 9.2 from 2022 to 2031, according to a report by Allied Market Research. Driven by more advanced technologies where recycled plastic now has a wide range of applications and uses in various industries, including packaging, construction, automotive, and textiles, recycling plastic waste, why are consumers slow to realise that they can simultaneously reduce their carbon footprint and create wealth by switching to more sustainable choices?

About Milieu Insight

Milieu Insight is Southeast Asia’s leading consumer research and data analytics company, renowned for its expertise in providing brands and businesses with valuable insights and market research data. Operating in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, Milieu Insight’s industry-transforming solutions were awarded several prestigious awards, including Campaign Asia’s Market Research Agency of the Year (Gold) and Tech MVP 2022. Its one-stop insights platform, Canvas, offers tools for analysing and visualising consumer opinion data across a multitude of lifestyle topics and sectors, powering businesses to make better, more impactful decisions and strategies.

Publish your content with EB Publishing

It's about who you reach. Get your news, events, jobs and thought leadership seen by those who matter to you.

Most popular

Featured Events

Publish your event
leaf background pattern

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability Join the Ecosystem →