May Yap: Of sense and sustainability

Packaging Council of Singapore puts its members first as it navigates the brutal impact of the pandemic on businesses, and as the world returns to normalcy, chairperson May Yap says collaboration with government agencies and other stakeholders on sustainable objectives are back in focus

Can you give us a quick insight into the Packaging Council of Singapore and your role as chairperson?
I am elected by members of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) to be the chairperson of the Packaging Council of Singapore (PCS), which is one of the Industry Groups (IGs) within the SMF. (In this role) I am entrusted with the responsibility to represent the interests of the packaging IG.

As the PCS chairperson and as an SMF council member, I am aligned with the SMF ethos of collaboration. Accordingly, I see my role as an advocate and as a bridge – canvassing the concerns and suggestions of the PCS to other IGs, government agencies and relevant stakeholders. In this regard, the SMF provides a variety of platforms – both in Singapore and overseas – which allows for the PCS IG and the manufacturing community’s voices to be heard.

How far has sustainable packaging come in the past five years? How does Packaging Council of Singapore play into this and what do you think is the association’s role in building a sustainable Singapore?
Sustainable packaging has featured in the minds of PCS members prominently over the past five years. Through our annual Singapore Packaging Star Awards, we have seen innovations in packaging designs, such as the use of new biodegradable materials, or new packaging designs that can be repurposed, such as mooncake boxes that can be reused as jewellery boxes.

Besides advocating the use of more sustainable packaging, the SMF PCS also encourages reducing the amount of packaging waste, which makes up one-third of Singapore’s domestic waste.

In 2021, the SMF worked closely with the National Environment Agency (NEA) to launch an industry-led programme called the Packaging Partnership Programme, of which the PCS is one of the Advisory Committees. Through this programme, we aim to encourage more companies to build their capabilities in reducing, recovering and recycling packaging waste, thereby reducing the amount of waste. The programme also familiarises companies with Mandatory Packaging Reporting requirements, where producers of packaged products, such as brand owners, manufacturers and importers, and retailers such as supermarkets, will be required to submit packaging data and 3R plans to the NEA.

The SMF PCS will continue to engage with relevant stakeholders to scan the horizon for developing technologies which would enable the conservation of resources for the future.

How did the association keep its members engaged and provide assistance for challenges that emerged during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, the SMF quickly moved to launch social media and communications platforms targeted at providing assistance on Covid-19 restrictions and measures. Named SMF HELPS! Telegram channel, SMF staff manned the channel until late into the night. Drawing on the SMF’s close working partnership with government agencies, the SMF was able to provide quick and timely responses to members’ queries on movement restrictions, and disseminate government advisories and notices. The SMF was also an effective channel in assisting our members make appeals to relevant agencies for exceptions to be made for movement restrictions.

Standing together with our members, the SMF waived membership fees for a year in 2020 and conducted workshops on business continuity planning and incorporating resilience through supply chain diversification, as well as participated in initiatives to make hand sanitisers and thermometers available to our members at a time when such resources were scarce. The SMF also worked with its MedTech (medical technology) members to source for and provide antigen rapid test (ART) kits to our members at discounted prices. Classes were also held to educate our members on how to conduct swab tests. The SMF also applied for and received approval to have an onsite Covid-19 testing centre on our premises.

The above measures were appreciated by the manufacturing community and the SMF is happy to report that our membership base grew during this period.

The SMF is a member-driven association. Being able to understand, anticipate and alleviate or resolve members’ concerns would bring the most value to our members. This means interacting and engaging with members and stakeholders toward purposeful outcomes. The challenge then evolves into a balancing of solutions and compromises especially when conflicting interests between stakeholders arise.

Extending and multiplying networking connections go a long way towards such issues. The SMF focuses a lot on providing networking opportunities, focus group discussions, and in-depth one-on-one conversations with our members.

Why is it necessary for the association to take part in tradeshows like Speciality & Fine Food Asia?
Tradeshows are effective platforms to showcase products, innovation and multiply outreach. They also allow companies opportunities to build new partnerships and reaffirm existing ones.

For participating companies, it is always a comfort to know that with a trade association behind them, many operational aspects of being an exhibitor will be taken care of and they would have a sounding board for their ideas and questions.

To that end, the SMF and the PCS IG are happy to be a Strategic Partner and Supporting Partner, respectively, of Food2Go, a tradeshow by Montgomery Asia scheduled for September 2023. Through this tradeshow, we hope to be able to showcase our members’ innovative packaging solutions for the food industry to the public. As our members will be housed under the Singapore Pavilion, they will also be representing Singapore to showcase Singapore’s sustainable and innovative packaging technology.

What are some of the lessons the association has learnt from the pandemic, and how different is the association today compared to pre-Covid?
As an industry, we definitely became more resilient and resourceful. For example, we have witnessed companies diversifying their supply chains due to the uncertainty brought about by various border closures due to the pandemic, as well as implementing digital tools in their business models.

The SMF has also walked with our members on this journey. Hybrid meetings have become the norm, and activities we conduct to keep members informed and engaged include virtual business matching sessions and hosting webinars on overseas trade opportunities.

Could you share some of the association’s future plans and projects?
Well, for one, we will be celebrating the SMF’s 90th Anniversary this year! The past couple of years have been challenging for the manufacturing community – first with the US-China trade conflict, the Covid-19 pandemic and now the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Having gone through so much with our members, the SMF is looking forward to a meaningful birthday celebration, building camaraderie and friendships among our members.

The SMF will also continue working closely with government agencies to bring greater awareness to our members on Industry Transformation Maps for the manufacturing community, as well as to achieve the Manufacturing 2030 vision – that is, to transform Singapore into an advanced manufacturing hub.

With sustainability dominating the global agenda, the SMF will continue working with experts to assist Singapore’s manufacturing community to craft its sustainability narrative. The SMF and PCS will continue to engage our members to increase sustainability awareness, build capabilities such as through training and workshops, and work with the government and stakeholders to curate programmes and initiatives to assist our members on their sustainability journey.

What advice would you give to associations that are struggling to find members?
Be sincere, open-minded and welcoming. Companies will know if you are sincere in wanting to help them or just wanting to hit membership KPIs. Let the association be a welcoming community to all where everyone can learn from one another. Over time, members will see the value and continue to stay as a member.