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How her global scholarship has sparked her vision for a greener e-commerce future
By Audrey Ang
Rachel Lee_Singapore Management University_SPH Scholars Choice
A desire to help reduce waste prompted Ms Rachel Han to co-found Package Pals, an environmental start-up that redistributes second-hand packaging for reuse by online businesses. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

Using the skills her SMU scholarship has given her, this environmental start-up co-founder aims to cut packaging waste in the future

When she noticed the massive amount of packaging waste generated from her family’s e-commerce orders in just one week during the circuit breaker in 2020, Ms Rachel Han was inspired to find ways to repurpose them. 

A month later, the 21-year-old co-founded environmental start-up Package Pals with two other like-minded friends. 

“Package Pals is a circular packaging initiative that seeks to eliminate e-commerce packaging waste through second-hand packaging,” explains Ms Han.

More on this topic: SMU scholar helps others amid scrapped exchange, dreams of own charity foundation

The start-up collects used packaging before it ends up in waste bins and distributes them to online businesses for reuse, thus reducing the need for new packaging. 

Ms Han and her co-founders also conduct educational talks, workshops and events, and post informative content on their social media platforms to create awareness about sustainable living. 

“Sustainability has to become a mindset and a lifestyle,” says Ms Han. “There is no point in ‘offsetting’ huge hauls of fast fashion clothing with carbon credits when there is no fundamental change to our habits or system.”

She may only be a second-year student at Singapore Management University (SMU), but Ms Han is already halfway to achieving her dream of making a meaningful impact on the world. 

“I would first like to create a reimagined, lower waste e-commerce packaging scene in Singapore.”

Ms Rachel Han, recipient of the SMU Global Impact Scholarship Award

Honing her passion with education 

As someone who wants to influence and inspire others, Ms Han actively seeks opportunities where she can be exposed to new experiences that broaden her views and perspectives. 

This was one of the main reasons why she applied for the SMU Global Impact Scholarship Award. Its biggest appeal was the emphasis on global exposure with opportunities for overseas exchange and summer programmes. 

Currently pursuing a double degree in Bachelor of Social Science and Business Management, with a second major in Urban Sustainability and Innovation, Ms Han wanted to study the nuances of human behaviour while gaining business management skills to grow her start-up. 

“A value I saw in my double degree was in bridging the gap between the meaningful causes many social organisations have and the lack of business knowledge to optimise their processes and sustain themselves,” she says. 

Under the SMU scholarship, she also had the opportunity to participate in the Pembroke Cambridge Summer Programme (PCSP) at the prestigious University of Cambridge in Britain last year. Experiencing seminar-style lessons and interacting with students from around the world were some of the best parts of the PCSP programme, says Ms Han. 

As part of the PCSP programme, she also took a materials science course, a subject not offered at SMU, to better understand the packaging materials she handles in her business and equip herself with technical knowledge that might prove useful for innovation in the future. 

As for her goals after she graduates, Ms Han says: “I would first like to create a reimagined, lower waste e-commerce packaging scene in Singapore. Then I hope to make environmental communication more research-based and approachable, to maximise both reach and impact.

“Ultimately, be it on individual, industry or political levels, I hope that sustainability becomes a central value and way of life rather than a secondary factor for consideration.” 

What you should know about the SMU Global Impact Scholarship Award

It offers overseas opportunities: Scholars get priority to participate in exchange programmes with over 200 university partners, including the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Southern California, Sciences Po and Kyoto University.

You get hands-on training: The Scholars’ Core modules focus on experiential learning to develop leadership, decision-making, complex problem-solving skills and effective communication. Some courses also encourage students to tackle real-world problems.

Dual degree options available: Scholars can take double bachelor’s degrees, integrated SMU bachelor-master programmes or a bachelor’s and master’s combined degree programme.

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