Business & Industry SA retailers rethink packaging waste

SA retailers rethink packaging waste

Retailers are looking towards more eco-friendly options for customers. (Image: Clark County Green Neighbours)

Big business in South Africa has begun to take sustainability seriously, with a growing number of initiatives aimed at rethinking the use of packaging in particular. 

While packaging protects and preserves products, some retailers have come to realise it is a key driver of environmental degradation when not handled responsibly.

“Consumers are increasingly expecting recyclable packaging and they expect transparency from retailers regarding the environmental impact of their end-to-end operations.”

Sanjeev Raghubir – sustainability manager, Shoprite Group

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The group has committed to ensure that 100% of its plastic packaging is reusable and/or recyclable by 2025. It is now using the 4 000 tons of plastic returned annually to its distribution centres to produce 100% recycled and recyclable plastic shopping bags.

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Since November 2019, plastic from its Centurion, Canelands and Cilmor distribution centres is being collected, converted into pellets and used to make carrier bags.

“This is the latest among the growing number of circular economy practices we are putting in place,” Raghubir says. 

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♻️👜💼🎒🛒Bags, bags, bags. . We love them, we need them, they carry out clothes, food, gym clothes, cellphones, wallets. But how long do they last? What are they made of? Who made them? Are these things we consider when we are just looking for something to hold our stuff? . The biggest question today is plastic or paper? One of the most widely cited paper vs plastic bag assessments found that making a paper bag used three times more energy and 17 times more water to produce than a plastic bag (disclaimer: the study was funded by the “The Progressive Bag Alliance,” which represents the US plastic bag industry, but anyway) One lifecycle study on the topic by the UK Environment Agency that appears not to have conflicts of interest found that plastic bags use the least water and energy to produce, compared to paper and reusable cotton bags. To compensate for the difference in resources used to make it, a paper bag must be reused at least three times. Meanwhile, a cotton bag would have to be reused 131 times to negate its carbon and water-use footprint compared to a plastic bag. (Cotton is one of the most water-intensive crops on earth, and is rarely recycled.) . In another study researchers found that bags labelled biodegradable and compostable were still able to carry a full load of shopping after being left to degrade in the elements for three years – they don’t decay nearly as fast as you’d expect. In other words, biodegradable as a label doesn’t mean much without the conditions and timescale of the degrading attached. . Small change to make a big difference #17: purchase bags that are made from already reused and recycled materials. This means that you are giving a new life to a material that would go to landfill, and you are recovering the time and energy used to originally make that material. I love my @yourbadgestatement bag, made of reused HDPE material from discarded shade cloth. It is my go to “not everything fits in my handbag” bag. . #sustainability #sustainabilitymatters #environmentalsustainability #sustainabiltyinstyle #environment #sustainabilityfordummies #ecofriendly #lowimpact #lowimpactmovement #lesswaste #reducewhatyouproduce #sustianablechoices

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The group’s suppliers are also provided with reusable, returnable packing crates to reduce packaging.

In the last financial year the group:

  • Sold 645 million recyclable plastic bags made from 100% post-consumer material, diverting 7 095 tons of plastic from landfills;
  • Sold 855 000 of its R3 “planet” bags and paid out more than R200 000 to customers in rebates for reusing the bag;
  • Recycled 3 995 tons of plastic and 33 658 tons of cardboard through its distribution centres;
  • Reused 2 781 tons of cardboard packaging in partnership with another retailer.

In 2013, the Shoprite Group became South Africa’s first retailer to produce a verified, 100% recycled shopping bag. 

Shoprite, Checkers and Usave supermarkets also introduced the “planet” bag in late 2018. Made from 100% recycled plastic, the sturdy reusable bag entitles customers to claim 50c off their total spend each time they present the bag at the till.

Stimulating the recycling industry to create jobs and alleviate poverty is another important focus. 

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“Africa’s Biggest Cleanup” was launched in 2018, and continues to encourage community cleanup events hosted by the group’s employees and the public via actforchange.africa. Organisations register their cleanup events online and submit their waste collection data afterwards. 

In the past financial year, more than 800 events were registered and 40 150 participants collected 30 935 bags of waste.

The group’s Packa-Ching partner project also “buys” recyclable materials from communities in exchange for credits to buy goods at many stores.

More information is available in the Shoprite Holdings’ 2019 Sustainability Report.

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