The Extinction Rebellion climate-change protestors over the Easter week-end in London brought the city to a standstill as demonstrators showed their determination to influence climate-change and the excessive use of plastics which ruin our oceans and clog our rivers. The focus, both for individuals, business and governments is to find solutions to cut back on pollutants. Whilst South Africa may not be at the forefront of change, developers and retailers are starting to take the threat seriously.
Where there is a will, there is a way, the saying goes. Just consider how quickly the trusty plastic drinking straw was abandoned in favour of a paper one… we might not like the way it goes limp after a few sips or if we don’t drink fast enough – prompting an increase in second rounds which is a positive spin-off – but we have all accepted the change without resistance. A quick scan of the green sustainability sections of online sites shows just how committed some brands are to making a difference.
Packaging has come in for scrutiny as one of the areas that needs to see a reduction in excessive waste. In a quest for higher sales, brighter packaging is used indiscriminately and unnecessarily to enhance everything from toiletries to toys to Easter eggs with everything we consume coming in pre-packaged containers. Now, both consumers and retailers are back-tracking and going back to basics – with some clever entrepreneurs even opening franchised stores where you bring your own containers and stock up on groceries by weight.
Plastic bag-free stores are the new trend, with stores and food outlets fighting to be seen as the front-runners in this area of sustainability. Kudos to the many fast food franchises that were among the first to use paper packaging (with Nando’s leading the pack from the get-go!) with most food brands following suit. Woolworths recently announced they were planning to phase out plastic shopping bags from their stores by 2020 by introducing more ‘plastic shopping bag free’ stores in the country. After trialling the concept at their Steenberg branch in Cape Town they are planning more roll-outs around the country. They also introduced their new low-cost, reusable bag which, since its launch in November 2018, saved more than 100 000 bags going into the environment. Vodacom also announced that from the 9th April they would no longer be issuing plastic bags, replacing them with brown paper bags.
Re-purposing recyclables, bizarre as it sounds, has sparked a whole new industry sector that takes waste plastics and other materials and repurposes them to other uses – thereby stopping the production of new plastics and re-using the old. Whether it’s stylish handbags and even fashion made from waste materials like Billabong have done by creating boardshorts from recycled PET bottles or top brands Puma and First Mile producing sustainable sportswear from recycled polyester made from plastic bottles to decking and outdoor furniture that looks like wood but is made from waste – taking the tons of waste and re-purposing it again and again is the logical answer.
Creating jobs through recycling is what is allowing thousands of unemployed people to earn a living by collecting other people’s waste and taking it to recycling centres. With some municipalities finally introducing waste separation policies and educating the public on how to separate waste, everyone is playing their part in curbing what has been called the scourge of our times by creating a ‘circular economy’.