Supermarkets in South Africa are taking the reins when it comes to fighting waste and improving sustainability. Most retailers are starting to make changes to their products and packaging in order to become more environmentally-friendly. They are also leading campaigns to encourage their consumers to be more mindful of their waste habits.
The four big supermarkets in South Africa, namely Woolworths, SPAR, Pick n Pay and Checkers, are all pushing the boundaries with sustainable products and innovative ideas. From supporting local farmers and food producers to banning single-use plastic products on their shelves, here are some of the ways in which retailers are tackling excess waste.
Doing away with unnecessary packaging
Packaging has the essential function of protecting the product contained inside. However, certain brands package products that already come in a protective case; deodorants and toothpaste, for example. Some brands of deodorant place their bottles inside cardboard boxes, whilst all toothpaste brands use cardboard packaging.
Toothpaste boxes have no protective function as the toothpaste tube itself protects the contents within. These boxes are thrown away as soon as the product is opened, which means that countless trees and billions of litres of water go to waste every year to produce unnecessary cardboard packaging items.
Some supermarkets are coming under fire from eco-aware consumers for excessive packaging. Wrapping fruits and vegetables (which naturally have protective skins) in plastic film is seen as a big waste of packaging and a major contributor to plastic waste. As retailers catch on to their packaging habits, more products are hitting the shelves with minimal plastic and cardboard coatings.
Vertical vegetable and herb walls
Supermarkets are encouraging shoppers to use fresh vegetables and herbs rather than processed and packaged ones. Brands such as SPAR have started incorporating vertical vegetable and herb walls in their stores where customers can pick their own lettuce, basil and rocket.
These growing walls are made from shade cloth and permeable material that forms pockets or pouches, into which soil and seeds are placed. The plants are watered daily and consumers can choose the exact amount of leaves needed for their salads and garnishes.
Buying packaged vegetables and herbs often leads to waste, especially with herbs. The plastic boxes of herbs always have more than you need for a meal, so the rest ends up being discarded. By allowing consumers to pick their own herbs, they will take just the right amount that they need, minimising waste in the process and promoting sustainability.
We’ve all heard of alternatives to plastic straws such as glass, paper, bamboo and metal. But some retailers have started experimenting with plant-based compostable materials to manufacture straws. Loliware has started producing hyper-compostable straws made from seaweed.
This company has a philosophy that consumers don’t need to make massive changes in their behaviour in order to save the environment. So they’ve developed ordinary products that are designed to disappear when discarded.
“There are five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans; an estimated ten million tons of plastic is produced every second. Single-use plastics should never be built to last, they should be designed to disappear,” says Loliware chief executive officer (CEO) Chelsea Briganti.
Supermarkets are starting to sell more environmentally-friendly products, such as these straws, from more start-ups. Biodegradable alternatives to plastic are becoming more common on shelves; from coffee cups and cutlery to grocery bags and packaging. Retailers are pushing eco-friendly alternatives to their consumers in such a way that shoppers don’t need to make huge lifestyle changes.
Retailers supporting local food producers
While the bulk of the food in supermarkets comes from commercial farms and regional manufacturers, some retailers are starting to focus on local produce. Fruits and vegetables from small-scale farms in nearby areas are being sold on the shelves of many supermarkets. Not only does this support local industries but it also reduces carbon emissions during transport.
Supermarkets are also looking for other locally-produced food items such as artisanal chocolates and homemade confectionaries. Often, these local food producers are community conscious and support other organisations through donations. Buying local products could mean supporting humanitarian NGOs or the local SPCA.
South African retailers are constantly finding new ways to promote sustainability through consumption habits. By offering consumers easy ways to make environmentally-friendly choices, supermarkets are starting to make an impact on waste and recycling.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
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