South African grocery retail chain, Pick n Pay, has launched new shopping bags made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. These affordable bags are completely reusable and Pick n Pay will even replace them for free if they happen to break. Dubbed the ‘People n Planet’ bag, these recycled carriers are available in all stores across South Africa.
Pick n Pay has also teamed up with The Coca-Cola Company and Unilever to make the first one million recycled bags for just R4 each. This price makes them one of the most affordable reusable shopping bags made from recycled PET plastic in the country. The bags were trialled in 22 stores around the country in February 2019 to test customer reception.
In total, 11 500 bags were sold during the trial month for the price of R5 each. This drastically reduced the sale of traditional plastic grocery packets in the pilot stores nationwide. This demonstrated to Pick n Pay that customers are eager to make responsible choices when they are given more sustainable options.
Bags made from recycled PET bottles
The PnP reusable bags are made from recycled green PET bottles. The plastic bottles are cleaned, dried, shredded and granulated. These plastic granules are then melted and extracted into long strings of rPET fibre (similar to nylon). The fibres are then woven into a material, which is used to make the reusable bags.
“Customers who recycle their green plastic bottles and then purchase the new green bag will help keep a product in use and out of the environment,” says Pick n Pay transformation director Suzanne Ackerman-Berman. The PnP reusable bags promote a circular economy by turning post-consumer packaging into secondary products.
Through the partnership between Pick n Pay, The Coca-Cola Company and Unilever, 43.2 tonnes of green recycled PET bottles will be repurposed to make the first one million bags. This equates to roughly two million 500ml plastic bottles (or two bottles per bag).
Benefits of recycling PET packaging
The sale of the reusable bags should create more awareness about the benefits of recycling. “The new bag will include a QR code that customers can scan to see the full lifecycle of the plastic bottle – from the time the bottle is sold to making it into a green Pick n Pay People n Planet reusable bag,” explains Ackerman-Berman.
PET is one of the most widely-recycled packaging materials in South Africa – in 2018, the country recycled 67% of its PET waste. This is 15% more than Europe recycled during the same period. Green PET has a lower recycling value than clear PET, but Pick n Pay is trying to incentivise the collection of green PET by using it to create these reusable shopping bags.
Pick n Pay has also launched nationwide collection bins to encourage consumers to deposit their PET packaging waste. This will also help to boost the collection rates of plastic refuse. As PET is one of the most widely recycled plastics in South Africa, PET recycling plays a vital role in job creation and building a sustainable economy.
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