Alternatives for plastic - not likely: The Source - July 2022

This interesting newsletter caught our attention.


One of SANBWA’s business partners mentioned to me this week she’d recently attended a symposium in Bordeaux, France. Here, she listened to a panel of speakers addressing what packaging types will appeal to consumers of wine in 2030.
The line-up included Damien Barton Sartorius, a member of the 10th generation of Barton in Bordeaux and co-manager of Barton Family Wines, who is currently piloting a reusable bottle business with Benjamin Joyeux. This entails shipping Bordeaux wines to England in bulk, and then rebottling it in bottles returned to their depot.
Also on the panel was James Law, director of brand and development at East London Liquor Company who is rather outspoken about transparency (the lack thereof) and need to build more sustainable businesses and more sustainable products. He believes, for example, that governments should impose heavier taxes on carbon-intensive packaging like glass than on more sustainable forms of packaging.
But it was Rob Mailer, founder of When In Rome, who caught her attention for his innovative thinking. When When in Rome discovered that its key markets had an aversion to consuming quality wines from cartons or bag-in-boxes because “they didn’t like the shape”, it changed the shape … from square to bottle. “Genius,” she said.
When in Rome claims the bottle is “100% recyclable, and that the paper bottle produces x6 less CO₂ compared to a single use glass bottle”. “Step in the right direction,” she added.
While these claims are irrefutably correct, they do however pertain only to When in Rome’s association with the bottle; that is, up until it is delivered to the consumer.
The company has no control over the post-consumer performance of the bottle because it is – like Tetra Paks – only recyclable by a handful of recyclers. Because the layers of aluminum foil and paperboard are laminated together with polymers, this makes separation of the individual pieces almost impossible for the average recycling centre. (See point 2 below, and also page 26 here)
Which brings me straight back to one of the biggest problems we face in South Africa – we do not have the recycling streams to efficiently handle the plastic alternatives that are being put forward as food and beverage packaging.
Especially those being mooted as biodegradable and compostable. In addition, biodegrading or composting plastic add to our problems because (a) these processes release greenhouse gases and (b) only breakdown into smaller pieces – microplastics – which can pollute the soils and enter our waterways.
As one composter puts it: “If a substance can biodegrade – no matter how long it takes – it is biodegradable. So, claiming a product is biodegradable doesn't necessarily mean it will break down quickly, nor that it will add any beneficial components to the soil.
“Compostable substances are those that can biodegrade within certain timeframes and under certain very specific conditions. Currently, these conditions can only efficiently be created at industrial composting sites – your home compost heap just won’t be good enough.
“But, there are no composters who can handle the so-called compostable packaging in Durban, Bloemfontein, East London, Port Elizabeth and any other of the major – or even minor – cities and towns in South Africa. There may be one in Cape Town, possibly one in Joburg but I’ve not heard of them.
“And, there are no approved standards for composting – home or industrial – in South Africa,” she said.

Another irritant for me personally is that so many restaurants are either being duped into, or willingly, going along with the greenwashing claims being made by the people selling these plastic packaging alternatives. (See point 4 below)
And consumers are equally gullible or simply just not using their common sense. With so few restaurants bothering to even compost their food waste, how can they be believed when they say they have a proven closed system for composting their packaging?
All the consumer has to do is ask (see point 1 below).

Kind regards.
Charlotte Metcalf

(see page 33 using link below) To promote the circular economy, the Checkers Group has committed to ensuring that 100% of its own-brand packaging is reusable, recyclable and compostable (just asking, where?), and that it contains on average 30% recycled material content by 2025. Progress includes:
  • All paper and carton board packaging used at in-store deli’s, bakeries and fresh fish sections are now 100% responsibly sourced.
  • Private label Crystal Valley Fresh Milk’s bottle cap colour has been changed from blue and red to white, which enables recyclers to eliminate downcycling into darker cap colours like black.
  • In the next two months PET Thermoform plastic sandwich punnets will be replaced with a Kraft carton sandwich wedge which has a small window, for easy removal before recycling.
  • In addition, the Group currently recycles 4 653 tons of plastic per year and 40 327 tons of cardboard per year through its reverse logistics operations.
(see page 32 using link below) Food packages fulfil their most important tasks when they protect food and minimise waste. In addition to their protective properties, plastics are important because consumers want packages that allow them to see the product itself. However, once they have been used, many packages are sources of problems. If a package has both paper and plastic, the consumer may wonder if it can be recycled with cardboard, or if the plastic needs to be torn off first. Some of the materials have alternating layers of fibre and plastic. Many packages are placed among mixed waste by people who cannot think of a better way of disposing of it (see point 4 below). Plastic that ends up in a cardboard recycling bin can be removed, but the plastic usually ends up incinerated. VTT believes the cellulose film it has developed can replace plastic as a more climate-friendly solution. It also makes recycling easy, as it can be placed in cardboard recycling along with other packages.

(see page 9 using link below) After a successful 10-month trial, Woolworths has announced that it will be the first South African retailer to embark on an extensive rollout of electric panel vans (EVs) in partnership with DSV and Everlectric to deliver their customers’ online purchases in Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. The rollout will result in up to 70% of the retailer’s fleet being powered by electricity which according to the figures from the trial, will have on an annual basis the potential to save 700 000 kgs of tailpipe carbon emissions.

There’s a new phrase when it comes to recycling … “wishcycling”, which is what happens when a consumer throws something into the recycling bin with the hopes that it can be recycled despite not knowing if it can be. Often, this can make every other item unusable and require the contents to be dumped in a landfill, creating additional plastic waste. Contaminating the waste stream with material that is not actually recyclable makes the sorting process more costly because it requires extra labour. Wishcycling also damages sorting systems and equipment and depresses an already fragile trading market. Last year, it was submitted as a word to Collins English Dictionary and defined as: “the practice of putting something in a recycling bin without being certain that it is actually recyclable”.

And, finally, a break from packaging – but still bad news. Owners of the Nile's famous houseboats in the heart of Egypt's capital are having their homes demolished and towed away as authorities impound what they say are unlicensed dwellings. The boats, many of them elegant two-story structures with verandas, have been moored for decades along the tree-lined banks of the Nile between the island of Zamalek and Giza, just west of central Cairo. They have featured in films and literature, such as Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz's novel Adrift on the Nile.
SANBWA in the NEWS - some of the coverage achieved by SANBWA during June