The integrity of plastic carrier bag recycling emerged as a material sustainability matter for the South African retail sector during the year.
Environmental legislation came into effect in 2003 prohibiting the use of thin plastic bags and encouraging retailers to use thicker, more durable, recyclable bags. Since then, consumers either had to provide their own bags or pay for the thicker, recyclable bags.
It has now emerged that plastic manufacturers are using increased volumes of chalk filler (from 7% to 25%-30%), resulting in a heavier albeit cheaper plastic.
Recyclers, on the other hand, reject the heavier bags as they sink during the recycling process and therefore discard these to landfill as waste. This effectively makes plastic carrier bags unrecyclable.
SPAR responded by engaging with current and alternative suppliers to explore solutions that adhere fully to our recycling commitment. We have in the meantime removed the recycling logo from our plastic carrier bags, and will only return this when there is a guarantee that our carrier bags are 100% recyclable.
We continue to engage with Plastic SA and the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO) and was part of an industry working group that was established to research the plastic bag situation in South Africa. The research resulted in a an industry standard being agreed for the make-up of plastic bags. The standard set the acceptable chalk filler in plastic bags at 8%. SPAR has made a decision to move to 100% recyclable bags during the 2018 financial year.