Leading the drive for a Circular Economy in South Africa

Leading the drive for a Circular Economy in South Africa
Devin Galtrey, Group Packaging Manager for the SPAR Group

SPAR’s ambitious sustainability goals will help to alleviate South Africa’s waste crisis

South Africa is in a waste crisis. Each person in our country generates around 2kg of waste every day which adds up to a staggering 108 million tons of waste per year. With 90% of this waste ending up in landfills where space is a pressing issue, the management of our waste is a ticking timebomb.

What’s happening in our oceans is even worse. South Africa is currently ranked as the 11th largest contributor to marine plastic waste in the world, adding to the 12 million tons of plastic that is dumped into our oceans every year. If we don’t act now, these critical ecosystems will be compromised beyond repair by 2048.

“There has been a growing call worldwide for countries to manage their waste more effectively and realising the extent of the issue in South Africa, more than two years ago the SPAR Group decided to take action,” says Devin Galtrey, Group Packaging Manager for the SPAR Group. “Committed to a sustainable future, we have been fundamentally rethinking the way we produce, use and re-use packaging.”

Devin says packaging plays a vital role in the lives of SPAR’s customers. It extends food shelf life preventing food waste and it also makes products more convenient and easy to use. Instead of removing packaging, SPAR has initiated a wider shift from a Linear to a Circular Economy in which plastic and other forms of packaging never become unnecessary waste.

A Linear Economy is a Take-Make-Disposal plan which means raw materials are manufactured into products that are often only used once and then discarded as waste. In contrast, in a Circular Economy materials constantly flow in a ‘closed loop’ system, ensuring that packaging is reused and recycled and never becomes waste.

“As we will continue using plastic and paper in our packaging, we need to ensure that it’s being used responsibly. As one of South Africa’s largest retailers we are ideally placed to influence how this plays out so we are helping to lead the way towards a sustainable circular economy for all our packaging, specially plastic.”

To deliver this, SPAR has been spearheading a sustainability drive across the Group on three different fronts: changing packaging materials so that the options used are more sustainable, strengthening its value chain to enable circularity through mechanisms such as waste collection and influencing consumer behaviour changes that will drive re-use.

“The impact of waste on our environment requires immediate action and we have therefore set ourselves aggressive targets. Our goal is to make 100% of our packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025,” Devin says.

While the Group has been making progress across the value chain, Devin explains that the flagship sustainability project has been its plastic carrier bags: “We’ve been using 100% recycled bags for the past three years and this initiative alone diverts more than 4 500 tons of waste plastic from landfills while the collection and manufacturing process creates much needed jobs.”

The success of this project has clearly illustrated that collecting and sorting recyclable materials is key to ensuring they are reused. Devin says this has led to the next step in SPAR’s sustainability efforts, empowering the Group’s customers to play their part in the circular economy.

“Our efforts are all part of delivering on “My SPAR, Our Tomorrow”, the Group’s public commitment to the future of our brand and our planet. Running in parallel with this are our values, one of which is to inspire people to do and be more – so through our sustainability initiatives, we are giving our customers the opportunity to directly participate in the circular economy,” says Devin.

“While our drive for sustainable packaging is a key deliverable for our customers, we are also pursuing additional projects such as piloting a packaging waste reverse vending concept at one of our stores as well as completing investigations into other inclusive waste concepts that stimulate social and economic activity in the country. It’s a case of watch this space as we will be sharing some exciting news in the near future!”