July is Plastic-free month worldwide and an increasing number of South Africans are pledging to go free of single-use packaging, take-away items such as straws, coffee cups, polystyrene containers and plastic bottle drinks.

Today, larger supermarkets like My SPARShoprite South AfricaPick n PayCheckers, and Food Lover’s Market are going plastic-free in terms of shopping bags and consumers are applauding and demanding change.

In a country where approximately 90 percent of over 55 000 tonnes of waste ends up in landfill daily, and with a strong government push towards increased recycling via the National Waste Management Plan, this will drive demand for

recyclable materials in packaging whether for product packaging or delivery materials.

Apart from completely foregoing the use of plastic, brands are looking at options such as glass and biodegradable plastics to meet the growing trend towards conscious packaging.

Packaging design in a market driven for sustainability, should take into account materials, solid waste generated after use, energy requirements for recycling, solid waste generated after use and effect on shelf-life of a product.

This is where biodegradable plastics become the biggest paradox for food packaging. You want a material to degrade over time, but you also want to keep your produce as fresh as possible.

On paper, PLA films have a 6-month shelf life from the time of production. That’s before the finished packaging is manufactured, the product is packed and then shipped, sold, and consumed. For dry products with short sales windows, paper/PLA combinations are a great alternative but for longer shelf life and exporting it’s not a feasible solution.

A small portion of the total glass waste (compared to plastic) is currently recycled by private waste management services and glass producers, so although glass is more easily recycled, there is currently not a large enough capability to recycle glass.

Also, paper products like cardboard seem like the eco-friendly option compared to plastic but plastic frequently comes out on top when the entire lifecycle of the packaging is taken into consideration.

Brands in SA need to consider the unique local landscape before considering how to move their packaging into the sustainable space,but moving to sustainable packaging is not an option when it comes to pressure from their consumers.

Who will lead the way?

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