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Clear goals and guileless partners key to effective management of plastic waste.

The most important consideration for restaurants, hotels, catering companies and others in the HORECA sector seeking to manage their plastic waste is to choose their partners wisely and critically evaluate their claims – especially when they appear to be offering a ‘silver bullet’ as a solution.

This is the message from South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA) CEO, Charlotte Metcalf, who asserts that those in charge of programmes to minimise their companies’ or employers’ plastic waste need to adopt an ‘eyes wide open’ approach.

“They should not be swayed by any one claim when it comes to the carbon footprint, the water footprint or the disposal of solid waste and packaging of any product, particularly when the key objective of the latter is to keep used packaging out of landfill,” she said.

“Critically, alternative packaging solutions being offered in developed nations – such as biodegradable and compostable packaging, carton containers, 100% plant-based packaging, collection and re-filling off-site, and on-site re-filling – must scrutinised because they may not be suited to local conditions."

“In the worst-case scenario, they could disrupt the very successful recycling streams South Africa already has if their collection, treatment and disposal is not meticulously managed by HORECA staff, management and owners.”

Metcalf stressed that the HORECA sector has two major responsibilities when it comes to managing packaging waste.

The first is to help their customers make better choices. One of the main findings of a recent WWF/SA Plastics Pack Secretariat on Consumer Perceptions & Purchasing Behaviour Toward Circular Plastic Packaging report was that “There is strong consumer-based evidence to show that brand owners and retailers influence consumer behaviour around circular plastics.”

For retailers, read ‘restauranteurs’ or ‘hoteliers’ she said.

The same report concluded that “Although many (consumers) try to make changes, they also delude themselves in an attempt to assuage their guilt, and exaggerate as well as overclaim their positive plastic behaviours in order to make themselves feel less guilty. The need to feel as if they are doing the right thing makes them very susceptible to green-washing as they clutch onto any pro-environmental messaging.”

In other words, Metcalf summarised, retailers, restauranteurs and hoteliers must do the due diligence and critical thinking for their customers, and offer them products that are most suited to the South African environment.

“A responsible and considered choice by the retailer or restauranteur will influence the consumer to follow suit,” she argued.

“It is so important for establishments to have a realistic and balanced environmental strategy with sustainable goals. This strategy should not seek a silver bullet solution in one area at the cost of much bigger considerations and efforts elsewhere."

“Instead, solutions such as biodegradable, compostable, plant-based, collection and re-fill and on-site re-fill need to be evaluated in depth by procurement teams in conjunction with food safety and other legislation the sector needs to comply with,” Metcalf said.

For bottled water this translates to:

· What is the source of the water, does it ensure purity at source, source sustainability and what are the risks? Is the source licensed and monitored?

· Does the facility guarantee hygienic design, control of operations and are treatments suitable to ensure food safety?

· Do they measure and set goals for the facility’s water usage, solid waste reduction and energy efficiency?

· Is the company registered as a producer of waste and contribute to the recycling levy as required by the mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility under Section 18 of the National Environmental Management Waste Act? You can find all producers and PROs using the search function in this link

· Is the product legally compliant?

· Is the packaging designed to be 100% recyclable?

“SANBWA members’ products tick all the boxes and provide peace of mind based on audited conformance,” stressed Metcalf.

“Further, SANBWA requires all its members to actively encourage recycling, to participate in recycling initiatives in the neighbourhoods around their production facilities and elsewhere, and to follow PETCO’s Design for Recyclability guidelines when it comes to their packaging."

“Finally, studies show that PET currently is the best choice for beverage packaging as alternatives to plastics can cost the environment much more.”

Suggested box: Packaging alternatives did-you-knows

· Biodegradable packaging cannot be re-used or recycled. South Africa’s recycling ecosystem can’t accommodate this type of plastic at present. And, if these plastics are – by mistake – recycled along with other plastics such as PET, the PET is contaminated and rendered worthless.

· Biodegradable packaging can only be composted when it meets the appropriate composting standard.

· Compostable packaging is not recyclable, will only compost under very specific conditions and needs to be kept separately. As with biodegradable packaging, the establishment using these will need to ensure that the manufacturer collection rates are high and that the disposal system is a closed system to prevent contamination.

· Biodegradable and compostable packaging do not break down into particles that benefit the soil.

· Biodegradable and compostable packaging break down into CO2, the very gas that is contributing to global warming.

· Plant-based plastic is recyclable – unless there is printing directly onto the bottle when it is not recyclable – but it must be matched to nearby recycling streams.

· 100% plant-based packaging causes unwanted haze in the recyclate when recycled and devalues the recycling stream.

· Cartons, also punted as being the green solution, contain plastic and there are fewer than a handful of facilities in South Africa that can recycle these (the recycling rate is as low as 15% - which means that 85% ends up in landfill or the environment).

· There are environmental gains to re-using glass, but also heavy losses because of its weight and returnable bottled have a much higher water footprint because of the rigorous washing process they are required to be put through.

· Filling on-site into a re-usable glass bottles could be an environmental option but often results in drinking water being passed off on the consumer as bottled water. Specifically, South African legislation dictates that, when water prepared by a filtration device is offered in a closed bottle, it constitutes packaged water. This means that the legislation governing the production of bottled water needs to be adhered to, including the requirement for a hermetic tamper-proof seal, label information based on annual averages, chemical and microbiological tests done per daily production batch, water licences, registration as producer of waste, operation controls, etc etc. To legally use a refill system, the water needs to be served in glasses or wide neck open jugs or containers.


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