Pick n Pay has become the first South African retailer to trial compostable bags as an environment-friendly alternative to plastic bags.
The one-day trial was held on Tuesday at its V&A Waterfront store, in Cape Town, to gauge customer reaction, which will inform further industry discussions on alternatives to plastic bags.
The trial saw plastic carrier, barrier and fruit and vegetable bags at the store replaced with compostable bags made from starches, cellulose, vegetable oils and combinations.
The compostable bag is produced by an Italian company Novamont. Based on 20 years of research, Novamont had developed a fully biodegradable and compostable bioplastic resin known as Mater-Bi.
At the trial event, Pick n Pay chairperson Gareth Ackerman said much progress has been made since 2003, when the plastic bag levy was introduced in South Africa, to encourage customers to move away from single-use plastic carrier bags, but more needs to be done.
“Sustainable solutions require all parties involved – retailers, government, plastic manufacturers, consumers and recyclers – to work collaboratively and beyond plastic bags to all forms of waste,” he added.
Pick n Pay transformation director Suzanne Ackerman-Berman explained that the bags that were piloted are strong and can be reused. “The important difference [compared with plastic bags] is that they are home compostable. The bags are designed to collect organic waste, such as kitchen scraps, and will compost with the organic waste in a home compost environment.”
The bags will break down after three to six months – depending on the composting system – compared with the reported 500 to 1 000 years for plastic bags. Customers can also bring the bags back to the company’s stores, after which the company will take them to a Pick n Pay composting facility.
While home compostable bags have been rolled out in Europe, North America, Australia, this is the first time South African consumers can try out the option.
“Given that this option is still in its infancy in South Africa, there are several considerations to look at before they could be introduced to scale. Currently, for example, there are no integrated large-scale composting facilities available,” said Ackerman-Berman.
She added that Pick n Pay will initiate the conversation with retailers, recyclers, manufacturers and the plastics industry on the issue, in September.
Meanwhile, the company last month committed to removing all plastic straws from checkouts and make only paper straws available at its cold-drink kiosks, while store branded earbuds with paper inners will also be introduced.
Additionally, Pick n Pay will introduce 100% recyclable plastic bags in stores from August.