Lifestyle

Seeking small changes that can make a big difference

In the first year of the Stop Plastic campaign, more than 3-million fewer plastic bags were sold through SPAR stores in the Eastern Cape

Compared to the previous year SPAR's carbon emissions decreased by 2.9%* while its business operations continued to grow.
Compared to the previous year SPAR's carbon emissions decreased by 2.9%* while its business operations continued to grow.
Image: Supplied/SPAR

In 2016, SPAR Eastern Cape launched an ambitious campaign to “Stop Plastic” — or at least decrease the amount used in its stores — and create a greater awareness of the threat of plastic pollution.

The campaign was launched around the introduction of a subsidised paper bag, and only using plastic bags made of recycled material, or that are readily recyclable. An in-store branding campaign consisted of billboards around the region, clean-ups and swap-shop initiatives where vouchers and food parcels were provided in return for the collection of returned plastic.

Educational programmes were set up to raise awareness of plastic pollution, based on rethinking, reusing, recycling and looking at using alternatives to plastic products. These programmes supported various organisations such as the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, Bayworld, the Zwartkops Conservancy and Nelson Mandela University. The Stop Plastic campaign was also linked to various sponsored events to spread the message to schools and communities.

SPAR adverts for paper bags.
SPAR adverts for paper bags.
Image: Supplied/SPAR

In the first year of the campaign, more than 3-million fewer plastic bags were sold through SPAR stores in the Eastern Cape, and the sales growth of the paper bags was dramatic. Numerous SPAR retailers took up the cudgels, going as far as stopping the sale of plastic bags in their stores, or at least not making them visibly available.

Sadly, too, there was reaction to this, with many consumers demanding plastic bags, claiming they wanted them for other uses, and that the paper bags were too expensive or not strong enough for their needs.

Lessons were soon learnt. Clean-ups, while necessary and useful, were not a sustainable option, as the cleaned areas were soon littered again. Clean-ups also needed further programmes around the awareness of “good” plastic (which can be recycled) vs “bad” plastic (which cannot be recycled).

SPAR sustainability advert.
SPAR sustainability advert.
Image: Supplied/SPAR

Many corporates were fighting the plastic battle in their own way. Coca-Cola stopped the manufacture of plastic straws, and numerous fast-moving consumer goods suppliers introduced recycled packaging for their products. But there was little synergy to fight a combined battle.

Realisation struck home: Plastic was not necessarily the problem; people were. And fighting the battle was slow and expensive. But it’s a battle we all have to get involved in to spread and action the Stop Plastic message.

SPAR has instituted dedicated focus areas and personnel geared towards a sustainable drive to protect the environment, under the “My SPAR Our Tomorrow” banner.

The campaign is about plastic awareness, and a commitment to sustainable/responsible packaging throughout the supply chain, and looks at sustainability in terms of saving energy, saving, recycling and reticulating water, finding solutions for food waste, and looking at reducing our carbon footprint.

Our future, the environment, is dependent on us. Every small change can eventually make a huge difference to the world we live in.

This article was paid for by SPAR.

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