SOUTH AFRICA – Pick n Pay has removed all plastic ‘barrier’ bags used from its till points in a move to drive sustainability.

Pick n Pay says the initiative is the first in South Africa and would help prevent 20 million single-use plastic bags, which are difficult to recycle, from ending up in the environment.

Barrier bags are traditionally used by stores to separate selected products such as fresh produce, toiletries or cleaning products from other groceries.

Vaughan Pierce, executive: ESG at Pick n Pay, says that the company has been on a journey to reduce problematic single-use plastic packaging.

“These small clear plastic barrier bags are not currently recycled effectively, and by removing these at till points, we can play a part in reducing reliance on unnecessary single-use plastic,” noted Pierce.

Pick n Pay will still have barrier bags in its fruit and vegetable section for loose produce but continues to encourage customers to use alternatives, such as re-useable netted produce bags, which it stocks in all its stores nationwide.

This latest development is part of Pick n Pay’s journey towards its 2025 plastic waste reduction targets.

Over the past five years, more than 10,000 tonnes of plastic have been removed from the environment to make Pick n Pay’s 100% recyclable blue plastic bags, and over 11 million plastic bottles have been recycled to manufacture the retailer’s reusable shopping bags since 2018.

Pick n Pay is a founding member of the SA Plastics Pact, launched in January 2020 to establish a collective commitment to ensure plastic never becomes waste or pollution in the country.

As part of this, the retailer committed to various 2025 targets, which include ensuring that 100% of its private label packaging is reusable or recyclable. This number has shifted from 67% to 80% in the past two years through various changes.

“We all need to accelerate the transition from a linear to a circular economy of packaging as this will drive positive change on a much larger scale,” says Pierce.

The Pick n Pay barrier bag ban follows in the footsteps of competitor Woolworths, which removed all single-use bags from its stores last year, replacing them with recycled black bags.

Along with dropping all single-use plastic bags at its stores, Woolworths also removed single-use plastic straws, utensils, lollipop sticks and cotton bud stems, as well as made significant packaging improvements.

“The objective of our reusable shopping bag initiative is to change consumer behavior and to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic,” said Latiefa Behardien, Woolworths Foods chief technology and sustainability officer.

However, public jokes about Woolworths’ black bags that customers kept forgetting to take back to the store with them, led to the retailer rolling out an initiative where consumers can bring unwanted bags back for other consumers to use.

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