An international study by Dr Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia in the US estimated that eight million tons of plastic ended up in the world’s oceans in 2010, and SA was one of the worst offenders.
The effects are sometimes tragic. In June this year a pilot whale was found dead off the coast of Thailand with nearly 8kgs of plastic in its stomach. In April a sperm whale found dead off the south coast of Spain had 29kgs of plastic clogging up its gut. Such cases are now routine, but were unheard of 50 years ago.
Plastic now accounts for 10% of municipal waste in countries for which data is available, up 10-fold in 50 years. The problem is that much of this plastic waste ends up in the oceans as micro-plastic, where it is consumed by sea life.
Unlike other countries where the introduction of a plastic bag levy changed consumer habits, the levy had little impact in SA. A University of Cape Town study found an initial short-term drop in plastic bag consumption after the levy was introduced in 2004, but demand for plastic started to increase again as consumers became accustomed to paying for the bags.
Jenny Rump, environmental manager at Zwartkops Conservancy, says this plastic then enters the human food chain. Parts of SA’s coast lines, particularly those near built-up areas, are so severely littered with discarded plastic bags that it threatens not only marine and animal life, but tourism as well.
“We have to start changing habits. Plastic is extremely destructive to our environment and sea and animal life. The real problem is when these plastic bags break up into micro-plastic and resemble food. This gets consumed by sea life, and research is showing that sea life consuming this plastic are smaller and less healthy. That then ends up in the fish that we consume on our tables.”
As part of an effort to reverse the environmental damage of discarded plastic, Ocean Basket announced earlier this year that it would no longer give straws with drinks and bags with take-aways. “The ocean sustains us with the basic elements of life; it produces half the oxygen we breathe, helps to provide the water we drink and delivers us the very core of our business success – seafood,” it said in a statement at the launch of the Last Straw Campaign in January this year.
As a responsible ocean citizen (ROC), Ocean Basket says it is committed to adopting new habits at both a company and personal level and creating a sense of belonging with a community striving to preserve the ocean and its resources. It works with non-profit organisations, aquariums, science centres and other restaurant outlets to promote a philosophy to a wide audience – from patrons to media and investors. Projects planned over the next 18 months will see them build a movement within stores to prevent plastic pollution, reduce waste, improve recycling and live cleaner, healthier lives.
Spar is another group that is tackling plastic waste pollution. In April this year it launched a campaign in the Eastern Cape to encourage customers to switch from plastic to biodegradable paper bags. Customers were given a paper bag free for every 10 plastic bags brought to any of its outlets in the Eastern Cape. An initial order of 300 000 papers bags was placed to meet the anticipated demand. The paper bags are waterproof, reusable, and capable of carrying 12kgs.
Other supermarket chains are adopting similar initiatives. Several years ago Checkers started offering 100% recycled plastic, which goes some way to alleviating the problem (roughly 20% of plastic in SA is recycled).
Pick n Pay recently trialled compostable bags and boxes at its V&A store in Cape Town. These break down within six months, as opposed to the reported 500-1 000 years for normal plastic bags. The problem is that there are no integrated large-scale compostable (meaning they break down into compost) facilities in the country, something that will be raised during National Recycling Month in September this year.
The fuel retailing industry, given the potential for environmental damage, has for many years been using e-tag and other technologies to detect underground fuel leakages from tanks at fuel stations.
“There has been a lot of work done over the years to produce cleaner fuels,” says Reggie Sibiya, CEO of the Fuel Retailers Association, representing more than 2 500 fuel retailers. “We now have fuels down to 50ppm (parts per million) of sulphur, and even 10ppm in the case of Sasol diesel. Go back a decade or so and it was 500ppm. So there have been improvements. Underground tank leakages are rare occurrences, but most retailers have technology in place to quickly detect this.”
Neal Singh, CEO of Smart Fuel, which offers fuel management systems to fuel retailers, says the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by BP in 2010 prompted worldwide pressure for improved environmental standards. “There has been a trend for oil majors to offload assets such as underground tanks to the franchisees since there is a cost associated with environmental clean-up should there be any leakage or spillage.”
Singh says the ultimate solution to improving environmental performance in the fuel sector is through greater fuel efficiency and lower consumption. “The best we can do is maximise the efficiency of fuel consumption through robust monitoring of vehicle fleets to stop wastage, which is massively costly the country as a whole.”
There is virtually no corner of the franchising space that is not taking steps to enhance the environment, from the switch to LED lights in stores and the use of low-energy consuming air conditioners and fridges. This is a trend that is likely just beginning, rather than reaching a plateau.
Brought to you by Nedbank Franchising.