We have some very exciting news! SPAR Eastern Cape, the region's biggest food retailer, has just announced that they have officially begun the process of phasing out all single-use plastic shopping bags in their stores. This is huge - with over 125 million customer visits a year, SPAR Eastern Cape have truly changed the responsible retail landscape in South Africa.
This is an excerpt from the SPAR Eastern Cape press release in The Herald:
SPAR EC Managing Director Conrad Isaac acknowledged that although the 'STOP the Use of Plastic' campaign is a massive task, it would be irresponsible to continue operations without accepting some accountability for the amount of plastic plaguing the environment. The SPAR EC team and their retailers have pledged to take a stand by offering alternatives to plastic bags in their stores. This will include paper bags, long life bags and recyclable bags.
"Last year we sold 101 million plastic shopping bags," says Isaac. "These bags don't just disappear; they're lying in the street or in the veld, floating in a river or in the sea and endangering our natural resources."
"Something tangible has to be done," he adds. "Our dream is to clean up the Eastern Cape - starting by cleaning up our own backyard." He realises this will mean that ingrained habits of using plastic shopping bags would have to change - which will bring its own challenges.
"We know there has to be a massive education programme. We will work with schools, universities and the leaders of our province. We invite our customers to join us in solving a very real problem."
Isaac foresees the campaign evolving into a far bigger project - one that would eventually incorporate the collection and recycling of all plastic. "For now we are focussing on plastic shopping bags, but if we can change the habits of our communities, over time people will realise how important it is to clean up the whole environment."
"Our goal is to inspire a culture where it becomes a habit to pick up plastic and deposit it at collection points at our SPAR stores. This then goes to the recycling companies."
Isaac encourages everyone to join the campaign by adding their support as well as taking practical steps to clean up the environment. "This is a long-term campaign. It's the best we can do for the future of our children and the generations to follow."
This is huge - SPAR Eastern Cape covers 243 stores (SPAR, SaveMor, Tops, BuildIt and pharmacies). They work closely with a network of hundreds of local suppliers, who are going to be taking this journey towards a plastic bag-free shopping experience with them.
Launching in style
SPAR Eastern Cape Managing Director Conrad Isaac, the man driving this project, officially launched the campaign on 5 April 2018, at an event attended by local SPAR owners, community stakeholders, environmental activists and marine biologists. Plastic pollution is a community problem, and it is clear that SPAR Eastern Cape intend on engaging the community at every available opportunity and level.
Conrad acknowledged SPAR's place in this pollution cycle - as the Eastern Cape's largest retailer, not only do they employ tens of thousands of people, but their brand and products reach almost every community and every household in some way. As an integral part of this community, SPAR wants to change their role for the better.
Two Oceans Aquarium Environmental Campaigner Hayley McLellan, who is spearheading our Rethink The Bag campaign, was invited to present to the delegates. Hayley put forward a strong message - our reliance on single-use plastic is killing our planet. She reminded all that plastic never biodegrades, it doesn't "break down", it only "breaks up" into smaller pieces. It will always be present in our environment. Every piece of plastic ever made is still on Earth somewhere.
Dr Lorien Pichegru of Nelson Mandela University Zoology Department and several students took to the stage next - bringing the effects plastic has on the environment to a more relatable level, showing how plastic pollution isn't just an environmental issue, it's one that directly affects human beings.
The problem, Dr Pichegru pointed out, is not "plastic" - it is how we use it. Using it for a single-use plastic shopping bag just doesn't make sense. It can only decay under radiation, and can last thousands of years if buried, or underwater - yet in South Africa we allow this waste to be part of the more than one million tons that enter our waterways and drainage systems annually.
MSc candidate Steven McGregor highlighted the multitude of other risks associated with plastics: Buoyant plastics carry invasive species and micro- and nanoplastic particles cause toxins (that are harmful to us) to enter the food chain.
There is a misconception in South Africa that pollution "creates" jobs, but the evidence shows that a circular economy where reuse and recycling are prioritised, creates more employment.
The entire presentation was pulled into greater context for the Eastern Cape community with incredible presentations by Jenny Rump of the Zwartkops Conservancy and Lungisani Mbhele of Bayworld Oceanarium who both used relatable instances where plastic pollution has affected the community. From the townships of Uitenhage and the seal colonies of Algoa Bay, to the Swartkops Estuary, the eleventh most important estuarine ecosystem in the world, no part of the Eastern Cape has not been tainted by single-use plastic.
SPAR Eastern Cape thanks those who have been ongoing partners in its mission to protect the environment - Zwartkops Conservancy, Bayworld Oceanarium, Two Oceans Aquarium's Rethink The Bag, Buffalo City Municipality, the Nelson Mandela University Zoology Department and media partners Algoa FM, TBWA and Umhlobo Wenene.
SPAR Eastern Cape is starting off their campaign by allowing and encouraging customers to trade in used plastic shopping bags for a stronger paper one. A wide variety of reusable options are also being made available in all 243 stores linked to SPAR Eastern Cape, and plastic bags are going to be removed as an option in the near future. SPAR Eastern Cape has also reaffirmed their commitment to work with local suppliers to reduce disposable plastic packaging used for the products themselves - with the long-term goal of turning SPAR plastic free. It will be a slow process, but we are very excited to see the first steps of this epic journey.
We at the Two Oceans Aquarium are incredibly proud of the role we've been able to play in supporting SPAR Eastern Cape throughout this process through our Rethink The Bag Campaign and would like to encourage other retailers to follow the incredible example SPAR Eastern Cape has set - we are here to offer any support that you may need.