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  • Shaun Bateman

Woolworths celebrates Plastic Free July with new milestones



As part of its ZERO packaging waste to landfill commitment, Woolworths set ambitious targets of phasing out single-use plastic bags by the end of 2020 as well as for all its packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2022.


Despite Covid-19 disruptions, in celebration of Plastic Free July, they have announced new sustainable plastic reduction achievements on the path to these Good Business Journey goals. These include two paper packaging trials and the start of the national rollout of their specially designed paper bags for Fashion, Beauty, and Homeware (FBH) purchases to 17 stores.

The online paper packaging trial kicked off at the beginning of the month and will run for the month of July. Online deliveries need additional packaging requirements to protect products from the potential damage and breakages caused by additional handling and transportation.

Typically, single-use plastic products are used for the additional wrapping to protect especially fragile products and as space, fillers to stabilise products within boxes. The trial is testing three potential paper packaging materials to replace bubble wrap and plastic pillows in all box packaged FBH purchases.


These paper packaging options are biodegradable, compostable, and accredited with two of the options also locally made and containing a minimum of 90% recycled content. The journey to reduce single-use plastic in online deliveries involves partnerships between suppliers and online retailers, and trials are necessary to ensure that paper packaging innovations are as effective as plastic options.

This week, Woolworths has launched a ‘4-week, 40 store trial’ to test the protectiveness and durability of its new avocado packaging. The new packaging sees the polystyrene plastic punnet being replaced with a kraft box base made from 63% recycled paper and is covered with a fully recyclable shrink wrap. “Transporting ‘ripe and ready’ avocados from farm to distribution centre to store and then into our customer’s homes requires gentle but robust packaging choices.


We have been working closely with our suppliers and packaging manufacturers for 18 months on this new design and are confident that it will deliver the functionality that we need which is why we have embarked on this extensive trial,” says Feroz Koor: Woolworths Holdings Group Head of Sustainability. “Woolies is well known as the destination for delicious ‘ripe & ready’ avos so this packaging switch is a major milestone in our journey for all our packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2022.”

Over the next two weeks till the end of the month, the #plasticfreejuly phase of the national roll-out of the innovative FBH paper bag will start in 17 stores nationally which include major outlets such as the Sandton City, V&A Waterfront, Eastgate Mall, I’Langa Mall (Nelspruit) and Walmer Park (Port Elizabeth).

The new FBH paper bags are locally made by a supplier development beneficiary and constructed from Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC N002141) certified recycled content sourced from the same mill where Woolworths sends its recyclable cardboard and paper. This is an excellent example of closed-loop recycling.

“Although lockdown and the subsequent restrictions have caused production delays for our supplier over these past months, we are delighted to be able to resume our plans to further remove single-use plastic bags and reduce our plastic packaging use in #plasticfreejuly,” confirms Koor.

“Last year, we ran a successful trial of three different FBH paper bag sizes at our stores in the Blue Route and Midlands Malls. Since this trial, we have worked with our supplier to readjust the bag sizes based on customer feedback and have made changes in our supply chain processes in order to optimise store ordering and storage systems.’

Over the upcoming months, the roll-out will continue to all stores which would result in removing 30 million rand’s worth of single-use plastic bags from the waste stream every year. Woolworths, a leading retailer in sustainability initiatives, joins the 250-million-strong global #plasticfreejuly movement started in 2011 by the Plastic Free Foundation to challenge consumers to change habits and refuse single-use plastics for cleaner communities and oceans.


“The pandemic has only served to highlight the transformations we want to see in the world,” says Koor. “Protection of the environment and climate change remain top of mind for us all, and we have to remember that each of us can make a significant contribution. We want to ensure that it is easy and convenient for Woolies customers to support a plastic-free world.”

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