Covid-19 has taught us many lessons – importantly that we must work in step with nature if we are to emerge stronger from this crisis.
As South Africa looks towards a post-pandemic recovery plan, we have an opportunity to apply the lessons we have learnt by rethinking how we can grow our economy inclusively, while finding collaborative solutions to some of our most pressing environmental and social issues.
This requires refocusing on sustainability and working together across industries, the public and private sectors and alongside communities to combat climate change, reduce the impact of packaging waste on the environment, restore our ecosystems and ensure economic inclusion for all in our society.
World Environment Day on June 5 invites us to explore these new ways of thinking by encouraging worldwide awareness and taking action to protect our environment. It urges us all to Reimagine, Recover and Restore ecosystems, it’s a reminder that we each have an important role to play if we are to be known as the Restoration Generation. Vice President of Coca-Cola’s South Africa Franchise, Phillipine Mtikitiki, says building circular green economies that bring industry, government, communities and other stakeholders together to recycle is the foundation of a sustainable future.
“The pandemic has taught us to shift towards what matters,” adds Mtikitiki. “Packaging shouldn’t end up as waste and we need to work together to help turn waste into worth by building a recycling culture and a circular economy.”
For the beverage company, it means doing business not just the easy way, but the right way.
To meet the ambitious targets of its World Without Waste strategy, Coca-Cola aims to recycle a bottle or can for each one it sells by 2030. The company is also working on designing packaging that is 100% recyclable by 2025 and ensuring that all its bottles contain 50% recycled material by 2030.
Coca-Cola has reshaped its approach to packaging through this strategy. The company continued the rollout of its 2L Returnable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle in 2020. The bottle is made from durable and hard-wearing PET that can be refilled and re-used as many times as the product quality standards allow, before being recycled into a new PET bottle. The iconic Sprite bottle was also transformed from green to more easily recyclable clear PET, making more bottles available for recycling. South Africa's first water bottle made entirely out of recycled plastic under Coca-Cola’s Bonaqua brand was also launched as well as the introduction of returnable glass bottles under the company’s fruit juice blend brand, Cappy.
Through the PET Recycling Company (PETCO), 62% of all polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic beverage bottles placed on the market in 2019 in South Africa were collected. In total almost 96 000 tonnes of post-consumer PET bottles were collected, saving 144 000 cubic metres of landfill space and more than 590 000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Aside from these environmental benefits, PET recycling also generated over 60 000 income-earning opportunities among informal reclaimers and SMMEs, with R1.1 billion injected into the downstream economy via the manufacturing, distribution and sale of products made from recycled PET (rPET).
Empowering waste reclaimers through blockchain technology
Waste reclaimers who collect packaging waste perform one of the toughest, yet most important jobs in the circular economy and up until now, they have remained mostly invisible and unbanked. Through a partnership with BanQu, Coca-Cola in South Africa is helping to roll out an innovative digital payment solution to financially empower waste reclaimers and small buy-back centres across South Africa.
Waste reclaimers earn a living by collecting packaging waste, many of whom are unable to find work or formal employment. Much of what they collect is sold through small buy-back centres before ultimately reaching large recyclers.
The payment solution enables waste reclaimers to build a financial history on their mobile phones – reclaimers don’t require expensive smart phones, the system sends a simple SMS when a payment is processed. The innovative technology is fully integrated with mobile money applications so waste reclaimers can store their earnings in secure e-wallets, withdraw cash from ATMs and make cashless transactions. Importantly, they can demonstrate their earnings if they want to access credit, promoting their financial inclusion into the economy.
By recording the contribution of the informal sector as a whole to the recycling value chain, the platform improves both understanding and recognition of the important contribution of waste reclaimers and buy-back centres. Since February, the system has registered over 600 waste pickers and recorded over 12 000 transactions, totalling over 1 000 000 kg of recyclables.
Using the application helps small buy-back centres to better understand their businesses using automated recording and tracking of transactions. Geolocation capabilities provide valuable data in real time about the types of materials collected in particular areas.
Turning waste into worth by supporting waste buy-back centres
Waste reclaimers who collect packaging waste from residences and businesses across South Africa rely on small buy-back centres that weigh, purchase, sort and sell to recycling companies.
It isn’t always easy for start-up ‘wastepreneurs’ such as Matsobane Mawasha, who started Circular Green, a buy-back operation in Zebediela, Limpopo, with nothing but grit and the determination to succeed. He had to sell his car and go into debt to get his enterprise off the ground.
Having started as a one-person show, picking up waste on the streets after work, Mawasha’s persistence paid off and in 2019, Circular Green collected almost 61 tonnes of PET plastic bottles, distributing around R122 000 in PET buy-back capital back to the community.
Today he employs 11 community members and dreams of becoming the most reliable and largest buy-back centre in Limpopo. He also hopes to grow the business to such an extent that he can produce an end-product.
Through PETCO, Coca-Cola and industry members help small business owners like Mawasha to grow and sustain their businesses. PETCO provides support in the form of infrastructure, equipment, training, mentoring, and development as well as links to business support, finance, and markets. Information-sharing workshops also help aspiring wastepreneurs improve their chance of success.
Through its commitment to designing, collecting, and partnering to achieve a World Without Waste, Coca-Cola is investing in the planet and people by growing a circular economy in South Africa for a sustainable future.