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Woolies steps up sustainable packaging efforts during #PlasticFreeJuly

In light of Plastic Free July, Woolworths has announced two new paper packaging trials and the start of the national rollout of the specially-designed paper bags for Fashion, Beauty and Homeware (FBH) purchases to 17 stores.


The efforts form part of the retailer's zero packaging waste to landfill commitment. It aims to phase out single-use plastic bags by the end of 2020 and have all its packaging be reusable or recyclable by 2022.

Reducing plastic in online deliveries


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.

Woolworths says 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 the plastic options.

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Avocado packaging


This week, Woolworths also 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.

FBH paper bag roll-out


Over the next two weeks till the end of the month, the #plasticfreejuly phase of the national roll-out of the Woolworths' 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 N0002141) certified recycled content sourced from the same mill where Woolworths sends its recyclable cardboard and paper. According to the retailer, this is an excellent example of closed loop recycling.

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“Although lockdown and the subsequent restrictions have caused production delays for our supplier over these past months, we are delighted to be able resume with 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 the company says will result in removing R30m worth of single-use plastic bags from the waste stream every year.

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250-million-strong global movement


Woolworths 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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