Woolworths is committed to reducing plastic bag usage as a way of reducing its impact on the environment, saving costs and assisting customers to save costs as well. Woolworths customers are particularly encouraged to use reusable shopping bags, thereby reducing the number of new shopping bags that need to be made.
These have created an opportunity for Woolworths to preserve the environment as well as support enterprise development.
Woolworths two reusable bag suppliers, Isikhwama, based in Maitland, Cape Town, and Gusco, based in Uitenhague, employ 300 semi-skilled and unskilled people who were previously out of work between them.
Reusable bag sales continue to be strong with over 920 000 bags sold, and a number of new designs launched.
As can be seen by the graph below, plastic bag sales declined dramatically following the introduction of the plastic bag levy, but a year-on-year increase has followed since.
Relative plastic shopping bag sales have also decreased significantly over the last financial year. The 25% reduction target (of 1.0) had been set for 2012, off a 2007 benchmark of 1.3 plastic bags per transaction, with .995 already being achieved during the current year.
Woolworths ‘green carriers’ food bags are made from 55% recycled plastic, harvested from post-industrial waste, requiring fewer non-renewable resources than would be used to produce bags made entirely from virgin material. The shopping bags used for clothing and general merchandise also contain 35% recycled material which is also harvested from post industrial waste, with a target of 100% recycled bags by 2012.
Woolworths recycles all hangers through Hangerman who collects all unwanted plastic hangers from stores, sorts and cleans them (using a workforce that includes many disabled workers) and sells them back to clothing suppliers at a discount. We have been able to incorporate as much as 50% recycled material in many of our plastic clothes hangers and we make some of our new plastic hangers out of old damaged ones.
Our entire fleet of trolleys and all in-store shopping baskets will be made from recycled material – 86% of this fleet is currently made from recycled material, from post-industrial sources.
Over 30% of our in-store signage is made from recycled material – board made from recycled fibre and virgin pulp – a viable, ecological alternative to the standard plastic commonly used in signage, both fully recyclable and repulpable. In addition the chemicals used in production are all water-based.
We are moving steadily towards a target of zero waste-to-landfill from distribution operations. Woolworths operations generally produce relatively little waste for landfill due to the use of reusable lugs for the movement of over 90% of food products and the predominant use of recyclable cardboard packaging in clothing. Where operations do produce waste such as pallet wrap waste on long-life and frozen goods and plastic dust covers for clothing, Woolworths is reviewing alternative packaging to further reduce packaging waste. We are also investigating options for dealing more effectively with organic waste at our head office and distribution centres.
Woolworths corporate offices are also committed to recycling. Shared recycling bins are in place in all corporate buildings. Our head office has converted as far as we can to recycled paper in all printers and photocopiers, all our internal communication publications and documents and our annual reports.
In the past, much electronic waste (e-waste) has ended up in landfill sites even though it contains toxic materials. Woolworths is working hard to ensure that computers, printers and printer cartridges are properly disposed of. Working equipment is donated to needy organisations and schools. Equipment that is not fully operational is sent to The Salesian Institute, who uses computers in its maintenance training courses aimed at giving disadvantaged young people skills. Hardware that can no longer be used is safely recycled. In total, 236 computers were distributed in 2010 to Salesians for reuse.