How Woolworths is taking steps towards zero packaging waste to landfill

With a vision to help end packaging waste that makes its way to landfills, Woolworths has been on a journey to adopt a more sustainable way of doing business – which is just one of the many reasons we’re proud to have Woolworths as our headline sponsor for the Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards 2022! This past Single-Use Plastic Free Month, we looked at all the ways in which they are striving to reduce plastic packaging wherever possible. 

Zero packaging waste 

The South African retailer has a vision of zero packaging waste to landfill and is committed to making positive changes within their stores.

But there are many factors to consider, especially in a country like South Africa where the collection infrastructure in many areas is poor and the technology to process recyclables is limited. In many cases, food also must travel a great distance from farm to fork. Along the way, it needs to be handled, packaged and transported safely before making it to our tables. Don MacFarlane, senior packaging technologist at Woolworths, explains that legislation plays a large role too, in the first edition of Woolworths’ recently launched podcast, Food for Thought.


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The podcast also digs deeper into how packaging plays a significant role in extending the shelf-life (and fridge-life) of products and can therefore prevent food waste, which is a big concern in South Africa today. Change the packaging, you say? It’s not that straightforward, explains Woolworths product development manager Sally Holderness. She explains that it’s critical for her and her team to understand how products react in and out of different types of packaging substrates. With this in mind, Woolworths has achieved some major milestones in creating effective and more sustainable ways to keep food safe while taking care of the planet. 

Plastic shopping bags are out

Woolworths Food is doing away with single-use plastic shopping bags and encouraging customers to use reusable shopping bags instead, so make it a habit to grab your reusable shopping bag before you leave home. Where customers have forgotten their own reusable bags, Woolworths Food offers a low-cost reusable shopping bag for purchase.  

Since 2019, this change has saved more than 36 million single-use plastic shopping bags from going to landfill, and this number will grow even more as more shoppers commit to making the switch. 

Forty Woolworths stores across the country are currently running a Take Back initiative, so you can drop off your old and worn-out reusable shopping bags at their till operators so they can be recycled into next-generation products. 

Woolworths has also made a change to how their online orders are packaged and delivered for fashion, beauty and home deliveries, and they’re using a void paper fill to replace plastic void-fill materials – that is, the packaging that’s used to fill the empty space or voids in a container in order to provide protection.

Packaging ripe-and-ready avocadoes and speciality tomatoes

Did you know the packaging of both Woolworths Ripe and Ready avocadoes and their speciality tomatoes ranges now come in a fully recyclable kraft tray? The tray is made from 65% recycled paper (in the case of the tomatoes) and 63% recycled paper (for the avos) that is FSC®-certified. The avos have a fully recyclable wrap while the tomatoes have a recyclable polypropylene lid. These changes resulted in 20g less plastic per pack, or 77 tonnes less plastic per year, from going to landfill for the speciality tomatoes range. Plus, they’re breathable and absorb moisture, keeping the tomatoes fresher for longer and extending their shelf-life by one full day.


Say goodbye to plastic straws and single-use plastic cutlery

If you’re planning a picnic or children’s birthday party, you may notice that Woolworths no longer stocks plastic straws available for purchase or single-use plastic cutlery. Instead, they now stock responsibly sourced wooden alternatives and offer paper straws for your convenience. Their 200ml juice cartons now come with paper straws.

Plant-based packaging

In a first for South African dairy, Woolworths’ fresh milk bottles are 30% green plastic, derived from a byproduct of sugar cane. Sugar cane is a renewable source that captures CO2. Using it reduces our dependence on fossil fuel- and crude oil-based plastics, which is the norm. Woolworths also uses this for their milkshake packaging as well as the packaging for some liquid detergents and the milk caps on their long-life milk.

Forging ahead

While the issues of plastic packaging continue to be a large concern within the retail industry, Woolworths aims to constantly be on the lookout for new, innovative and sustainable ways to reduce packaging. In 2018, they signed the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to collaborate with organisations and governments to rethink the future of plastics by applying principles of a circular economy. Watch this video to learn more about the steps they’ve taken, and the journey they’ll continue on, as they strive to make a difference to our planet. 

How can you be part of the change?

You can be part of the global movement to end plastic pollution, ensuring cleaner streets, oceans and communities. Do one thing differently every day – every little bit makes a difference to our environment, planet and people.


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