Plastic-Free July: Did You Know Only 9% of the World’s Plastic is Being Recycled?

Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution — so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities. Still fairly new to South Africa, this initiative has seen some great uptake from both brands and consumers. Education is key, and three incredibly passionate individuals — namely Dr. Stephan Helary (Conservationist, Botanist and Founder of Skin, Body and Lifestyle brand, Terres d’Afrique), Marc Barnfather (Founder of Sustainable Lifestyle Brand, Just Breethe) and Monique Spaltman (Formulations Specialist at Natural Body and Skincare brand, Lulu & Marula) — share their thoughts on single-use plastic and tips on how you can be the start of change!

“Plastic pollution is not only a real threat to our ecosystem’s biodiversity, it is a public health issue with micro-plastic particles everywhere, from raindrops, to water, air and the food we eat. With only 9% of the world’s plastic being recycled, it is time to educate the consumer, stop the greenwashing and raise awareness about the negative impacts of single-use plastic packaging” says Helary.

Stephan Helary
Dr. Stephan Helary, Conservationist, Botanist and Founder of Terres d’Afrique.

Marc Barnfather – Founder and CEO of Just Breethe – started his career in construction 32 years ago; growing and learning every aspect of the industry from civils to construction, marketing to finance. “I spent most of my time and efforts on the engineering side of the business, continuously aiming to improve our construction methods. Part of our sustainable push was to introduce Light Steel Framing to Mc Donald’s South Africa. Successfully completing over 8 new LFS restaurants countrywide.” Says Barnfather.

It wasn’t until he was forced to start wearing masks (pre-covid) due to a rare disease exposing his depressed immune system to bacteria and viruses, that Marc realised the importance of wearing clothing that is engineered to fit well and last. He soon realised the impact the fashion industry has on our ecosystem and saw the ‘ugly truth’ to an industry he was only starting to dip his toes into. Fast Forward 3 years and Just Breethe proudly manufactures clothing and lifestyle items as sustainably and naturally as possible.

“One needs to watch out for “Greenwashing” – a term used for companies that use lip service but don’t truly follow through. You can easily see if the packaging looks recyclable or not, or if there is some sort of attempt to show they are trying to achieve a greener footprint. The true way to know which companies to support, are the ones who don’t support fast fashion and embrace longevity in their makeup. We have a long road ahead of us as both consumers and clothing manufacturers, but by shining the light on the ones driving this forward is already a huge step in the right direction,” says Barnfather.

Terres dAfrique

Keywords to look out for:

When seeking a better alternative, Spaltman suggests you look out for keywords and / or phrases when shopping for beauty products. This can also be applied to the fashion, as well as food and beverage industries. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Sustainable packaging
  • Changing consumer behaviour toward plastics
  • Taking responsibility for the plastic waste we create
  • Reuse, Recycle or Compost
  • Look out for available refill options
  • Recycling statuses printed on the packaging

Packaging and sustainability

“In the beauty industry, we are seeing brands use 100% recyclable plastic packaging, sugar cane/wheat and other bio-based tubes and bottles, food as well as cosmetic grade paper/pulp based bottles which is incredibly exciting,” adds Spaltman. “It’s also important to note the ingredients of the end-product and how – in our case – this has been harvested / gathered. Sustainability starts right at the beginning and goes right to the end. Consumers need to be aware of and understand the processes, the ingredients and their purposes. I am incredibly excited to see many brands make this known!” she adds.

Lulu & Marula Balancing Face Hydra Serum

But, according to Helary, the unfortunate reality is that the majority of companies aren’t going to make the change unless they are forced to. The only reason to use plastic is cost, it is a lot cheaper than any other materials, and making these changes will impact their margins or selling prices.

“Truly sustainable brands that go the extra length and make sacrifices to ensure a minimal impact on the environment are popping up everywhere at the moment, but still remain a small minority in the beauty industry. At Terres d’ Afrique we have opted for more sustainable packaging materials and try limiting our use of plastic to a strict minimum from inception of the brand. We were a pioneer in sustainable beauty 10 years ahead of the current trends. We only use harvesting practices that honour and protect natural ecosystems to ensure a future for these indigenous plants and the communities that live among them. I hold a Master’s Degree in Environmental and Wildlife Management and a Ph.D. in Nutritional Ecology, and have a deep passion for conservation and an unshakeable love for the earth and its gifts. We are committed to demonstrating the power of pure, rare ingredients and to partnering ethically and responsibly with expert African producers and suppliers to bring those ingredients to the world,” says Helary.

“The change will only come from either government legislations like we are seeing in Europe — who will impose a total ban on single-use plastic packaging by 2040, with some types of packaging already banned — and from the consumer who is putting more and more pressure on brands as they get more educated on the impact of plastic on the environment, but also on human health,” He adds. Plastic micro-particles are not only found in the sea and fishes, but also in raindrops, the air we breathe and even women’s placentas, as shown by a recent study. A scary reality!

Terres d'Afrique

“As a consumer, you need to make a choice whether a brand’s ethos on environmental issues is important to you or not and choose brands that are transparent and make real efforts to limit their use of plastics. Don’t be fooled by claims of recyclability, as only 9-14% of plastic is actually recycled. The rest (equivalent to one garbage truck every minute) ends up in the oceans and water streams,” explains Helary.

Sustainability trends and consumer habits

“There are many new smaller companies that have embraced the use of natural materials and made the move away from petroleum-based products. This includes less single-use plastics and more recyclable packaging. But the biggest winner in this space to date is the few companies that are moving to longer-use sustainable clothing items. Slow fashion over fast fashion! I truly believe this is the way forward. We are seeing consumers opting for better quality and materials and supporting their ‘more expensive’ purchase with a calculation called ‘Cost per wear’. In reality, you pay LESS for your item because you wear it for much longer and more consistently,” says Barnfather. “Capsule Wardrobes are big buzz words right now and an incredible trend within the Sustainable Fashion space. This means, LESS consumption, MORE wear and much higher quality – almost always, Slow Made,” he adds.

We are seeing that consumers are becoming increasingly invested in sustainable beauty trends and the most important attributes they look for when shopping for beauty and personal care products are those that use natural ingredients (40.2%), respect the environment (17.6%), and use reusable and recyclable packaging, at 7.9% and 15.8%, respectively, according to a NielsenIQ survey in 2021.

Lulu & Marula

A strong trend toward sustainability is reflected in online search terms, which have been skyrocketing in popularity in 2021. Plastic-free (+325%), reef safe (+105%), refillable (+93%), non-toxic (+67%), eco-friendly (+45%) and biodegradable (+9%) are amongst the key words showing the highest growth.

See Also

Plastic-free has shown quarter-over-quarter gains during 2021, as shoppers look for products that produce less environmental waste.

Packaging innovation

Due to greater demand, we have seen many innovations in terms of packaging materials, waterless formulations and refill options, all attempting to reduce packaging waste. Waterless formulations like shampoo bars are a great innovation as they can be wrapped in paper but can only be applied to certain types of beauty products and therefore have a very limited impact. “Some think that the refill revolution is underway, and with the introduction of new regulations banning single-use plastics, chances are that we’ll see a lot of new initiatives in the near future,” explains Helary. “Consumers might take time to pick up this new habit and retailers need to adapt as well, considering the space, cost and logistical challenges. The supply chain will also need to reorganise its processes to provide stores with “bulk” formulas in a seamless fashion. Until standard systems are set, it might remain a complex alternative, which might not work for the beauty industry,” Helary adds.

Terres d'Afrique

Packaging and the way forward

When packaging is environmentally safe, it may not be financially viable for companies, meaning its use cannot be sustained. What’s more, the creation of some eco-friendly packaging may have a social impact, such as by diverting land used to grow food or clearing large swaths of rainforest to grow raw materials for bioplastics instead, which is obviously not sustainable.

“Another avenue to manage waste is to design it out, by removing all non-essential plastic packaging, moving to mono-material items matching with currently available recycling streams, and avoiding all materials where the end of life is not widely controlled on the market. This is why at Terres d’ Afrique we are sticking to some of the most recyclable and recycled materials such as glass and aluminium, which are also reusable. We try minimising the use of plastic to pumps and caps when absolutely necessary. One might argue that they have a higher carbon footprint, which is questionable, but we still believe that they are far more eco-friendly and sustainable than any other options available,” adds Helary.

Lulu & Marula

All in all, we are seeing a movement towards a more sustainable approach to various industries, such as the beauty and fashion spaces. However, we find that consumers play an incredibly important role when it comes to driving this forward.

In reality, the greater the demand for a movement, the more responsibility a brand takes. Boycotting them won’t necessarily make them change, because that means less profit, however, being vocal may be the answer we’re looking for! “As a brand, we never want to place the responsibility onto a consumer, however, it’s their involvement that really drives forward change,” says Spaltman. “Submit feedback in the most meaningful way possible, via social media platforms and emails. The bigger momentum a movement gains, the greater the demand for change,” she adds.

Support local, slow made and sustainable brands when and where possible, and we will see the change we need in this world!

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