Woolworths looks to cut plastic ‘barrier bags’

 ·8 Apr 2024

Woolworths is conducting a trial in 12 of its stores to explore the possibility of eliminating plastic barrier bags that are used for separating products.

Should the eight-week trial prove successful, the initiative would be extended to eliminate these bags from all of its South African stores.

“At Woolies, we have a vision of zero packaging waste to landfill and have publicly committed to the removal of unnecessary and problematic plastics from our value chain,” said Woolworths head of sustainability, Feroz Koor.

The retailer’s promise to severely cut the use of single-use plastics has already seen it remove all plastic straws, plastic cutlery, plastic cotton bud sticks, plastic lollipop sticks, microbeads, and single-use shopping bags from its stores.

“The barrier bag is the last problematic plastic on the SA Plastics Pact list that we need to remove and we are ready to work closely with our customers to eliminate it from our stores,” added Koor.

If the company goes ahead with the removal of plastic barrier bags from all of its stores, the group claims that it could remove an estimated 11 million plastic bags every year “from polluting our environment, waterways and oceans, or from our landfills.”

The retailer said that although these bags offer convenience for consumers, they are still looking at ‘viable’ eco-friendly alternatives like responsibly sourced paper bags.

Although plastic barrier bags can technically be recycled, their thinness makes it difficult for recycling facilities to process them effectively.

Additionally, they often become contaminated with food or other waste, leading to their eventual littering in communities, waterways, and landfills instead of being recycled.

Woolworths is a member of the SA Plastics Pact, which includes stakeholders from government, businesses and NGOs, all committed to reducing plastic waste and pollution.

This is not the first move of its kind seen in South African retailers.

In February 2023, Pick n Pay announced that it will no longer use plastic barrier bags (estimated at about 20 million annually) to separate certain products when packing groceries for customers at till points.

Read: New rules for plastics and packaging in South Africa

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