Would SA retailers give up retail space to recycling?
By Reg Barichievy, Smart Waste
Question: how far will retailers go to satisfy the needs of their customers? Would they, for example, give up retail space for recycling? In Sweden they do; in South Africa I think that is still a long way off.
It is trite that shopping centres are constantly evolving to satisfy the needs of their customers. (In this case I refer to their customers as the consumers and not the tenants). A comparison with Sweden serves to illustrate where South African retailers sit on the progression from no recycling to optimum recycling.
“Sweden actually imports waste from the UK and Spain.”
Approximately 40 years ago, Sweden did not have a recycling culture and there were few recycling containers. Today Sweden is widely regarded as the gold standard for recycling with 99% of household waste being recycled – in 1975 this was 38%. Sweden actually imports waste from the UK and Spain amongst others, although this is incinerated to provide central heating.
How did Sweden achieve this – it was largely through education and developing a culture of recycling on the part of individuals.
It is common practice when finishing a meal in a restaurant to separate the food scraps, any plastic packaging and paper and styrofoam cups into separate, marked containers before neatly stacking the used dishes and cutlery in a tray holder. Failure to do so would draw immediate criticism from friends and other patrons. It is against their society’s norms.
Recycling is also made easy with recycling containers built in to every home, recycling rooms in every residential and commercial building and containers dotted around parks and public areas. There are recycling containers in shops, restaurants and on the public transport. One never has to look far to find a recycling container and they are clearly marked.
The interesting thing, though, is finding recycling machines in supermarkets. These are large machines which are accorded some prime space. Space in Sweden is expensive, proportionately way more expensive that South Africa’s retail space and yet the retailers think it important enough to sacrifice this space to a loss leader.
Such is the power of the consumer and so strong is the demand that the retailers have found ways of accommodating their needs. A typical shopping trip often starts with the consumer taking recyclable material in his shopping bags, depositing it into the recyclable machines and then returning home with groceries. It is obviously good business for the supermarkets to address this social need.
Where are South African retailers and shopping centre developers? Still a long way off. One leading supermarket chain has placed recycling containers at its entrance for several years but in the main these have not been used properly by consumers. There are recycling containers available in some public areas and on certain university campuses but again these are generally used sparingly and without much enthusiasm.
Recycling works where there is a champion who drives the education and develops the culture. Certain schools excel at this, teaching children from an early age and at the same time earning some income from the sale of the recyclables. Training and containers, recycling reports can all be provided but what is presently lacking is the recycling culture. This is a learned habit and takes time to establish.