Glass straws and fresh produce help zap plastic waste

Although some major retailers and fast-food outlets have announced that they will be reducing their plastic footprint over the next few years, at least one restaurant group in Johannesburg is already doing so.

“When it comes to plastic and stuff, the only thing I can honestly say we use for plastic — because of health regulations — is bin bags,” said James Diack, the founder of the Brightside Group, which owns four environmentally conscious and sustainable restaurants across the city.

At his Parkhurst restaurant, Coobs, Diack said that waste reduction, recycling and reusing had long been part of the group’s identity, since it opened its first restaurant six years ago.

READ MORE: There’s much more to the plastic pollution crisis than carrier bags

“I came from a fine dining background in Cape Town and the waste there was a problem,” said Diack. “I couldn’t believe we had to waste so much — you use this little bit and have to throw it away.


“When we opened Coobs, we opened it with that in mind.”

The restaurant tries to eliminate all unnecessary waste. Diack said he and his staff also focus on serving seasonal ingredients to minimise the amount of plastic packaging used.

And, because his family owns a farm, they are also able to avoid sourcing heavily packaged food from mainstream suppliers. All leftover fresh produce is sent back to the Brightside farm to be used as compost or insecticide.

The most obvious sign, at least to the customer, of the restaurant’s green consciousness is its recent shift to using glass straws.

“It was a chink in our armour,” said Diack. “It has been a big financial outlay. These things cost R50 apiece and, across four restaurants, we have just under 800 straws.

“People break them or steal them, but we had to do it.”

This month, Pick n Pay andWoolworths announced plans to reduce and phase out nonrecyclable plastic waste in their stores, from packaging to straws and earbuds.

Professor Peter Ryan, the director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, said South Africa has come to the party late compared with other countries.

Ryan said that, for a small population, South Africa had a disturbingly high level of plastic pollution. The country is ranked 11th among the worst polluting nations in the world, in terms of dumping plastic into the seas. He attributed this to the large quantities of packaging used and the mismanagement of waste at local government level.

On the whole, he added, plastics weren’t bad and banning them wouldn’t be practical as they are an essential part of many product applications. Instead, Ryan stressed that the focus should mainly be on single-use plastics.

READ MORE: New study reveals global plans to curb single-use plastic pollution

“We shop in a fairly sophisticated packaging environment. There’s an awful lot of plastic which goes into packaging — in fact, relative to the global average, we put more of our plastics into packaging,” he said.

Globally, he said, an average of about 40% of plastic goes into single-use items, whereas in South Africa it’s more than 50%.

Ryan said this situation was exacerbated by a dysfunctional municipal system that was teetering on the brink of collapse.

“Our default position is that it goes into a landfill; that is not a sustainable solution. Plastics have value. Unfortunately, waste plastics don’t quite have enough value to sort or subsidise their recovery,” said Ryan.

“We need to make it easy for consumers to sort at the source and find ways to unlock the value of used plastics,” he said

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust financial reporter at the M&G

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Tebogo Tshwane
Tebogo Tshwane

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust financial journalism trainee at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a general news intern at Eyewitness News and a current affairs show presenter at the Voice of Wits FM. Tshwane is passionate about socioeconomic issues and understanding how macroeconomic activities affect ordinary people. She holds a journalism honours degree from Wits University. 

Related stories

Uphill battle but Tehran aims to become bike-friendly

A new bike-sharing initiative in the Iranian capital is trying to ameliorate the city’s traffic and pollution problem

Surveys predict Black Friday likely to fuel e-commerce

Fear of contracting the coronavirus while fighting off other shoppers will probably change how people shop for sales

Eskom’s emissions are not compatible with the South African constitution

The government must not cave to Eskom’s demand that it be exempt from air pollution rules. Furthermore, the power utility needs to stay true to the principles of its own just transition strategy

We developed a simple process to recycle urine. Here’s how it’s done

Most of the wastewater produced worldwide receives no treatment and the nutrients in wastewater go to waste. Here's how households can draw these nutrients from urine

Carer swims for Bob the Green Turtle

After being discovered with a belly full of plastic waste, Bob has become an ocean ambassador

Tendele’s mine pollutes their air and water, residents claim

The mining company says it complies with both the Air Quality Control Act and the Health and Safety Act, as well as conducting extensive research before starting operations
Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

‘Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of...

Yvette Raphael describes herself as a ‘professional protester, sjambok feminist and hater of trash’. Government officials would likely refer to her as ‘a rebel’. She’s fought for equality her entire life, she says. And she’s scared of no one

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Al-Shabab’s terror in Mozambique

Amid reports of brutal, indiscriminate slaughter, civilians bear the brunt as villages are abandoned and the number of refugees nears half a million

South Africa’s cities opt for clean energy

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions will hinge on the transport sector
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…