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Proactively finding sustainable solutions

Pre-saturated wipes proved themselves invaluable in the fight against infections even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in a multitude of settings including hospitals, clinics, emergency services, retail and hospitality, among others.

Left to right Prof Peter Ryan (UCT); John Kieser (Plastics SA); Annette Devenish (Sani-touch); Sanjeev Raghubir (Shoprite Group)

At the onset of the pandemic demand for pre-saturated wipes exceeded the available supply until manufacturers were able to ramp up their production capacity.

However, with increased use of pre-saturated wipes, it is incumbent on manufacturers to ensure their used wipes are recycled and repurposed.

For Infection Protection Products, manufacturers of the Sani-touch range of pre-saturated wipes, including the popular trolley wipes introduced to the South African market in 2006, ensuring a circular economy for their used wipes has become a priority.

Made of locally sourced polypropylene, a thermoplastic polymer used in a wide range of applications, their wipes have the benefit of being 100% recyclable.

“Plastics have proved themselves to be an ideal material for modern society: lightweight, strong, durable, cost-effective, versatile, and arguably most important, recyclable,” points out Sani-touch marketing director Annette Devenish. “For a while now plastic has been getting a bad rap. However, it’s a very different picture when plastic products are recycled and repurposed, effectively becoming part of a closed loop in a circular economy.”

Earlier this year South Africa introduced amended Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations for paper, packaging, e-waste and lighting. The amendments aim to ensure that producers take responsibility for the life cycle of the products they put into the market to the point of post-consumer waste disposal.

Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) within the various industries have been tasked with ensuring that their respective sectors meet the new legislative requirements. While the regulations are far from perfect and their implementation challenged by some legacy issues, they are a major step towards the introduction of a circular economy.

Although the amended EPR regulations don’t currently apply to Infection Protection Products, the company has made a strategic decision to voluntarily and proactively implement its own EPR solution in order to ensure a circular economy for its used products.

“We believe that no business can afford to pay only lip service to the concept of recycling,” says Devenish. “If we care about the world we live in we all need to step up and play our part. Our solution is a simple, but a sustainable one, which is premised on creating a closed loop for used wipes as we recycle and repurpose them to make plastic pallets to replace wooden pallets in factories. We’re very excited about these pallets given that they are UV resistant, don’t rot, don’t absorb moisture and swell, and are a low fire risk. A plastic pallet has a much longer lifespan than a wooden pallet and has the benefit of being recyclable again creating a virtuous and almost infinite circle.”

While plastic pallets are the obvious solution for recycled and repurposed plastic for manufacturers and retailers, Devenish points out that this is only one option. “There are literally endless opportunities for recycled and repurposed plastic. Park benches, garden furniture and even carpets are just some of the other products that can be produced.”

In collaboration with Shoprite Checkers Infection Protection Products has piloted its green 100% recyclable pre-saturated wipes, trialling a system which will see the retailer use its back-haulers to send all used wipes sent for recycling.

“Checkers is a visionary retailer that understands the need for sustainability and for the creation of a circular economy,” says Devenish. “They have worked closely with us to develop the system and will be monitoring the number of wipe buckets going into stores to ensure that the same number of buckets are sent for recycling. We have agreed to target a goal of 80% for recycling.”

The South African Plastics Recycling Survey 2019, published in 2020, reveals that of the almost 1.8 million tonnes of plastic products produced in 2019, a total of 503 600 tonnes was collected for recycling, of which 352 500 tonnes was converted back into raw materials in order to manufacture other products.

“We plan to play our part in ensuring that the amount of waste recycled and converted back into raw materials is grown,” says Devenish. “Checkers alone consumes 20 tonnes of polypropylene a month. By recycling the bulk of the used wipes we will be creating jobs and encouraging more investment into recycling facilities.”

She urges all manufacturers to implement their own solution. “Nobody should be waiting for legislation to apply to them. All producers should be looking for ways to amend their products so that are recyclable and then putting a sustainable system in place to ensure that their used products are actually recycled and repurposed. Together we can make a difference.”

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