April 25, 2024

Creating useful waste as opposed to landfill waste

The theme of this year’s Earth Day, celebrated earlier this week, was planet versus plastics. A laudable theme, certainly, but only of value if attention is focused on the issue for more than a single day and ends up resulting in sustainable, long-term solutions.
There is a growing acknowledgement from more and more manufacturers that biodegradable and natural products are ideal. However, they also need to be fit for purpose and economically viable.

Working with retailers such as Shoprite Checkers, Sani-touch, manufacturers of the Sani-touch range of products which includes detergent disinfectant trolley wipes and other sanitising products supplied primarily to the retail and medical industries, has successfully pioneered a strategy to ensure that the Sani-touch trolley wipes found at the entrance of Shoprite Checkers stores are kept out of landfill and are instead sent to recyclers who melt the polypropylene into pellets for use in the manufacture of garden furniture and other products with a long life cycle.

Recently, the company’s attention turned to its Zonki service and cleaning cloths used in retail stores, hospitals and by cleaning businesses. While biodegradable cloths are always a good option for these market segments, the challenge is that these cloths need to be absorbent, functional, strong, durable and financially viable. Combination fibres tend to work well for this kind of application, but the downside is that they can’t easily be recycled or repurposed.

It was for these reasons that Sani-touch switched its cleaning cloths and the majority of its wipes to a 100% polyester fabric given that it provides the required functionality, is cost-effective and most important, is 100% recyclable.

There has been a massive shift globally to recycling polyester materials. In South Africa, however, recycling is still in its infancy. The combination of load shedding and the high cost of electricity mean that recycling remains expensive. To contain costs and ensure that recycling is financially viable, waste recyclers typically only recycle basic plastics. Polyester nonwoven cloths are more difficult to recycle compared to common plastics and there is only a very limited market locally for recycled polyester.

This left Sani-touch in something of a quandary. If recycling the polyester cleaning cloths was not possible, the only way to ensure the used cloths do not end up in landfill was to repurpose them. As a first step, the Gazula sewing ladies, based in Diepsloot, were approached to turn Sani-touch’s cleaning cloth factory waste into beanbags for use in early childhood development centres and for occupational therapy centres. 

The bean bags, produced in different colours, are stuffed with used and cleaned cleaning cloths for a lighter bean bag and with recycled polypropylene pellets made from used Sani-touch trolley wipes and donated by Tufflex filling the heavier bean bags. Traditionally, bean bags have been filled using rice, beans or other food items that tend to attract bugs and beetles. The bean bags are then distributed to early childhood development centres in impoverished communities which lack educational materials where they are used to improve co-ordination skills, gross and fine motor skills, finger dexterity, perceptual skills, and to regulate the proprioceptive system, amongst others.

BeanBags_Coordination Skills

To celebrate Earth Day, Sani-touch, together with Shoprite Checkers, presented 100 bean bags to the Khulani Early Childhood Development Centre in Diepsloot, together with two children’s play benches made from recycled Saniwipes. 

Annette Devenish, Marketing Manager at Sani-touch, says the intention is that this is the first of many bean bag handovers to early childhood development centres around the country.

“Not only are we providing a steady income to previously unemployed individuals and providing a useful product to these centres, but we are successfully proving that our waste can be useful and kept out of landfill.” 

While repurposing Sani-touch’s factory waste into useful bean bags is the first step, the next step will be to collect the used cloths from all Shoprite Checkers stores around the country and repurpose them to ensure they don’t end up in landfill. 

In partnership with Shoprite Checkers, Sani-touch plans to grow this initiative countrywide.

“Small efforts have the potential to become successful collaborative projects when you have the right partners on board,” says Devenish. “We are very fortunate to be able to partner with a retailer that takes sustainability as seriously as we do and that is prepared to work with us for the long-term benefit of the environment.” 

BeanBags_EarthDay and Sani-touch