Afripack - Managing waste in a packaging company

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Since the appointment of a dedicated sustainability manager in 2011, South African packaging company Afripack have achieved a 13% increase in their recycling rates. Mark Liptrot, Sustainability Manager for Afripack, says “Through increased staff awareness and establishing a green team we have been able to increase our recycling rates by 13% overall and are targeting a 75%diversion from landfill at two major sites in 2013.”

Afripack is a South African packaging supplier that produces industrial flexible packaging which includes roof insulation, and paper bags for cement and paper; as well as consumer flexible packaging and labels for confectionery, beverages, food, and personal care products.

Liptrot says waste is a challenge for the packaging company since they produce approximately 500 tonnes of waste a month. To decrease the amount of waste that is sent to landfill Afripack follows the waste hierarchy of “reduce, reuse and recycle” and that their ultimate goal is to achieve zero waste at their sites explains Liptrot. Waste management is part of a larger sustainability policy at Afripack that includes strategies to reduce water and energy consumption and to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Measuring waste

The first step to reducing the amount of waste that is sent to landfill is to put systems in place to monitor and measure waste generation, as Liptrot says, “If you don’t measure, you can’t manage”. In addition, in terms of the National Environmental Waste Management Act, Afripack is legally required to document the amount of waste that is produced on site and keep a Waste Manifest Document that states how hazardous waste is dealt with on site.

Afripack operates from a number of different sites which produce different kinds of packaging. Each site therefore produces different kinds and amounts of waste on site and faces different waste management challenges, explains Liptrot. By introducing waste management and measuring systems at each site, waste that is generated is recorded and the waste that is sent for recycling or reuse is measured. In this way waste is tracked and targets can be set for reduction at each site. Staff can also see how their reduction interventions are making an impact.

Appointing a sustainability manager and green team

An important step in decreasing the amount of waste that Afripack sends to landfill came in 2011 when Afripack decided to appoint a full time internal sustainability manager to oversee sustainability at all of the Afripack sites. Liptrot established a green team, made up of volunteer staff members at each site, who report monthly to Liptrot on various sustainability indicators including waste, carbon and water and energy use. Liptrot coordinates the green team and collates the information that is sent from the green team representatives at each site. Liptrot is then able to understand what is happening at each site and target sites for specific interventions.

Waste management companies are contracted to manage waste on site. However, this is optimised by having a green team representative at each site to oversee this management explains Liptrot. Waste companies that collect the waste from each site report directly to the green team members on the volumes that are sent for recycling and to landfill.

Staff awareness

Liptrot explains that it is important that all staff are involved in managing waste and that they are familiar with waste management legislation and the interventions that Afripack have implemented. Staff are kept up to speed with the various waste management activities that are implemented on site and new staff are made aware at their induction. “It is important that all staff members are familiar with the materials that are recyclable so that these materials do not end up going to landfill”, says Liptrot.

In order to keep staff informed about current environmental issues, Liptrot sends out a newsletter to his green team that collates recent environmental news pieces. The newsletter keeps staff interested and informed.

Reduce, reuse, recycle - Interventions at Afripack

Some of the interventions that Afripack have implemented in order to manage their waste include the following:

Reduction interventions

A common area of waste in packaging plants is trim of film for flexible packaging that is cut off in the process of printing the packaging. Afripack has minimised the amount of trim that is cut off from the packaging by using the narrowest reels for each job. Liptrot adds that Afripack also liaise with their clients to encourage them to choose more environmentally friendly packaging for their products and select thinner plastics if possible to reduce waste.

Reuse interventions 

Afripack staff modelling items made from plastic waste from Afripack sites.  Afripack provides crafters with  plastic waste and offcuts to produce  waist coats, bags and hats and  sends plastic waste  for recycling into new products like hangers and airvents (Clothing produced by Umcebo crafters, hangers and airvents by Plasti-Solve. Image Source: Afripack).

Afripack have a long history of supplying NGOs with clean plastics for craft and art, “it’s one way of giving back to the community”, says Liptrot. For the last fifteen years Afripack has provided good quality plastic waste and offcuts to crafters who produce high end goods including waist coats, hats and bags that are sold to Afripack staff and other members of the public. Some of the NGOs that Afripack support include the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust, uMcebo Design, eThekwini Community Foundation, Refugee Social Services, uKhamba Craft, and the Ningizimu Special School. Liptrot explains “not all plastics can be recycled and so donating plastics to crafters extends the life of these types of plastic preventing them from going to landfill”.

Liptrot also notes that not all of Afripack’s waste can go to the crafters as the crafters only require 1-2 tonnes of waste a year. Therefore a project with Afripack’s recycling partners has also been initiated to produce construction and fencing materials from processed plastic waste.

Liptrot adds “One of my highlights of working for Afripack has been the work that we have done with the NGOs…and coming up with solutions to waste”. Liptrot has himself experimented with constructing furniture out of waste, “I have made four pool tables from waste and a lounge chair from carton board so far”.

One of the pool tables that Liptrot has made from plastic and cardboard waste, as well as scavenged golf balls and old golf cues (Image Source: Afripack).

Recycling interventions

Afripack have implemented recycling initiatives at all of their sites. An increased drive in recycling at their two consumer flexible packaging sites in 2011 has resulted in increases in recycling rates from 12% in 2010 to 37% in 2012 at their KZN site, and from 68% in 2010 to 72% in 2012 at their label production site.

Liptrot has calculated that the carbon that has been saved from the recycling initiatives at the label production site averaged 81.4 tCO2e per month (nearly 1000tCO2e per year) in 2012.

Waste management challenges faced by Afripack

“One of the biggest challenges for us is that the volume of waste builds up very quickly” says Liptrot. However, Liptrot indicates that  using a baler can help to reduce waste to one 20th of its size which also cuts down on transportation costs. Unfortunately  at the moment only two of Afripack’s sites have balers. Another challenge for Afripack is that “Customers’ requirements change all the time”, says Liptrot.  In addition customers often ask for a cheaper material that is not recyclable. Afripack encourages its clients to use recyclable materials but sometimes clients are not interested because of the higher cost involved.  Formost organisations “going green has to be linked to cost savings” explains Liptrot.

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Amanda Botes