Petco diversifies as it anticipates increase in producer responsibility participation

21st June 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic producer responsibility organisation (PRO) Petco announced that it is diversifying into multimaterials as it anticipates that participation in PROs will increase significantly and to ensure that its members remain compliant under new packaging sustainability laws.

Section 18 of the National Environmental Management Waste Act requires producers to assume responsibility for their products up to and including the end-of-life stage of the product cycle.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) has become mandatory amid increasing consumer and governmental pressure on brands to ensure end-of-life solutions for their products beyond consumer use, Petco says.

“As participation in EPR is no longer voluntary, we anticipate that participation in PROs will increase significantly and most plastic producers are multimaterial users.

"These producers can no longer choose only to focus their EPR activities on their largest or most visible pack format,” says Petco CEO Cheri Scholtz.

Petco, in line with international best practice, views producers of packaging as the brand owner of products using the packaging, the retailer in the case of house brands or the importer of goods contained in packaging.

“Producers require a mechanism by which to meet their EPR compliance obligations, for all the component packaging materials of their identified products, in a cost-effective, efficient and non-onerous manner. They can be expected to join as few PROs as possible to meet their compliance requirements,” she said.

As required under Section 18, potential and existing brand owner, retailer and importer members will need to submit formal confirmation that they will be joining Petco’s new-look EPR scheme for 2022.

The EPR scope of work or priority products covered by Petco is set to be finalised by July 31, with the finalisation of membership to follow by August 31.

The implications of Section 18 are significant for brand-owners and retailers, notes Petco vice-chair and Coca-Cola Africa head of sustainability David Drew.

“The success of EPR relies on the commitment of brand-owners and retailers and their contributions, both financial and non-financial, to the PROs they will entrust to ensure they remain compliant. PROs and the EPR schemes they implement require the buy-in of these key stakeholders to be successful,” he said.

“The move by Petco to include packaging components not only speaks to the existing collection systems, where the packaging components of closures and labels are generally collected along with the base packaging format, but also places a necessary focus on these components,” says GreenCape circular economy analyst Dr Kirsten Barnes.

“Packaging components may render the whole base format nonrecyclable and this expanded scope will allow further work to address this. Further, packaging components may be discarded by recyclers whose systems are designed to handle the base format,” she points out.

“By including packaging components, the focus of the whole value chain must expand to consider design for recycling and the effective recycling of these packaging components. It is our view that South Africa’s developing mandatory EPR system should increasingly see such inclusion of packaging components in other EPR schemes.”

GreenCape is the secretariat for the South African Plastics Pact - a collaborative initiative to create a circular economy for plastics packaging.

Petco has already done extensive work in the design for recycling space, says Barnes.

Petco is effectively involved in multimaterial collections through collecting closures and labels as a necessary condition for achieving existing PET beverage bottle targets and is, therefore, best placed to establish EPR schemes for these products, says Petco board chair and Coca-Cola Beverages Africa head of public affairs, communications and sustainability Tshidi Ramogase.

“This is also aligned to global best practice where complementary packaging items, such as closures and labels, are generally included with the substrate that makes up over 80% of the product mass,” she adds.

While Petco is starting with labels and closures, further diversification will be evaluated carefully based on the strategic fit and the needs of Petco members. Larger multimaterial PROs will evolve to better serve South African producers but how this will develop is not entirely clear, says Ramogase.

Petco was founded on the principle of voluntary EPR in 2004, and is already largely compliant with the new regulations and better placed than many other organisations to become fully compliant, said Scholtz.

“To remain relevant and competitive in this space, and to assist our members in achieving the more onerous targets set by Section 18, we must diversify,” Scholtz notes.

While the regulations allow producers to comply by establishing their own schemes, collective action through multi-member PROs, such as Petco, will be more effective and cost-efficient than standalone schemes for most materials.