Our Burning Planet


Day One – The journey to low-cost sustainable food

Day One – The journey to low-cost sustainable food
Nathan Edropia, who does marketing for Skhaftin – a mobile grocery store aiming to deliver low-cost, plastic-free shopping. (Photo: Julia Evans)

The Skhaftin Bus is a mobile grocery store that aims to provide low-cost food and promote plastic-free shopping. The bus is currently on day one of the first leg of its trip through SA – from Johannesburg to Cape Town – aiming to spread awareness of the concept of sustainable shopping with grassroots communities along the way.

“Where’s your Skhaftin?”

This was a question you’d hear echoed through the queues outside the soup kitchen at Victoria Yards in Johannesburg’s inner city during the hard lockdown in 2020.

‘Skhaftin’ is local slang for ‘lunchbox’, and this is where the name for the Skhaftin bus originated – a plastic-free mobile grocery store that provides customers access to low-cost, healthy food without having to purchase so much plastic.

“I really find it mind-boggling that these concepts are for the upper-class at the moment,” said Ilka Stein, who founded the social enterprise ForReal behind the sustainable food alternative. 

“Not only because of the environment, but for people who need to save money or when the budget is really tight. 

“If you have a choice on how much you buy of something, because it’s not pre-packaged, it should help people to stretch their money a little bit further.”

Unlike zero waste or plastic-free grocery stores in SA like Nude Foods, The Refillery and Unwrapped, the idea behind Shkaftin is that it doesn’t matter what container you bring, it doesn’t have to be a console jar, it can be a yogurt tub, ice cream carton – or a lunch box. 

Stein, who wanted to develop a purposeful organisation with young people, bought a 40-year-old school bus in late 2020 after deciding with her team that working to address accessible and affordable food was a social issue they wanted to focus on.

After three months of renovations – stripping back the carpets, seats and even floorboards and installing counters on either side with metal containers for the non-perishable items – the bus was ready.

Shoppers enter through the front door with their container, jar or ‘skhaftin’ from home, and dish the oats, beans, spices, legumes or cereal they want. It then gets weighed and rung up.

“We wanted you to buy – for what you actually need,” said Abdulaye Matsoso, who helped renovate the bus and has been a volunteer at the social enterprise since its inception.

It’s low cost because you aren’t paying for packaging – and you get to choose the quantity you want to buy (which in turn reduces food waste).

It’s environmentally sustainable – as you aren’t relying on single-use plastics which end up in a landfill or the ocean.

It’s educational – its mobile nature means it’s possible to inspire others to start something like this.

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The journey

The bus operated around the suburbs of Lorentzville, Troyeville and Bertrams in the inner city of Johannesburg in 2021, but it is now being donated to Kannemeyer Primary School in Grassy Park, Cape Town.

As it was always created to be a tool to educate and influence, the Skhaftin team decided to use the trip down to the Cape as an opportunity to engage with communities along the way about the concepts of plastic-free shopping, the importance of recycling and reusing what we already have. 

Caption: Map of the route the Skhaftin bus is taking through South Africa, stopping at Bloemfontein, Graaff-Reinet, Gqeberha, Knysna and Swellendam, before the bus will be donated to a primary school in Grassy Park, Cape Town. (Image: Ilka Stein)

“How awesome would it be if someone saw the bus and thought, actually this could work in my community – and started a plastic-free shop somewhere,” said Stein. 

“That would be really… I don’t know, my heart would just jump.” 

Day one of the six-day journey through South Africa complete.

Next stop is Graaff-Reinet, where the team is meeting up with climate justice NGO Support Centre for Land Change. Stay tuned. DM/OBP


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Absa OBP

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