Our Burning Planet


Day Four – Mobile grocery store model is addressing our reliance on plastic packaging 

Day Four – Mobile grocery store model is addressing our reliance on plastic packaging 
The Skhaftin team engaging with the Knysna Sport Academy on day four of their road trip through SA. (Photo: Julia Evans)

The Skhaftin Bus is a mobile grocery store that aims to provide low-cost food and promote plastic-free shopping. On the fourth day of its trip through SA, the bus stopped at Knysna Sport Academy in the Western Cape.

We’ve heard it all before — reduce, reuse and recycle.

It’s the first thing kids at schools learn, and when we have a recycling bin at home, the niggling feeling of guilt we might have about pollution is slightly eased.

But as innovative and important as recycling may be, it’s not the solution.

It’s like trying to stop a leak by stuffing a rag in a pipe without thinking to turn off the tap. 

It’s not addressing the cause — our reliance and overconsumption of plastic. 

According to the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2020 report on South Africa, 70% of plastic waste generated here is collected — of which only 14% gets recycled.

The country’s landfills are running out of space, and 80,000 tonnes of plastic leak into our rivers and oceans.

This is the message Ilka Stein, founder of social enterprise ForReal, is trying to communicate with youth and grassroots communities as her mobile, plastic-free grocery store bus travels through South Africa. 

Ilka Stein

Ilka Stein (pictured) founded the purposeful organisation ForReal in 2020 because she wanted to make a social impact and address food insecurity. (Photo: Nathan Edropia)

On day four of its road trip from Johannesburg to South Africa, the Skhaftin Bus stopped at Knysna Sport Academy, which provides children in nearby townships and communities with the opportunity to start cycling, cricket, golf and bowls — giving them a sanctuary to develop sports ambitions or learn life skills of determination, structure and resilience.

The Knysna Sport Academy offers young people from surrounding communities the resources and opportunities to partake in a variety of sports activities. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Read day one, two and three of the road trip diaries.

Stein explained to the kids who come to the centre every afternoon for sport that, unlike a typical grocery store, the concept of a plastic-free grocery store is that you bring a container that you already have from home to weigh the food you need and take it home.

The focus is more on the other two R’s — reducing our reliance on plastic and reusing the plastic we already have.

Most zero waste or plastic-free grocery stores are quite expensive and cater to the middle to upper class, which Stein thinks is bizarre, as this model can provide food at a more affordable price — not just because customers aren’t paying for packaging but because they can buy exactly what they need by choosing their quantities.

“It’s actually nothing new,” reflected Stein. “It just allows you to have more access to a different variety. 

“My partner, who grew up in a Pietermaritzburg Indian community, would tell me the stories of how every Saturday, he had to accompany his grandmother to the market.

“They would meet with five other women, buy big bulk, and then sit there and split it. 

“And where do they put it? They put it into plastic buckets or whatever they had.” 

The bus is next stopping at Swellendam, where the Skhaftin team will engage with a local school, Swellendam municipalities and SanParks. Stay tuned. DM/OBP

The Skhaftin bus

The Skhaftin bus visited the Knysna Sport Academy in Knysna, Western Cape, on day four of their road trip through SA. (Photo: Julia Evans)


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