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South Africa: Young People Lead the Way in Delivering Plastic Alternatives

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Greta Thunberg’s generation is making the most noise about the environment right now. But they are frustrated that they seem powerless to implement the changes they’d like to see. Most of the world’s politicians are old, male, ponderous and conflicted by their relationships with the fossil-fuel industry. But in the meantime, young people all over the world are adapting their lives and business ideas to be the change they want. South Africa is no exception. In the final article of the five-part series, Maverick Citizen profiles 20-something South Africans with a higher than average eco-IQ and asks them to share their visions for a greener future.

Forward-thinking Trent Pike, 26, taps into sustainable packaging with Mielie Mailer

I was studying Business Science in Economics & Statistics at UCT before I deferred for the second time to pursue Mielie Mailer.

My two co-founders and I, Renato Marchesini (Business Science Marketing at UCT) and Erik Bourlov (a Gemologist), wanted to create a business that would make a positive impact in South Africa.

We created Mielie Mailer, a 100% compostable plastic alternative to traditional delivery sleeves. It’s a simple concept but one that could remove up to 50 million single-use plastic bags from circulation every year.

We launched in September 2019 and, driven by a sense of urgency that we were running out of time, it took us only nine months from ideation to launch.

I’ve always cared deeply about the planet. Cowspiracy, which I watched in 2015, kick-started my journey to minimise my impact on the planet. After watching it, I went vegan “cold-turkey” (excuse the very unvegan pun). I also began consuming information on the subject at a fervent pace.

Learning about the state of our planet and our culpability has caused me a fair bit of eco-anxiety, an affliction many in my generation are facing. Thankfully, this anxiety has been empowering rather than debilitating.

Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. We fully agree. Education is the reason Mielie Mailer exists, and it’s the reason the world is finally waking up to our climate reality.

We are going through a pretty radical change in societal norms and values. Right now plastic and climate change are public enemy number one and two respectively.  And so, the idea for Mielie Mailer followed this thought process.

  1.   We want to change the world.
  2.   Single-use plastic is destroying our planet’s beautiful biodiversity.
  3.   Climate change is destroying our planet.
  4.   e-commerce is the fastest-growing retail sector in the economy.
  5.   The number of deliveries is increasing… deliveries emit C02…. deliveries are wrapped in plastic…
  6.   …. Mielie Mailer!

It’s been an incredibly busy few months and, to be honest, most of it has been a blur, but to execute on a vision so quickly and then to be so well-received has been an incredible payoff.

Often, it’s the inaction of the last generation in the face of evidence (and common sense) that is blamed for our current planetary state. It’s this fear of inaction and of the responsibility to act in the light of knowledge that drives the entire team at Mielie Mailer.

We’re enablers. We’re here to create sustainable alternatives to everyday products – most notably single-use plastics.

Consumer sentiment is changing rapidly and we want to make sure that their new requirements are met. We don’t want someone to have to compromise on their beliefs because a solution isn’t available. It’s something I’ve had to do in the past and it’s not a lekker feeling.

Following our belief in the power of knowledge, other than creating these alternatives, we promote eco-conscious living through education. We’re in a nascent field and as such, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion. Some companies are creating and promoting products and services which are good for the planet, while others are “greenwashing” their products to increase their market share and brand value.

To combat this, we have a blog which we use to inform and educate and we also have a weekly newsletter, The Mielie Maverick.

Future Forecast

The effects of climate change are no longer some far-off, distant worry. Climate change has become a clear and present crisis. Australia is on fire. Heatwaves struck much of the world in 2019, including Western Europe. Between 2015 and 2020 the cost of climate-related disasters in the US topped $525 billion, close to a third of the cost of natural disasters since 1980. 

We see South Africa’s future as green. Regardless of whether it’s a nationally driven initiative or change brought upon by international pressure, South Africa will transition to a greener economy and with it a more equitable future.

Five-year forecast: Plastic-free & Plant-based

China has announced its intention to phase out single-use plastic bags in major cities by the end of 2020 and the rest of the country by 2025. As the largest producer and consumer of single-use plastics on the planet, their policy signals the end of plastic as we know it.

The Economist declared 2019 as Year of the Vegan, South Africa had the sixth highest sign-ups for the global Veganuary campaign in 2019 and, according to Google trends, South Africa ranks among the world’s 25 nations where veganism is most popular. While still in the early stages of adoption, veganism in South African should become mainstream in the next five years as vegan alternatives become cheaper, widely available and tastier. 

10-year forecast: Sustainable, Decentralised Power Generation 

As Eskom continues to suffer from mismanagement and corruption and as our economy continues to be hampered by unreliable power and frequent load-shedding, new solutions to power generation have to be found. On Tuesday 14 January this year, Cyril Ramaphosa announced his intention to embrace self-generation as a solution to our electricity woes.

Coupled with international pressure and our Paris Agreement commitments, South Africa will be forced to move away from coal and towards renewable energy production. Given our empty state coffers, it seems likely that self-generation (independent power plants and household solar-panels) is the solution.

20-year forecast: Conscious Capitalism and Equality

As capitalism becomes conscious, businesses will move away from measuring performance from the perspective of shareholder value and towards that of stakeholder value. Society’s well-being and “happiness” will start replacing GDP as a measure of the health of an economy and country.

This mindset shift is already happening. The official theme of this year’s World Economic Forum was “better capitalism”. 

“Our capitalism must be sustainable; it must allow us to fight against global warming following a rapid and credible calendar,” Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister told reporters, according to a translation.

2020 Green Vision 

We would love to see South Africa embrace a greener future. Our country has needed an economic revolution since the end of apartheid and we think the “green-economy” offers us the opportunity to finally realise this.

Capitalism has been the greatest driver of human wealth and ingenuity in history, but along the way, it has been perverted. Our university graduates are indoctrinated into believing that the only responsibility of a business is to maximise shareholder value. They live, work and create by this doctrine which is naturally selfish and exclusive. Changing this narrative from shareholder value and towards stakeholder value is the key to a greener, cleaner more eco-aware SA.

Entrepreneurs build our world. They are the stewards of our future. It’s why we believe that above everything else, the key to a greener future is making sure entrepreneurs create and build on a foundation of climate justice where success is measured not only by profits but also positive societal impact.
Credit: Defend the Truth

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Submitted by Sekyen Jessica

Ms. Sekyen Jessica Lot
Co-editor, Downtown Africa
Ms. Lot holds an Economics degree from Nile University in Nigeria.  Over the years, she has gained great knowledge and developed good understanding about the workings of economic dynamics in different parts of the world, especially in Africa.  She is a great believer and advocate of human capital as one of the greatest resources a country needs to achieve development.  One of Ms. Lot’s greatest strengths is her intellectual curiosity and interests in discovering and learning new things that would make the world a better place.  She is an avid researcher and believes in applying practical solutions to problems facing the African continent.  As the Co-editor of Downtown Africa Magazine, her goal is to show the world the best things that Africa has to offer.

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South Africa: Young People Lead the Way in Delivering Plastic Alternatives

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