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On My Mind: Oh, what a waste

| Innovation and technology

Looking at data in the run-up to Pick n Pay’s AGM, two figures stood out. The first was that more than half of those aged 15-25 in SA are jobless. At the start of what should be their productive lives, a large part of an entire generation of young people face a life without the stability, security and skills that work can provide.

The consequences are dire, not just for individuals but for families, communities, public health and national productivity.

The second figure was that one third of the food we produce in this country is wasted. This is estimated to cost R60bn a year, equivalent to 2% of GDP.

Unlike the US or the EU, we don’t throw away a huge amount of food in our homes. We’re good, in SA, at buying what we need and not much more, and in making proper use of leftovers rather than throwing them away. Losses in SA tend to happen on farms, in storage, in the manufacturing and distribution process, and to some degree in our stores. But the truth is that, overall, we are still wasting huge amounts of food in a country where 11m people risk going hungry every day.

I could have chosen other statistics to demonstrate the degree of waste we tolerate. SA is among the least energy-efficient countries when you factor in GDP. We waste productivity through poor educational attainment, low skills, high rates of absenteeism, inadequate infrastructure and excessive regulatory barriers.

There are many things we cannot change. But waste is something we can. We can decide straight away that we will not go on tolerating our current levels of waste in all its various forms. We can start to make a difference — today.

Real change will require vision and partnership, between the public and the private sectors, between employers and employees, and across political and other divides.

It will also require leadership. As a contribution to this, we at Pick n Pay are making a start by declaring our own "War on Waste".

To combat unemployment, we have set out to create 20 new jobs every working day until 2020. That’s around 5 000 a year. We want many of these jobs to go to previously unemployed young people who have the desire to work for Pick n Pay and who will enjoy serving customers. Those who join us will be able to look forward not just to a regular income, but to developing their skills and to advancing within a business which prides itself on being a meritocracy.

To fight food waste, we have pledged to reduce the amount of organic waste from our stores going to landfills by 20% by 2020, and to work towards achieving zero waste to landfills. We have already made a start. We lend our support to FoodBank SA, which collects edible food from manufacturers and retailers and redistributes it to thousands of South Africans every day. Our partnership provides about 40 000 meals a week for people in dire need. It’s saving close to 1 000t of food waste each year.

We can make a contribution in other ways — for example, by further improving our forecasting and ordering so we waste less in the first place.

To make a contribution to reducing energy waste — at a time when no South African can avoid the electricity crisis — we have committed to reducing our energy use per square metre by a further 20% by 2020. Added to the 30% reduction we have already achieved since 2008, this will take us to a 50% reduction by 2020. This is more than good housekeeping; it has saved us R60m a year.

Citizens and consumers increasingly expect business to demonstrate shared value: to show they are active regarding the challenges that people and communities face in their daily lives. We call our campaign 20/20 by 2020 and are setting out to involve all our staff, suppliers and customers. We don’t own this war against waste. We can all take part and we can all benefit from it.

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