Unilever and Global Alliance Africa Announce Winner of Innovation Exchange Challenge Focused on Reducing Plastic Usage in Consumer Goods

Global Alliance Africa, a project delivered by Innovate UK KTN and Unilever have today announced Sharon Rapetswa as the winner of their Innovation Exchange Challenge, designed to help the multinational consumer goods company find inventive solutions and innovative approaches towards the development of new circular business models for plastic reuse and refill. With her idea for refillable detergent packaging set to revolutionise plastic waste management in rural communities, Rapetswa will now receive £25,000 in milestone-based seed funding, along with training and mentorship, to help develop her solution.

Despite growing calls for sustainable consumption, only 3% of rural households in South Africa actively recycle their waste, with many instead resorting to the practice of refuse burning. Yet, this comes as South Africa also has a weak and strained waste management system, with 35% of households not receiving weekly waste collection and a further 29% of households not having any waste collected at all.

To address this issue and help the world-leading manufacturer of households goods reduce its plastic usage by 100,000 tonnes, Unilever partnered with Global Alliance Africa to host an Innovation Exchange Challenge, which sought to explore how re-use and re-fill packaging could be adopted to reduce the amount of waste produced by households in rural communities.

Businesses, organisations, and individuals from across South Africa were invited to submit proposals, with the challenge generating a number of responses. After much deliberation by a team of industry and environmental experts, Sharon Rapetswa, the founder of Triple Shine Detergent Solutions, was selected as the winner. Founded in 2016, the company has developed a new line of refillable plastic packaging for Unilever’s bleach, detergent, and fabric softener products.

The idea, says Rapetswa, came about during her research into waste management practices in rural communities: “Across the country, the same line of plastic products was being disposed of by rural households on a monthly basis. But due to the lack of proper waste management services, recycling was an unavailable option. I realised that, to help these communities consume more sustainably, we needed to tap into the existing re-use and re-fill culture that has been practiced for years.”

By winning the challenge, Rapetswa will now receive £25,000 in milestone-based seed funding, along with training and mentorship, to help develop her solution.

“As a global company leading the way in creating a cleaner future, we are very keen to do all we can to reduce single use plastic in South Africa and we’re excited to be working with Sharon to develop her ideas and create sustainable solutions for our home care products that can build up local businesses based in some of the country’s most vulnerable communities,” adds Judisha Naidoo, Homecare R&D Director for Unilever.

Commenting on the significance of this Innovation Exchange Challenge, Marisa Naidoo, Knowledge Transfer Manager South Africa at Global Alliance Africa at Global Alliance Africa, concludes: “A large part of our mission is to connect change-makers at all levels of industry and society, so that we can co-create inclusive solutions to a sustainable future. To that end, we’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity to partner with Unilever, to help them take an active role in transforming the future of the consumer goods industry.”

To learn more about Global Alliance Africa’s Innovation Exchange Challenges, go to https://ktn-uk.org/programme/africa

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