Sustainability and the Straw

An interview

By Food Focus on 15 July 2019

It's Plastic Free July, and Food Focus caught up with KFC this month following the news of their commitment to eliminating plastic straws in their 900 restaurants this month. 

We wanted to find out more about their sustainability efforts.

Q. How long has KFC been in South Africa - tell us a little of your history?

KFC South Africa opened its doors in 1971 on Louis Botha Avenue (in Johannesburg). 48 years later, KFC is now the biggest QSR in South Africa operating in over 950 restaurants bringing over 20 million customers the finger lickin’ good taste of KFC. Over the years, we have maintained the highest standards of freshly prepared chicken – whether you're in a big city or a small town, making sure you receive hot and deliciously fresh food every time


Q. 60 million straws a year is a lot of plastic! Do you have any idea of how many plastic straws are used in South Africa annually?

Manufacturers continue to make plastic straws at alarming rates.  And it is because of this that information like this is hard to tally.  What we do know is that, globally, more than 1 000 000 000 single-use plastic straws are used and thrown out daily.  While we don’t have the exact numbers from a South African standpoint, we know that even 1% of this is too much.  However, according to the World Wide Fund Nature, it is estimated that we (South Africans) use from 30 to 50 kilograms of plastic per person, per year. 


Q. We believe that your organisation has a global sustainability commitment to recover or reuse all plastic-based packaging items by 2025. Is it fair to say that sustainability is high on your business agenda, and why?

As one of South Africa’s most loved brands, we know that we need to contribute to the environment in which we do our business and use our scale to drive real impact in the communities in which we operate. We truly understand the repercussions that businesses have on the environment and our planet. As a global brand that operates in over 950 restaurants in South Africa alone, we can have a real impact on how the industry approaches single-use packaging. With environmental sustainability as a core aspect of how we do business, this commitment represents a public acknowledgement of the start of our journey as KFC to address these issues to have a positive effect on our environment.


Q. It starts with straws…. what will be next?

As one of the leading QSR brands in the industry, we remain committed to embarking on initiatives that uphold environmental standards in the communities where we operate. We therefore believe it’s our responsibility to take the necessary measures and implement practices that will ensure the reduction of our environmental impact as much as possible.

As a next step, KFC is identifying sustainable packaging alternatives for several plastic items in our restaurants and will keep you updated as we go. The goal supports KFC’s long-term plan to implement a more sustainable packaging strategy in its restaurants – and builds on progress already made in some markets to eliminate plastic packaging items.  Additionally, while we are aware that KFC joins an already existing global war on plastic, as a fast food giant, we are doubly aware of the sheer scale of our business to be able to profoundly impact the narrative on plastic.


Q. Do you have any other great sustainability or social initiatives which are making a difference in some way in South Africa?

We have Add Hope, an initiative that is now its 10th year. The programme has been dedicated to fighting injustices like childhood hunger since 2009. Add Hope provides nutritious meals to over 120 000 children from 11 national and 132 local beneficiaries across SA every day, raising just over R492 000 000 for the cause. But our job is far from done. Too many children still go hungry in our country. KFC continuously works at making the Add Hope initiative bigger so that it can reach an even wider audience.


Q. What advice would you give to other organizations (both big and small) in the food industry on how to tackle an endeavour like this?

When you think about what planet earth will look like in a couple of years, and you look at how humans currently co-exist with animals and the environment, then you’ll notice the many ways in which the way we live directly and indirectly affects us. In addition to this, although people live in different countries, we all share the same earth, and there is a need to protect it, because we co-habit and our children need to also have a future.


Q: What thought, or inspiration would you like to leave with our readers when it comes to the war on plastic pollution, and how everyone can make a difference?

You can make a difference anywhere you are in the world. Choose to make that difference by pledging to never use a plastic straw ever again. If we could all, as a society collectively take on the responsibility of improving the world, we could decrease the total amount of plastic pollution by around 250 million kilograms a year and for us. For KFC, it all starts with a straw.


We are encouraged to see that local businesses such as KFC are taking ownership of global challenges such as plastic pollution and tackling them with initiatives like this.  While there is still a very long way to go, we recognize this as a step in the right direction, and we hope to see this and other projects gaining momentum in the local food industry.

Please note that this is not a sponsored article, it is part of our aim to find and celebrate things being done right in the food industry - covering issues affecting food safety, quality, health and safety, the environment and corporate social responsibility.

If you have some good news to share on what your
company is doing right, please contact us so we can chat with you!