Cheap, mouldable, and corrosion resistant; these qualities have made plastic a dependable packaging staple for the manufacture of consumer goods sold online. But in South Africa – where the total cost of plastic waste pollution exceeds R885-billion annually – the search is on for new and innovative approaches to minimising how the material is used in online retail, and limit its subsequent impact on the environment, livelihoods, and public health.

Unilever and Global Alliance Africa have partnered to bring about a refill-reuse revolution in South African plastic waste management. To this end, the pair have launched an Innovation Exchange Challenge and are calling on innovators to submit their out-of-the-box ideas and business models with the potential to reshape how plastic is used in online retail.

Successful applicants will receive up to £25 000 in seed funding and work alongside the multinational consumer goods company to develop their solution.

Open to all businesses, startups, entrepreneurs, and academics living in South Africa, this Challenge aims to support sustainable consumption and the development of new circular business models for the reuse and refill of plastic goods, specifically those used in the online retail environment. As such, applications should address issues relating to product design and packaging, and seek to improve how, why and when products are consumed.

In addition to milestone-based seed funding, successful candidates will receive mentorship, technical support for product testing and development, and investor pitch training, followed by an opportunity to present their solution to Unilever for potential future collaboration.

Preola Adam, sustainability manager at Unilever South Africa, comments: “Plastic is a versatile and useful material, but with concerns growing around its impact and overuse, now is the time to bring together bright minds, big ideas and disruptive thinking, to workshop how we can use it in a more appropriate and sustainable manner.”

To apply, applicants must submit their ideas by no later than 15 May 2022 and ensure that their solutions are suitable for the South African market.

Marisa Naidoo, knowledge transfer manager: South Africa at Global Alliance Africa, adds: “Partnerships are a powerful means of driving growth and innovation, and with that in mind, we’re excited to collaborating with Unilever and be a catalyst for sustainable change in the South African market.”

For more information on this challenge, or to submit an idea, go to