Muizenberg clean-up organiser Matthew Kalil. Picture: Matthew Kalil
Muizenberg clean-up organiser Matthew Kalil. Picture: Matthew Kalil

Non-recyclable NikNaks packets as far as the eye can see. Clean-up volunteer does his bit to solve the issue

By Dominic Naidoo Time of article published Aug 20, 2021

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NikNaks is undoubtedly a South African favourite. The bright orange hued corn snack has been around since 1972 and its certainly not going anywhere, something Matthew Kalil, a Muizenberg cleanup organiser, has found to be frustratingly accurate.

Simba Chips was established by Leon Greyvenstein, the son of Ouma Greyvenstein, the same ouma who started Ouma Rusks, another South African staple. NikNaks was even voted one of South Africa’s 25 most nostalgic food.

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I have been a beach clean-up volunteer in Durban for some time and regularly come across all sorts of plastic waste, from 2-litre soft-drink bottles to the odd face cream jar.

But among the items that stand out at beach clean-ups are the shiny plastic/foil packets of NikNaks. We find them nestled in the foliage of our coastal dunes – they’re difficult to miss.

Kalil has volunteered at clean-ups in and around Muizenberg for almost a year.

Volunteers clean pick up litter. Picture: Matthew Kalil

“We meet once a week to clean up certain areas of Zandvlei, and in my time by far the most obvious pollutants are NikNaks packets.”

Kalil began taking pictures of all the packets he found and has amassed an archive of over a hundred pictures. “I’ve started an Instagram campaign to draw attention to the issue. It’s a very new campaign but seems to have captured a few people’s imaginations. I’m keeping the focus local.”

He suggests if you see a NikNaks packet on the ground wherever you are in South Africa, take a picture and post it with the hashtag #niknaksinnature.

Horde of 600 packets. Picture: Ferdinand Kroukamp

Kalil is calling on Simba PepsiCo, the owner of the NikNaks brand, to assist with the problem of chips packets floating around in rivers and waterways, and eventually making their way into our oceans where they will drift for decades to come.

PepsiCo is not the only big corporate responsible for using unrecoverable packaging, but they are one of the biggest. Including Simba Chips itself, Simba has 16 different chips and snack brands under its wing in South Africa, each with its own flavour varieties.

NikNaks packaging, like many other chips and sweets wrappers, is not recyclable.

Matthew Kalil carrying bags of discarded NikNaks packets. Picture: Matthew Kalil

If you look at the back of the bag, you will spot a little symbol of a man tossing something into a wastebasket. There is no recycling symbol or information regarding the type of packaging, just a rather half-hearted request to throw the bag in a bin if you can.

But the nature of these snacks means they are something people buy on the go, which increases the likeliness of the packaging not being disposed of properly.

Another Muizenberg resident, Ferdinand Kroukamp, a retired Navy communications officer from Muizenberg, offers children in the Lavender Hill area 20c for every empty chip packet they can find. Lavender Hill is situated along the False Bay Nature Reserve and the Rondevlei estuary.

“In three days the kids gave me 600 empty packets. I was almost out of pocket.

Picture: Matthew Kalil

“I still have the packets as I want to challenge the manufacturer. Niknaks and other cheap snacks have become something of a staple food for kids in the area.”

According to the local recycling informational website, Regenize, “most chips and confectionery packets are made from either Polypropylene (PP) and/or Low-Density Polypropylene (LDPE) and an aluminium laminate that is meshed to create a gleaming metalised, foil-like plastic film. Though this composition can store food and prolong its freshness, it does not do the same for our environment.”

During recycling, materials are sorted by type, and processed together. This means that each item that goes for recycling is usually made up of one type of material.

For example, PET soft drinks bottles will be recycled separately from plastic packets. But the mixed-composite material used to manufacture NiksNaks and chip packaging are currently impossible to recycle because it cannot be separated into its individual compounds.

International activist organisation, Break Free From Plastic, shared a report in December 2020 titled BRANDED Vol III: “Demanding Corporate Accountability for Plastic Pollution”.

The annual brand audit involves counting and documenting the brands of plastic waste found in communities across the globe. In 2020 they collected 346 494 pieces of plastic from 55 countries.

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PepsiCo was found to be the second-largest plastic polluter, behind only CocaCola, with 5 155 pieces of plastic found in 43 of the 55 countries wich took part in the initiative. Simba PepsiCo did not respond to queries at the time of publication.

Next time you buy a packet of your favourite crisps, check if it is recyclable first. Durban-based Frimax Foods has most of the same flavours you’ve come to love, packaged in a recyclable packet. If all else fails, grab a 2-litre bottle, and make an eco-brick.

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