We recently sat down with Phindi Dlamini, our longest standing employee at GREEN HOME, and our Gauteng and Africa New Business Developer. Phindi has been in the game for many years. So we were very excited to get her insights into the industry, how it has changed since she started and what she sees for the future of biodegradable food packaging in Africa.
Phindi, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Can you give us some info into your background and history with the company.
I was born and raised in Swaziland, which is where I met Catherine, before moving to South Africa in 1996.
I came on board about three months after Catherine started GREEN HOME. Cat was running the business from her garage and I was working from mine. I recall getting our first consignment in August and being so excited but scared at the same time. Since then the company has grown substantially. It’s been exciting! From our first consignment in 2007 and a total of 90 cartons to now having offices and warehouses in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. It’s been a radical change.
You have been working at GREEN HOME for 12 years now. What has your involvement in the company been thus far?
Since I started working for GREEN HOME, my role has been and still is bringing in new business nationally and internationally. For the last three or four years there has been a growing demand in the African market so that is currently my major focus area.
Working for a sustainable business must be eye opening. What is your outlook on sustainability in South Africa and where it’s heading?
There seems to be some sort of movement towards sustainability in South Africa. Some areas are proving to be very dedicated and for others sustainability is merely a buzzword. A problem I’ve noticed is that people aren’t quite realizing the full circle of sustainability and what it takes to implement. It is definitely heading in the right direction, however.
As part of a women-owned and managed business in the predominantly male packaging sector, how important do you think female empowerment and leadership is in creating an equitable and sustainable South Africa?
A big part of mitigating inequalities of the past is women empowerment. If we look at the packaging industry it is very much a male dominated environment. I don’t know of any other woman owned companies in the industry. Perhaps because it’s not a sexy environment but I think GREEN HOME brought the sexy to food packaging. Look at our Kraft cups for instance. Female empowerment in South Africa is of great importance, and I am so happy to be a part of a company that supports that.
Was working for a Green business always something you were interested in? What sparked that interest?
No, it really wasn’t. I come from a psychology background and always assumed that was the route I would take. However, I was also privileged enough to come from a background that recognized environmental issues. So, when Cat approached me about the opportunity, it wasn’t a difficult decision. As soon as she told me about the product and it being compostable – understanding what I did, I was sold and suddenly wondered why plant-based packaging wasn’t already in the market.
What advice would you give to other people working in this space or aspiring to?
I’d say buckle up. Packaging is still very much dominated by males as well as non-environmentally-friendly materials and still is very much a pricing game. It really is the battle against plastic, but it is so rewarding knowing you’re making a real difference in the world. So, you need to really consider the above and come into this space with a strong game plan.
GREEN HOME is on a mission to make biodegradable packaging in the norm by 2030. What do you see as a key challenge to reaching this goal?
The key challenge is people wrapping their heads around the concept and realizing it’s the product of the future. GREEN HOME was the first to pioneer compostable food packaging in SA. We are still working on changing perceptions and getting people to understand how compostable food packaging fits into the bigger picture, what circular economies are and then getting people on board. It’s up to us to provide businesses in SA with the info they need to make the GREEN choice an easy one for them.
Do you have a vision for the growth of sustainability in packaging in Africa? What does that look like to you?
Yes, Africa is still the biggest market to tackle and there is massive opportunity for growth here, but it starts with education. The huge lack of local environmental education means that large numbers of people don’t understanding the negative impacts polystyrene and plastic have on the environment. There are parts of Africa that are taking positive steps towards making a change. For example, Kenya implemented a plastic bag ban. The problem is you can’t just throw the word biodegradable at people who don’t understand what it means and expect them to implement the change. Once people really start to understand I think we will start to see some major shifts towards sustainability.
Do you believe there’s a chance that Africa leads the way in tackling plastic pollution?
Yes, but we would need to act soon. Every month we’re hearing of another state/ city banning plastic. We need to do it in South Africa, but we need to do it with the understanding of what we are doing and the effect it’s going to have.
What have you enjoyed the most in your journey with GREEN HOME?
Seeing the incredible growth take place.