Why recycling is better than banning plastic bags

Plastics bags at base of door

The calls for national governments to step in and ban plastic bags are growing. South Africa has already begun an inquiry into the impacts of a nationwide ban on plastic shopping bags. Other African countries, such as Botswana and Kenya, have already implemented these bans which include the manufacture, importation and use of plastic shopping bags.

However, a complete ban could have negative effects for the South African economy and the plastics industry, which currently supports over 60 000 livelihoods. Plastics SA believes that a better solution to plastic pollution lies in recycling, rather than a ban. The country is a leader when it comes to recycling.  

Recycling plastic bags is the best solution

The South African government can assist by providing better waste management systems and infrastructure to support recycling. This investment will also boost job opportunities as recycling facilities will be able to expand their intake and require more people to handle the waste. 

Recycling creates employment in a formal and informal capacity, which is beneficial to the South African economy. Improving the collection and recycling of plastics will not only benefit the environment but also the economy. The smaller recycling facilities just need a hand from the government. Citizens can also help by recycling their plastics rather than throwing them away in the waste bin.

Plastic shopping bags do have some advantages

Plastic bags still offer a range of advantages over alternative materials. They are very cheap to produce, which means they save money for consumers and retailers. They also have a lower carbon footprint than cotton and paper alternatives, producing fewer greenhouse gases during the manufacturing process.

When you think of litter, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a plastic bag. They are easily swept away by rains and winds, which makes them a common litter item found in the environment. But this would not be the case if they were all properly disposed of and handled by professional waste management and recycling companies.

The sheer abundance of plastic bags also means that they are a steady source of recyclable material for properly-equipped recycling facilities. This adds further economic benefits to the waste management sector and boosts South Africa’s economy. In a country where tens of thousands of people survive on picking waste and selling it to recycling facilities, plastic bags offer a source of income for many households.

For these reasons, we believe that recycling is still the best solution to tackling plastic waste in the environment. Better waste management strategies and practices will reduce litter, while keeping the economic benefits that plastic shopping bags bring to South Africa. 

These recycled bags can be reintroduced into the packaging stream which will save money and increase their lifespan. The government will need to carefully consider these impacts before making a final decision on the fate of plastic bags.

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Plastics SA represents all sectors of the South African plastics industry. ​Together with our associations, we play an active role in the growth and development of the industry and strive to address plastics related issues, influence role-players and make plastics the material of choice.

​Plastics SA has been mandated to ensure a vibrant and sustainable plastics industry in South Africa. The plastics sector is uniquely placed to meet the needs of a sustainable society and to deliver solutions to many challenges such as recycling, climate change, water scarcity, resource usage and energy recovery.

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Plastics SA Editor