Plastics SA Editor
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Plastics and their role in creating a circular economy

Plastic bottles and circular economy logo

A circular economy is a new way of looking at product life cycles and how we consume raw materials. The linear model of consumption that we have used for centuries (take, make, use, dispose) is not sustainable. It requires us to use valuable raw materials and natural resources, which has negative effects on the planet and the climate.

A circular economy stems around the idea that we can feed waste back into the supply chain – essentially reusing and recycling our refuse to create valuable products that can be resold. This reduce, reuse, recycle model of consumption is far more sustainable and better suited to products like plastic and recyclable materials.

As society becomes more aware of its impact on the planet, people are finding more innovative ways to reuse their waste and retain its value, rather than letting it sit in a landfill. Plastics are a prime example of valuable recyclable materials that often get dumped in waste management facilities.

Society needs to embrace circular economy

A circular economy will only work if there is input from all sectors of society. The government needs to work alongside businesses, communities and individuals. Every South African will need to embrace recycling and actively participate in sustainable waste disposal practices in order for a circular economy to thrive.

The country currently has some of the highest recycling rates in the world, which is a brilliant start. Plastic recycling rates are improving year-on-year, but there is always room for improvement. Plastics are a valuable material and should be reused as much as possible. Even single-use plastic products can be reused in the home for a variety of purposes.

Public education and raising awareness of the importance of recycling is just one step to improving recycling rates. The plastics industry is also playing its part by working to improve the recyclability of its products.

The future of plastics is more sustainable

While most plastics are recyclable, they cannot be recirculated infinitely. After being recycled a number of times, the plastics start to become brittle. Plastics manufacturers are working towards making their products more sustainable and recyclable. 

The industry is also researching alternative ways to make plastics, such as creating products from plant-based polymers. This will allow the plastics to break down and decompose if left in the environment. The future of the plastics industry revolves around sustainability and the circularity of the products’ life cycles.

Another factor that influences the recyclability of plastic is its colour. Black plastic can be difficult to recycle because the infrared scanning sensors at recycling facilities cannot detect the black pigment. Luckily, many of South Africa’s recycling centres use manual labour to sort plastic waste so the black plastic is not a major problem.

Recycling facilities can be upgraded

Although plastics are perfectly suited to a circular economy, the recycling infrastructure in South Africa will also need to be upgraded if this system is to become a reality. Our waste management facilities will play a vital role in turning plastic waste into high-quality, reusable products that can be fed back into the supply chain.

The national government can support these facilities and invest in the upgrades in order to establish a circular economy in South Africa. This will not only help recyclers to increase their handling capacities but will also allow them to improve the quality of their output products. Private companies can also help to provide funding for the support of our recycling network.

A circular economy is not a farfetched idea, nor is it unattainable. By embracing recycling, improving the recyclability of plastic products and investing in waste management facilities, South Africa could benefit from a sustainable economy. By reusing plastic waste and turning it into sellable products, the country could benefit from a cleaner environment and retain the value of plastic at the same time.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Steps to becoming a good plastic recycler

How to become a good recycler

Recycling is an important step to controlling excess waste in the environment. Plastics organisations around the world are calling on all consumers of plastic products to think about their waste disposal practices and to recycle their plastic waste. Here is a list of seven easy commitments that children and adults can use to become effective recycling citizens.

While plastic waste does pose a threat to the environment, it can be minimised through proper waste management and disposal practices. Plastic is a valuable material that is vital to modern life, so it does not make sense to ban it completely. Rather, we should be focusing our efforts on controlling waste and avoiding litter.

Everyone can play a part in recycling. “To win the war on plastic pollution, every role-player in the plastics industry needs to confront some hard truths. This includes us as the producers of plastics, but it also includes government and consumers,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

“In the coming weeks and months, we, as the plastics industry, will embark on a sustained campaign to persuade government and citizens to join us in the war on plastic pollution,” he explains. Here are seven commitments that you can make to become an effective plastic recycler:

Seven steps to becoming a good plastic recycler

  1. Reuse plastic products – Plastic is a reusable material; even so-called single-use plastics such as straws, shopping bags and coffee cups are reusable. Keep these items and use them again and again. Where discarding plastic is the only option, make sure you recycle it rather than dispose of it in the general rubbish bin.
  2. Help friends with recycling – Speak to your family and friends about recycling their waste. Help them to set up recycling bins in their own home and explain the importance of keeping plastic waste out of landfills. 
  3. Repair old products – Repair your old plastic products and appliances before discarding them. This could save money and the environment.
  4. Only put clean, dry plastics in the recycling bin – Plastic food and drink containers that contain food waste and residue can contaminate entire recycling batches. That is why it is important to rinse plastics with water (grey water will do) and ensure that they are dry before placing them in the recycling bin.
  5. Look online and share – Google is a universally-accessible tool in South Africa. Look online for the best ways to recycle waste so that you can improve your knowledge. Share these recycling tips with your friends and family to spread the word.
  6. Don’t ignore other recyclables – Plastic is not the only material that can be recycled. Metals, paper and glass are other important items that need to be recycled rather than disposed of in general rubbish bins. Don’t forget to recycle your light bulbs and batteries too.
  7. Recycle all packaging – Plastic and paper packaging are two of the most common waste items found in the environment. Almost every single product is packaged in plastic or paper these days. Recycle all of these materials, including the polystyrene foam padding and any metal packaging too.

If everyone takes responsibility for their own waste and recycles as much as they can, we can minimise the waste that ends up in our rivers, oceans and lands. Waste management and correct disposal practices are the most effective method of preventing plastic pollution.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastics SA aims for zero pellet waste

Plastic pellet used to create products

Plastics SA is working with plastic manufacturers to ensure that there is zero pellet, flake and powder loss. The industry will drastically reduce the chances of these small plastic particles ending up in the environment by minimising the loss of pellets and flakes in plastic factories. Reducing the volume of plastic in the environment is a core mission of Plastics SA and the industry.

Plastics SA has signed a global declaration of commitment to protect the marine ecosystem from the effects of plastic pollution. In addition, the organisation has joined an alliance of industry stakeholders that have one common goal; to prevent and eradicate plastic waste in our oceans, rivers, land and public spaces.

Spilled plastic pellets can be washed away in the rain and end up in sewers, rivers and the ocean if they are not contained on-site. They need to be swept up and contained to prevent them from blowing away in the wind or being washed into the environment.

Every employee will play a role

This drive for zero plastic pellet loss has been called ‘Operation Clean Sweep’. “When we re-launched Operation Clean Sweep in South Africa as one of our product stewardship programmes last year, our call went out to every segment of the plastics industry – to implement good housekeeping practices,” explains Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

“We need the commitment from everyone to help protect the environment and save valuable resources,” he says. This includes every single employee in the plastics industry; if true zero pellet waste is to become a reality, then plastics manufacturers will need help from every member of the workforce.

Employee education is an important part of Operation Clean Sweep. Workers are being trained and taught how to handle and dispose of spilled plastic pellets correctly. Simply placing them in a bin and sending them to landfill is not a viable solution. The pellets need to be cleaned and reused or sent to a recycling facility if they are badly damaged.

Plastic pellet waste is detrimental to business

Plastic pellet waste is bad for manufacturers, besides the negative consequences of escaped pellet loss on the environment. “Eliminating pellet, flake and powder loss is not only beneficial for the environment, but also for business performance,” says Hanekom. Pellets can pose a threat to employee safety.

If an employee slips on any small plastic beads on a factory floor, it can result in injury, absenteeism and extensive medical costs. Plastic manufacturers can face legal action and medical compensation if an employee slips on loose plastic pellets, which is why they need to be cleaned up and contained at all times.

Wasted plastic pellets also have economic disadvantages for the industry. “By ensuring that raw materials are not wasted, businesses can improve their bottom line, increase efficiency and leave a lasting legacy for future generations by helping us turn the tide on marine litter,” states Hanekom.

Managing spilled plastic pellets is a priority

While the plastics industry works towards minimising its environmental footprint, controlling waste at the source is a vital process. Managing spilled pellets and waste at plastic manufacturing facilities is a core focus for Operation Clean Sweep.

“While our ultimate goal is to help keep plastic pellets, flakes and powder out of the environment, these efforts can also help improve relations with stakeholder groups and community organisations that expect the industry to minimise its environmental footprint,” explains Hanekom.

Plastic manufacturers can improve their reputations by tackling waste and pollution at the source – in their facilities. Managing this waste and taking an active stance against pollution will also help to improve investment opportunities for plastic manufacturers. Small acts such as cleaning up spilled pellets and recycling waste will help to save the environment and prevent further problems in the future.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastics SA announces pollution alliance

Alliance will tackle plastic waste

Plastics SA is pleased to announce the formation of a strategic alliance that will tackle plastic waste. The South African Alliance to End Plastic Pollution in the Environment is a united group of stakeholders in the plastics value chain that will collaborate to prevent and eradicate plastic waste in our oceans, rivers and lands.

All countries are fighting pollution and excessive waste. South Africa’s pollution problem will require a unique solution and input from all sectors of society; citizens, businesses and the government. This war on plastic pollution has reached a critical stage. We must take steps to educate South Africans about the dangers of pollution while improving our waste management services and facilities at the same time.

This alliance will speed up the process of finding a workable plan that is best suited to the South African context. It needs to be aligned with our local waste management initiatives and fit the context of our environmental, socio-political and economic objectives. The alliance will essentially find the best solutions for South Africa, as a whole, and put an end to plastic waste in the environment.

What will the South African Alliance to End Plastic Pollution in the Environment do?

This alliance’s first priority will be to tackle single-use plastic packaging waste. All stakeholders will work together to fast-track the development of environmentally-sound plastic products. The alliance will also work to improve plastic recycling rates as soon as possible. 

South Africa currently has some of the highest plastic recycling rates in the world, but there is always room for improvement. Alliance members will work to create more plastic products from recycled content and ensure that plastic products become 100% recyclable in the near future.

Sustainable life cycle assessments of plastic products will form the foundation of these solutions. Working alongside the government, communities and key research institutions, the alliance will hopefully find a solution to plastic waste that benefits the entire country and protects existing jobs in the plastics industry.

The alliance has a time-based plan

The South African Alliance to End Plastic Pollution in the Environment currently has a plan to make an immediate impact on plastic pollution. We will also remain mindful of other global initiatives, the National Development Plan (NDP 2030) and other local objectives around plastic waste.

Existing local recycling projects are increasing and they are helping to boost the plastic recycling rates. However, a more long-term solution still needs to be developed to deal with the lack of waste management services and infrastructure, especially in small towns in South Africa.

The problem of plastic pollution is complicated and, as such, requires the input from all stakeholders in the plastics industry, the government and ordinary citizens. This will help the alliance to find the most effective, sustainable and economically-viable solution to our plastic waste problem.

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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.
For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastics industry aims to find solution to pollution

Solution to plastic pollution lies in proper disposal

Plastics SA and the entire industry is working hard to find a solution to the problem of excessive plastic waste in the environment. We are working alongside the government and waste management companies to eradicate pollution in our rivers, oceans and public spaces.

We welcome the acknowledgement by the Department of Environmental Affairs that the South African government needs to improve waste management facilities and infrastructure in the country. Most local municipalities are not doing enough to control the current volumes of waste and pollution. This acknowledgement is a step in the right direction for South Africa.

As a representative of the plastics industry, we will continue to voice our concerns over the lack of waste collection services in many small towns across the country. Plastics SA will also continue to push for the removal of plastic debris and waste from our beaches and rivers.

The two best solutions to tackle pollution

The Department of Environmental Affairs identified the five plastic products that are found most often in the environment and oceans. They are cutlery, stirrers, earbuds, straws and polystyrene food containers. Plastics SA agrees that one solution to plastic waste is to develop more environmentally-sound plastic products.

The second solution lies in improving waste collection services and recycling infrastructure in South Africa. If we can stop post-consumer waste from entering the environment, then this will minimise pollution. Ordinary South Africans can also play their part by avoiding illegal dumping and littering.

A ban on plastic products could be detrimental to South Africa

Plastics are highly valuable products and modern life would not be possible without them. We are currently conducting an intricate socio-economic impact assessment to determine the effects of a ban on single-use plastics in South Africa. A decision to outlaw these products is likely to have a negative impact on the industry, its jobs and consumers.

The plastics industry currently provides over 60 000 jobs for South Africans. The Department of Environmental Affairs has assured us that their solution to plastic waste will not lead to job losses or the closure of businesses. We will continue to work with the government to ensure that this promise holds true.

The solution will require input from everyone

Plastics SA has started to work on an industry-led plan to deal with single-use plastic waste. We will work with our representatives and stakeholders to form an initiative to end plastic pollution. This initiative will include government plans and a collaborative development of viable solutions that benefits all of South Africa.

Citizens can help us fight plastic waste by taking part in community clean-up campaigns and actively recycling their household waste. Littering and illegal dumping are two of the major contributors to plastic pollution. We need to raise awareness of these bad waste disposal practices in communities around the country.

Plastics SA will offer its assistance to the government in order to improve knowledge and awareness of pollution in schools, municipalities and communities across South Africa. The problem of plastic waste is a complex one that requires careful consideration of all factors. All stakeholders in the plastics industry must work with the government and society to implement effective solutions to our waste problems.

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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.
For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastic bag levy should only be used to fight pollution

Plastic bag levy

Since 2003, the South African government has taxed the use of plastic shopping bags in an effort to discourage consumers from using them. These levies were intended to be used for waste management and environmental initiatives, such as clean-ups and recycling programmes. However, the reality is that very little of these taxes actually go towards fighting pollution.

The government needs to ring-fence the money raised through this plastic bag levy and use it only for its intended purpose – to help clean up South Africa and tackle excess plastic waste in the environment. Plastics SA and the entire industry is working hard to minimise the volume of plastic waste that ends up in the environment. We do not like to see our products washed up on beaches and littering public spaces.

Plastics industry doing its part

“To win the war on plastic pollution, every role-player in the plastics industry needs to confront some hard truths. This includes us as the producers of plastics, but it also includes government and consumers,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

“From our side, we are willing to make bold and constructive changes to our products. As members of the South African Initiative – an alliance of key members of the full packaging value chain – we are committed to transforming all our products to make them more environmentally-friendly and recyclable,” explains Hanekom. 

“We will also prioritise new scalable technologies within the industry that not only make recycling and recovering plastics easier but also enable the creation of value from all plastics once they have been used. For us to be successful, we need to work closely in partnership with the government. It is, after all, the role of government to provide adequate waste management infrastructure and to correctly incentivise citizens to recycle,” he says.

The government is aware of the pollution problem

The South African government is fully aware of the excessive volumes of pollution. They have shown a willingness to confront these issues and engage with industry stakeholders. “The Department of Environmental Affairs, for example, admitted in Parliament two weeks ago that it had failed to develop competent waste management facilities, let alone recycling infrastructure,” says Hanekom.

The problem with plastic pollution arises from illegal dumping and bad waste disposal practices, combined with inadequate waste collection services. Around the country, consumers resort to dumping their waste because refuse collection services are either unreliable or non-existent.

The government can use a portion of the millions of rands raised through the plastic bag levy to boost waste management infrastructure and improve collection services. “The consequences of our weak waste management infrastructure are not only visible in our rivers and oceans, but also cost the country hundreds of millions of rands when municipalities have to clean up illegal dumping sites,” explains Hanekom.

Plastic bag levy can be put to better use

The taxes on plastic bags should be put to good use in improving infrastructure and service delivery. It could potentially be used to create thousands of jobs in the waste management industry and to safeguard the 100 000 existing jobs that the plastics industry provides.

“To start financing the upgrade of our flawed waste management system, our view is that government must immediately take steps to ring-fence the plastic bag levy that was implemented back in 2003. This levy has increased from 3c per bag in 2003 to 12c in 2018,” states Hanekom.

“The nearly R2-billion that has been raised through the levy so far, should never have been absorbed into the black hole of our national fiscus. Instead, the levy should have been ring-fenced for its intended purpose: to develop better recycling facilities and incentivise sustainable consumer behaviour,” he says.

If used and disposed of correctly, plastic can actually be a highly-valuable material for society. It has a smaller carbon footprint than so-called ‘environmentally-friendly’ alternatives, such as cotton and glass. Plastic is also cheaper to produce and can support increased economic growth through more job opportunities.

“A rational conversation about plastic pollution recognises the positive attributes of plastic and focuses on how to manage plastic waste. The time has come to have that rational conversation, and we look forward to leading the discussion,” concludes Hanekom.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Tax on single-use plastics is not the best solution

Tax affects single-use plastics such as beverage cups

During his 2019 Budget Speech, finance minister Tito Mboweni announced an update to existing environmental taxes, including a levy on single-use plastics. While the intention may be good, not all of these taxes are achieving their intended environmental objectives. Taxing single-use plastics is not the best solution to the problem of plastic pollution

A good example of failed objectives is the plastic bag levy that was introduced in 2003. This tax on plastic shopping bags has had little impact on consumer behaviour since it was announced. The Department of Environmental Affairs has acknowledged to the South African Parliament that citizens have continued to use plastic bags despite quadrupling the levy between 2003 and 2018.

This levy has not been ring-fenced for the sole purpose of protecting the environment from plastic pollution. Almost R2-billion has been raised through the plastic bag levy, yet little has been achieved in terms of environmental clean-ups and pollution eradication. A tax on single-use plastics will probably have similar outcomes.

Tax on single-use plastics will not curb pollution

The South African government is currently investigating the opportunity to tax single-use plastic products such as straws, beverage cups, food containers and packaging. However, these taxes may not discourage consumers from purchasing single-use plastics, let alone littering or dumping them after they have used been used.

Plastic SA is committed to tackling plastic pollution and we support any effort to remove plastic waste from the environment. We will work with the government and our industry stakeholders to promote the reuse and recycling of plastic products. It is unacceptable that nearly 8 million tonnes of plastic are currently being washed into the world’s oceans every year.

A tax on single-use plastics will not encourage people to recycle their waste; education and awareness-raising campaigns will. South Africans are becoming more aware of the problem of plastic pollution in the environment, so they are willing to recycle more. The government can help the waste management industry to improve its infrastructure so that more waste can be collected and recycled.

This tax will drive inflation

A tax on single-use plastics is an emotional response to a global concern. However, it will have a significant impact on the economy rather than the environment. This tax is likely to increase inflation as manufacturers and retailers increase their prices to cover the costs of the tax. This will put added pressure on an industry that employs over 60 000 people.

The real solution lies in developing innovative and environmentally-friendly plastic products. Rather than taxing the industry and the consumer, the national government can work with plastics producers to help develop these innovative products. Government funding will go a long way to helping the plastics industry develop new, eco-friendly plastic products.

Plastics SA is determined to find a solution to problematic plastics usage and disposal. We are currently developing an intricate plan to deal with single-use plastics that is aligned with international standards and takes into consideration South Africa’s environmental, socio-political and economic needs.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Pollution is the problem, not plastic

Pollution and litter are the problem

South Africa and many other countries around the world are calling for a ban on plastic products. However, this is not the best solution for the global pollution crisis; a complex problem that requires rational thought and deep-rooted changes in the way society functions.

Banning plastic bags is an emotional reaction to the problem of plastic pollution. The supporters of this ban may have good intentions, but they do not fully understand the impact that this will have on society. The real problem lies with our waste disposal practices, such as illegal dumping and littering.

These are the major causes of plastic pollution in the environment. “To win the war on plastic pollution, every role-player in the plastics industry needs to confront some hard truths. This includes us as the producers of plastics, but it also includes government and consumers,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

Plastic pollution is the result of poor waste disposal practices

South Africa has some of the highest plastic recycling rates in the world. In 2018, we collected and recycled over 46% of our plastic waste – a 12% increase from the previous year. Our recycling facilities are able to process a vast amount of plastic and keep these products out of landfills, but the industry’s efforts alone cannot win the war on pollution.

Proper disposal of plastic products will go a long way to boost recycling rates and keep these materials out of the environment. Consumers must make the effort to put their plastic refuse in a recycling bin and avoid littering at all costs. The government can also help to improve waste collection infrastructure and recycling facilities.

The funds are already available to the government in the form of the plastic bag levy that was introduced in 2003. It currently stands at 12 cents for every plastic bag sold. By using this levy solely for the development of better recycling facilities and consumer education campaigns, the national government can unlock hundreds of millions of rands.

Plastic is a vital material for modern society

Banning plastics will have severe impacts on modern society. We use them every single day for basic tasks, sometimes without even being aware of it. While imagining a world without plastic pollution may be a novel idea, the fact is that we cannot live without plastic.

If disposed of correctly, plastic can be a more sustainable solution than its ‘environmentally-friendly’ alternatives, such as cotton. A recent study by Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food reveals that many of these alternative materials actually have a bigger negative impact on the environment than plastic.

The study suggests that organic cotton shopping bags would need to be reused 7100 times in order to have the same environmental impact as a plastic shopping bag. This is because producing plastic bags is far cheaper, more energy-efficient and results in less carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. If we can curb pollution, we can save the environment and retain our dependence on plastic products for daily living.

“In the coming weeks and months, we, as the plastics industry, will embark on a sustained campaign to persuade government and citizens to join us in the war on plastic pollution. We support President Cyril Ramaphosa’s quest to clean up South Africa, but it can only happen if there is a recycling revolution in this country,” Hanekom exclaims.

“A rational conversation about plastic pollution recognises the positive attributes of plastic and focuses on how to manage plastic waste. To win this fight, we need to build strong collaborative and meaningful partnerships. Government, industry and the consumer need to work together,” concludes Hanekom.

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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.
For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

PlasticFreeJuly and what it means to Plastics SA

#PlasticFreeJuly is about reusing plastic

Plastics SA and the entire industry supports a world that is free from plastic waste. This is the premise behind #PlasticFreeJuly – a global campaign that aims to raise awareness of single-use plastics and the problem of excessive plastic waste in the environment. For the past 25 years, Plastics SA has encouraged reuse, recycling and proper disposal methods for plastic waste.

The fact is that plastics are a valuable commodity. It would be impossible to live a normal life without them. We use plastics every day, whether consciously or unconsciously. “Plastic is an integral part of our modern lifestyle. Strong and versatile, plastic exists because we want convenience at a low price,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

“It keeps our food fresh, ensures food safety, gives us tamper-proof medications and the list continues. If we were to remove it from our lives, we would have to get rid of almost everything we wear, live in, or work with. The challenge lies in preventing plastic from ending up in the environment after it has been used, and making sure that it is properly discarded so that it can be recycled into a multitude of different new products,” he explains.

The plastic manufacturing industry and its stakeholders do not like to see plastic waste in our rivers, oceans and public spaces – especially during #PlasticFreeJuly. “Our message has always been – and will continue to be – that plastics are too valuable to waste. We have been working relentlessly to raise awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution as part of our drive to see a world without plastic waste,” says Hanekom.

Plastic production and environmental protection can work together

The production of plastic products and the need to protect the environment from pollution can both work at the same time. One does not need to mean the demise of the other. Over 60 000 South Africans are employed in the plastics industry, making it a vital sector of the economy. The country currently has some of the highest plastics recycling rates in the world.

“During 2018, South Africa converted more than 1.8 million tonnes of polymer into plastic products. During the same year, recycled plastic waste tonnages increased by 12.2% – giving South Africa a collection rate of 46.3% and making us a world leader in mechanical recycling,” explains Hanekom.

Environmental protection starts with proper waste disposal methods, which is our core message this #PlasticFreeJuly. Littering and illegal dumping are some of the biggest causes of plastic waste in the environment. “We could start by improving waste infrastructure so that more waste is recovered and prevented from entering the environment,” he suggests.

Plastic products should be reused as much as possible

Plastics SA is an advocate for reusing plastic products. The majority of food packaging, containers, beverage cups, and clamshells are sturdy enough to be reused multiple times. Even so-called single-use plastics such as shopping bags and straws should be kept and reused. South African shopping bags are regulated and manufactured to a thickness of 24-microns – almost double the thickness of plastic bags in most foreign countries. 

This means that these ‘single-use’ products are strong enough to be reused several times, and cost a fraction of the price of cotton alternatives. To add to this, plastic shopping bags are fully recyclable. “To date, the fillers in plastic carrier bags have been removed, producing fully recyclable plastic bags. In some cases, 100 % certified recycled plastic material is used, making them more recyclable and creating a win-win situation for the environment,” Hanekom explains.

#PlasticFreeJuly should be about sustainability

While being a noble cause, #PlasticFreeJuly should encourage sustainability rather than a boycott of plastic products. Recent research around the negative consequences of banning plastics has been compounding around the globe. One such study published by the University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit found that biodegradable plastics rarely break down in the ocean as intended.

The researchers suggest that labelling these ‘eco-friendly’ products as ‘biodegradable’ is misleading and could actually promote littering. Consumers may dump their biodegradable plastics in the belief that they will break down when this is not often the case.

Similarly, research conducted by Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food found that cotton shopping bags need to be reused 7100 times to have the same cumulative environmental impact as conventional plastic shopping bags, which are far cheaper and more energy-efficient to produce. 

#PlasticFreeJuly should, therefore, focus on sustainable practices with plastic products rather than an outright ban. “As waste collection improves, we see improved recovery models and the development of a circular economy. The solution lies in addressing our wasteful model of consumption by changing negligent human behaviour and embracing recycling. All it takes is a little willpower from everybody concerned,” Hanekom concludes.

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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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