CSIR study shows reusable shopping bags have lower environmental impact

Media Statement

21 May 2020


For immediate release


CSIR study shows reusable shopping bags have lower environmental impact


The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has released the findings of a life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) of grocery carrier bags in South Africa. LCSA is a useful tool that unpacks the environmental, social and economic impacts of a product throughout its life cycle. The study shows that reusable plastic carrier bags are the best option in South Africa, as they have a substantially lower environmental impact compared to single-use bags – provided that consumers do reuse them.


The study, funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), provides an objective scientific assessment to inform government, producers, retailers, and consumers about the environmental and socio-economic impacts of different types of carrier bags. It aims to identify which bag is ‘best’ in the South African context.


“The results of this research are important in evidencing how we manage single-use plastics in South Africa” notes Dr. Henry Roman, Director of Environmental Services and Technologies at the DSI. “Although single-use plastics provide many benefits, there are also many avoidable plastic products that negatively impact our environment. Developing capability in LCSA allows us to make informed decisions on the most appropriate material for product design.”


The study assessed 16 types of carrier bags made from a range of different materials. It included the standard, single-use plastic shopping bags that most people are accustomed to, which are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), with varying levels of recycled content and a thickness of 24 microns. It also included several reusable and biodegradable alternatives.


Twenty-one environmental and socio-economic indicators were used to assess each bag. This included 18 indicators that are typically used in environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) studies (such as water use, land use, global warming, etc.). The team also developed a new indicator to account for the impacts of plastic pollution, which is currently missing from most LCA methods. Besides, two key socio-economic indicators (impacts on employment and affordability for consumers) were added, which are also missing from most LCA studies.


According to the findings, the best performing bag overall is the reusable plastic bag – also made from HDPE – but thicker and stronger (70 microns) than the standard 24 micron single-use bag. This bag is currently sold at one of South Africa’s major grocery supermarket groups for R3 per bag, with a 50c discount on grocery shopping each time it is reused.


The other reusable bags – made from other types of plastics, such as polyester (recycled PET) and polypropylene – also perform well.


While single-use bags rank lower, the best performing among them is the standard 24 micron HDPE plastic bag with 100% recycled content. Among the 24 micron HDPE bags, the higher the recycled content, the better the overall performance of the bag.


In general, biodegradable plastic and paper carrier bags perform poorly overall (except in terms of plastic pollution), due mainly to their land and water use impacts. Biodegradable bags (particularly those made from a combination of imported polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and starch) only outperform the conventional 24 micron (single-use) HDPE bags if the latter has a recycled content of 50% or less.


While reusable carrier bags perform better overall, the single-use bags are best from an employment perspective. In particular, single-use paper bags perform well in terms of job creation, followed by 24 micron HDPE bags with 100% recycled content.


The COVID-19 pandemic may delay global action against addressing certain problematic single-use plastics as some retailers suspend the use of reusable bags in stores.


“While this study shows that reusable bags are the best option for South Africa if retailers and consumers want to use single-use bags now in the interim, then the 100% or 75% recycled content 24 micron HDPE bags are the next best solution. Increasing the recycled content of products will also help to create a demand and a market for waste plastic, typically collected by informal waste reclaimers, helping to improve their livelihoods during a difficult time, further compounded by the very low oil prices,” notes Prof. Linda Godfrey, Manager of the CSIR Waste Research Development and Innovation Roadmap Implementation Unit.


This LCSA capability now exists within South Africa and the CSIR. “We hope that brand owners will use this tool to inform the choice of products that they put into the South African market, to ensure that they have the best overall environmental, social and economic performance,” says Dr. Douglas Trotter, Manager of the Sustainable Ecosystems Area of business for the CSIR. “Sustainable product design is a critical part of South Africa’s transition to a more circular economy.”


The full report can be accessed at https://wasteroadmap.co.za/completed-projects/informing-decisions-on-single-use-plastic-carrier-bags/





Issued by:


David Mandaha, CSIR Media Relations Manager

Tel: 012 841 3654

Mobile: 072 126 8910

E-mail: dmandaha@csir.co.za


About the CSIR:

The CSIR is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa. Constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1945 as a science council, the CSIR undertakes directed and multidisciplinary research, technological innovation, as well as industrial and scientific development to improve the quality of life of all South Africans. For more information, visit www.csir.co.za


Follow us on social media:

Twitter: @CSIR. Facebook: CSIRSouthAfrica. Instagram: CSIRSouthAfrica. LinkedIn: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Youtube: CSIRNewMedia

Innovative bottle spacers treat asthma

Innovative bottle spacers to treat asthma

An innovative approach is set to make a huge impact on treating asthma in South Africa, made more critical during the coronavirus pandemic. Asthma treatment is usually given by an inhaler, but to get medication more effectively to the lungs in a crisis, the use of a spacer along with the inhaler, or a nebuliser is required.


Extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions.  The bottle spacer programme, pioneered at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town aims at bridging the gap between expensive commercial spacers and the need in low income communities. The team has tested and evaluated the efficacy of using plastic bottle spacers, which are immediately available, instead of expensive spacers.


This plastic bottle spacer not only allows the medication to work much more effectively, but also has the added benefit of minimising droplets in the air and ultimately reducing the risk to staff and patients becoming infected with the coronavirus.


When one uses an asthma pump directly in the mouth most of the spray hits the back of the throat and does not go into the lungs.  A spacer is a chamber filled with air, with the asthma pump fitting into the back.  When you spray the pump first inside the chamber and then breathe this air into one’s lungs, the spray goes into the deepest part of the lungs where it is needed the most.


“Since Prof Heather Zar first pioneered bottle spacers back in the late 90s using a manual burning technique, we have been using them at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.  But from just a few hundred units a year, we needed to produce tens of thousands, to facilitate the large-scale use of spacers in the public health service across the country,” Prof Michael Levin, Head of Allergy at Red Cross and project lead, explains.


Polyoak Packaging partnered with Habitat industries to create a custom blow-mould base with an indentation in the shape of an asthma pump nozzle.


“During production when the bottle is blown and the plastic is still soft, air is blasted into the bottle base which creates the inhaler size extrusion. So, after that, the only small manual task is to slice off the end of the indentation leaving a perfect-fit attachment hole for the inhaler.  Polyoak has even been able to include the Allergy Foundation website address on the base of the bottle,” continues Prof Levin.


“This is an example of an innovative boundary spanning project which aims to bring a low cost clinically-effective solution to patients across the province, and potentially the country,” says Dr Anita Parbhoo, Medical Manager at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Prof Mike Levin is excited about using the new bottle spacer

The innovative bottle spacer with extrusion

The inhaler fits snugly into the hole.


Information Courtesy of Western Cape Government



SAPPMA urges government to allow pipe manufacturers to operate

“Safe drinking water is a prerequisite for protecting public health and all human activity. Properly treated waste water is vital for preventing disease and protecting the environment. The plastic pipe industry is therefore undoubtedly a critical sector that is relied upon by communities around the country for water distribution and sewage disposal, as well as by agricultural and mining operations who recently received the go-ahead to resume their operations,” explains Jan Venter, CEO of SAPPMA.

Repeating their concern about large segments of the country’s population that still do not have access to clean water for drinking, cooking or sanitation, SAPPMA said frequent hand washing with soap and clean water continues to be one of the first lines of defense against contracting the highly contagious Coronavirus.

As an emergency measure, the Government purchased 18 875 water tanks to make clean water available to remote areas. To date, however, only half (7 689) of these tanks have been installed four weeks after the declaration of a state of disaster.

“Whilst these tanks are a step in the right direction, it is only a temporary solution. The country desperately needs a reliable network of water and sewage pipes capable of serving the whole population. Permanent, piped water should be made available to these communities as a matter of urgency,” Venter stressed.

Several neighbourhoods in Port Elizabeth experienced the impacts of failing water infrastructure first hand shortly after the lockdown started. A critical pipe which supplied reservoirs in the city failed, causing reservoirs to drain and forcing people to queue to get water from tankers. The same could happen in municipalities around the country if the pipe infrastructure supplying water, sanitation, gas and telecommunications are not repaired, maintained or upgraded.

“Prohibiting our members from re-opening their manufacturing plants in order to be able to supply the pipes needed for infrastructure maintenance could have a direct impact on the quality of life of thousands of South Africans”, Venter warned.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the USA classified pipe manufacturers as part of critical infrastructure involved in the water and wastewater systems sector and labelled them as “imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety as well as community well-being”. As a result, it petitioned for these companies to be allowed to work during periods of community restriction, access management, social distancing, or closure.

Likewise, the British Plastics Federation stressed the importance of allowing plastic pipe producers to operate during the period of lockdown, stating that “after packaging, construction is the second largest user of plastics, where critical products include plastic pipe systems for both drinking water and drainage”.

“Plastic pipe manufacturing, distribution and installation must be allowed to function without further delay in order to provide communities with an uninterrupted supply of necessary infrastructure. All our members have been issued with clear guidelines to help limit the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of their employees. We therefore urge Government to evaluate what the consequences might be if these factories are kept closed any longer and to recognise the plastic pipe industry as part of the essential services exempted from the forced temporary closure,” Venter concludes.


DOW joins Hands with PlasticsSA to ensure Clean Hands

Social distancing and good hygiene are two practices that are at the centre of the fight against COVID-19. Thousands of people living in Cape Town’s poorer communities and townships, however, do not have access to clean, running water in their homes in order to regularly wash their hands.

In an effort to reduce the risk of cross infection in the Mother City’s most vulnerable communities, Dow Southern Africa partnered with Plastics|SA and the Justice Coalition last week to distribute 20 liter PacXpert plastics pouches –  lightweight, refillable bags, containing soapy water – to COVID-19 action community groups operating in Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Woodstock and Wynberg. The City of Cape Town’s Solid Waste Department also received 80 of these bags for use on their trucks by waste collectors.

“The COVID-19 pandemic presents us with new challenges every day. Recognising the health dangers that are posed when many hands touch and use the same tap to access running water, we wanted to offer a practical solution that would help flatten the curve and prevent people from leaving the safe confines of their homes during the period of national lockdown,” says Cicelia van Rooi, Managing Director of Dow Southern Africa.

The PacXpert pouch is an award-winning, flexible and sustainable alternative to using conventional containers. It lightweight, durable, refillable and easy to use thanks to its distinctive cube shape that makes it very stable. The pouch stands equally well upright, on its side or cab be hanged.  It can also be re-used many times over and is fully recyclable.

According to John Kieser, Plastics|SA’s Sustainability Manager, they have been distributing these bags under the banner of Dow’s Project Butterfly – a social initiative that was launched in 2017 with the primary focus of creating jobs and reducing plastic pollution in South Africa through education, clean-ups and innovation-focused initiatives.

“We were able to distribute these bags quickly and effectively to various smaller community groups operating around the city and have dedicated teams in place to replenish the bags with soap and water twice a day,” Kieser said.

“Dow supplies the world with materials needed for many life-critical applications, such as disinfectants, sanitizers, cleansers, personal protection equipment for healthcare professionals, memory foams for hospital beds, and more. I am very proud that we are able to make a small, but very important contribution to fighting the pandemic by putting our assets to work to help protect human health, protect our environment, and help reduce the impact of the pandemic on the world we all share,” Van Rooi concludes.


For more information visit www.dow.com or www.plasticsinfo.co.za



  • The Justice Coalition is a democratic, mass-based social movement that campaigns for the advancement of the constitutional rights to life, dignity, equality, freedom and safety for all people, but especially those living in informal settlements across South Africa. (sjc.org.za)
  • Dow (NYSE: DOW) combines global breadth, asset integration and scale, focused innovation and leading business positions to achieve profitable growth. The Company’s ambition is to become the most innovative, customer centric, inclusive and sustainable materials science company. Dow’s portfolio of plastics, industrial intermediates, coatings and silicones businesses delivers a broad range of differentiated science-based products and solutions for its customers in high-growth market segments, such as packaging, infrastructure and consumer care. Dow operates 109 manufacturing sites in 31 countries and employs approximately 36,500 people. Dow delivered sales of approximately $43 billion in 2019. References to Dow or the Company mean Dow Inc. and its subsidiaries. For more information, please visit dow.comor follow @DowNewsroom on Twitter.
  • Dow is helping to create jobs and reduce plastic pollution in South Africa through their social initiative, Project Butterfly. Introduced in 2017 in the township of Tembisa, Johannesburg, Project Butterfly works with non-profit organizations and local communities to tackle poor waste management through education, clean-ups and innovation-focused initiatives. Currently active in Johannesburg and Durban, Project Butterfly is part of Dow’s global commitment to address plastic pollution and create a more sustainable planet. (dow.com)



Plastics Industry shows its support for waste pickers during Lockdown

Johannesburg, April 20, 2020.  South Africa has close to 60 000 waste pickers who play a substantial role in the country’s waste management industry. As part of the country’s informal waste sector, they help recover recyclables from household waste streams, as well as waste materials sent to landfill sites. With the country in a national lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, these waste reclaimers suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves unable to put food on the table due to the fact that economic activity was limited to essential food and health products or services only.


“It became clear that South Africa is not only facing a global health pandemic, but increasingly also the possibility of a humanitarian crisis as these waste reclaimers are no longer allowed to work and earn a living,” says Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics|SA – the umbrella body representing all sectors of the South African plastics industry – including polymer producers and importers, converters, machine suppliers, fabricators and recyclers.


Despite the fact that many role-players in the plastics industry are suffering financial losses during this time as they had to either close down or greatly reduce their operations, Plastics|SA, the plastics PROs, the other packaging PROs and Packaging SA rallied together to donate funds when the request was made by Packaging SA. Working in close partnership with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and in support of the members of the two associations representing the waste pickers/reclaimers, i.e. the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA), African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), a total amount of R785, 000.00 was collected within a matter of days. These funds will now be used to purchase electronic food vouchers that will be sent to the collectors who are on the DEFF database via cellphones and can be redeemed at major supermarket retailers.


“We felt deeply affected by the dire and uncertain circumstances these waste reclaimers, who play an important role in the waste management industry, were facing. Because they are not incorporated into the country’s formal waste economy, they tend to lead a hand-to-mouth existence, which means that their income and thus food supply is directly linked to the amount of recyclables they collect on a daily basis, which completely ceased during the period of lockdown ,” says Mandy Naudé of Polyco.


Cheri Scholtz of PETCO highlighted the important role reclaimers play in the recovery of PET bottles and other recyclables in South Africa for reprocessing, and in the process, a lifeline for themselves as reclaimers are paid on a daily basis for the product they deliver to buy-back centres and reprocessors. “In the current situation, recycling is not an essential service and therefore the loss of access to collection has created great hardship for reclaimers,” she stressed.

“Waste pickers make valuable resources available for reintroduction into the economy, while saving landfill airspace. In some instances, these informal waste reclaimers are the only people who recover recyclables in municipalities that do not have a two-bin collection system for separation at source. We have a responsibility to support them in these trying times, they are in desperate need to feed their families,” says Adri Spangenberg, CEO of the Polystyrene Association of SA and the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA).

The South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO) said that the collection of plastics for recycling is a lifeline for many informal waste reclaimers. “At a time when this very livelihood is threatened (because of the lockdown situation) we consider it the least we can do to ensure our collectors and their families have food on the table,” said Johann Conradie, Chairman of SAPRO.

“Aside from supporting sustainable livelihoods, these informal waste reclaimers provide plastic feedstock to our buyback centres and recycling plants. They form the backbone of our recycling economy in South Africa and enable us to achieve the fantastic recycling rates we do!” he added.

“The current COVID-19 crisis has left no sector or industry untouched. Despite facing their own financial and operational hardships, I commend our PROs, every member and individual company who stepped up to the plate without a moment’s hesitation. Irrespective of the amount, every donation made to the waste pickers’ fund or who answered our call to donate to the Solidarity Fund, has helped to make a difference in somebody’s life. Helping one person might not have changed the whole world, but it changed the world for one person.


From the plastics industry’s side, we will do our best to offer them our on-going support during this difficult time in recognition of the important work they do. There is no certainty when the lockdown will end, and we therefore challenge everybody involved in the waste management sector to rally with us and to continue making tax deductible financial contributions to lighten the burden of the waste pickers. Once the lockdown restrictions ease, we will do everything in our power to get the recycling industry operating at full capacity as quickly as possible,” Anton concludes.


Donations can be made into the following bank account:

PAMDEV NPC (t/a Fibre Circle)
Account number: 250791749
Standard Bank | Branch code 005726 | Hillcrest

Reference: Company Name – Food voucher


Companies can request a tax certificate by emailing their details and proof of payment to payments@fibrecircle.co.za.

[i] According to the 2018 Plastics Recycling Survey published by Plastics|SA

New Intellectual Capital in PlasticsSA’s stable

The Merseta recently participated in the Wits School of Governance offering in Research Contextualisation and enrolled a cohort of Merseta Chamber members into the 3-month programme.

Plastics|SA’s Kirtida Bhana was part of the group and passed with flying colours.  We congratulate Kirtida on her achievement and a further ‘shout out’ on being Top Student in her group.

Kirtida has been an active member of the Plastics Chamber for almost 9 years and has coordinated and managed the Plastics Chamber Research projects on behalf of Plastics|SA.  She is also the current acting Chairperson of the Plastics Chamber.

Well done Kirtida!  We are proud of you and look forward to great innovations in the years to come.