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Plastics are the future, but not plastic waste

Plastics are invaluable products that make our lives easier. A world without plastics would be hard to imagine – we use them every single day of our lives. The TOMRA Leads conference, which recently took place in Bulgaria, was attended by plastics industry stakeholders from around the world. 

The event investigated all aspects of the plastics value chain, including the advantages and disadvantages of sustainability initiatives and waste collection systems as well as the need for a shift towards a circular economy for plastics. Plastics manufacturers are already searching for long-term solutions to plastic waste, but every citizen and government department also needs to play a role by disposing of plastic waste properly and ensuring that adequate waste collection systems are in place.

South Africa has some of the highest mechanical plastic recycling rates in the world, compared to Europe and many other developed countries. South Africa has an input plastic recycling rate of 46.3% – we recycle around 352 000 tonnes of plastic into new products every year. 

The future of plastics starts with decisions today

Dr Volker Rehrmann, head of business at Area Sorting Solutions and guest speaker at the TOMRA Leads Conference, shares his solutions to the global problem of plastic waste. “First of all we need to collect more plastics and bring it into the recycling stream,” he says. 

“A big problem is leakage, and really most of that comes from South East Asia and Africa. We need to focus on those areas where there is no proper collection system. We can achieve a lot there,” he explains. Only 64% of South African households have access to municipal waste collection services.

“Take this message with you; it is not a problem to recover plastics from waste that is going to landfill. It can be done,” he says. The future of plastics lies in creating a circular economy.  Recycled plastic waste needs to be seen as a raw material that can be resold to the market to be used in the manufacture of new products.

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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

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.

Plastics industry aims to find solution to pollution

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yttc36PNtvA

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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

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yttc36PNtvA

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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

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.

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