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Polystyrene successes in South Africa

Polystyrene (PS) is the sixth most widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is lightweight and durable.  It is most commonly used in the food and restaurant industry. In fact, just over 5500 tonnes of PS was recycled in South Africa last year. Polystyrene is one of the most widely-used polymers for food storage and takeaway containers, making it a valuable polymer for the economy.

 

South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – last year we recycled 15% more plastic than Europe. Of this volume, PS packaging was the sixth highest polymer in terms of volume processed. Most of the PS plastic waste are fruit and vegetable punnets, meat punnets, takeaway cups and plastic cutlery. These materials are recycled into seedling trays, toys, hair combs and lightweight cement blocks for the building industry.

 

PS recycling is a successful industry

PS waste is a fairly common material processed at South African recyclers because it is readily available due to its popularity in various industries. PS is popular in retail applications, such as clear food containers, as well as in the food and drinks sector. It also has many uses in the construction industry as expanded polystyrene is a perfect insulator and lightweight building material.

 

The end-markets for clear containers and expanded packaging polymers, such as PS, are growing steadily year-on-year. The biggest end-market for recycled PS is plastic furniture, followed by domestic houseware. A small portion of recycled PS is sold to the construction sector, although this is a rapidly-growing end-market for this type of recyclate.

 

PS has a number of beneficial properties

PS is a unique combination of durability, economic viability and environmental performance. It has a low carbon footprint and uses very little energy to manufacture and recycle. One of the main advantages of expanded polystyrene is its resistance to heat, making it ideal for use as coffee cups, food containers and cutlery. PS is non-toxic and non-reactive, which makes it perfect for food contact applications and to prolong the shelf life of edible products.

 

High-impact PS is transparent and durable, which is why it is commonly used for fruit punnets and CD cases. It shows off the product contained within, while also protecting it during transport and sale. This type of PS is also used to make retail coat hangers, laboratory ware, printers and keyboards, as well as computer and television housings.

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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.

A brief history of the major plastic polymers

Plastics are such a vital part of modern life; we have become unaware of how much we rely on them every day. However, many plastic polymers have only been around for a few decades. Life before these innovative materials was very different. They have made modern living simpler and safer, thanks to their durability, affordability and versatility.

The first major discovery of a plastic polymer was made in 1862. Since then, new polymers have been developed and discovered continuously – rapidly increasing from the end of the 1920s. Here is a brief history of each of the major plastic polymers and how they have changed the way in which we live.

Parkesine 

First developed in 1862, Parkesine was the first man-made plastic. It’s inventor, Alexander Parkes, revealed the plant-based polymer at the Great International Exhibition in London. Parkesine is a transparent and mouldable plastic that retains its shape when cooled. It was first marketed as a cheaper alternative to rubber, allowing users to mould and create whatever they needed.

Celluloid

In 1865, John Wesley Hyatt developed a new way to make billiard balls from cellulose nitrate. This material was far cheaper than the traditional ivory balls. Soon afterward, companies began manufacturing numerous products from celluloid, such as bowls and combs, as a cheaper alternative to bone, tortoiseshell and other expensive materials.

Rayon

This modified celluloid polymer was developed in Paris by Louis Marie Hilaire Bernigaut in 1891. He was looking for a way to manufacture a substitute for silk – a polymer that could be extruded into thin, shiny strands and woven together to form a silky fabric. Bernigaut called the polymer rayon because it had a shiny appearance that reflected rays of light.

Bakelite

In 1907, a completely synthetic plastic was developed that retained its shape and form, even under stress and heat. Bakelite became extremely popular in the 1920s when numerous products were manufactured from the polymer. Plastic jewellery, telephones and clocks became popular as people embraced the unique appearance of Bakelite.

Cellophane

Cellophane was invented by a Swiss chemist in 1912 who was looking to create a waterproof tablecloth. Later, in 1927, cellophane was used to wrap sweets and candies which really punted its use in the food industry to new heights. This moisture-resistant polymer kept the sweets fresh for longer as water vapour in the air could not affect the sugary treats within the wrapping.

Vinyl

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) was developed in the 1920s to replace natural rubber. It quickly became known as one of the most versatile plastics. It is commonly used to make medical tubing, plumbing pipes and construction products. PVC can be both rigid and flexible, which was why it became so popular in a number of industries.

Polyethylene

This widely-used plastic was first developed in the 1930s in the United Kingdom. Polyethylene is the most popular polymer to date and is the mainstay of modern packaging. It is used to create polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage bottles, high-density polyethylene (PE-HD) containers and low-density (PE-LD) shopping bags. 

Polyvinylidene Chloride

Not to be confused with PVC, this polymer was discovered by accident in 1933. It was initially used to protect military and naval equipment from the effects of saltwater at sea due to its ability to cling to other materials and form a protective barrier. Polyvinylidene chloride is also used as a protective film for food packaging and is marketed as “Saran wrap”.

Nylon

This polymer changed the entire textiles and clothing industry. Nylon was developed in 1939, after which DuPont unveiled women’s stockings made from nylon at the World Fair in New York. Nylon quickly became an affordable man-made alternative to silk and cotton, finding particular use in military clothing during World War II.

Polyester

Polyester was first discovered in the 1940s, but only gained significant popularity in the 1950s. DuPont marketed a new fabric under the name “Dacron”, which was simply woven polyester strands. This became the first washable synthetic fabric and the textile industry has never been the same.

Polypropylene

Polypropylene (PP) came about in the 1950s but it began with a legal battle over its true inventors. It is a highly-versatile plastic that is used to manufacture a variety of moulded products, such as dairy tubs for butter and ice cream, plastic furniture, buckets, car bumpers, fibres and woven cloth. It can be used in almost all plastic applications.

Polystyrene foam

Also called expanded polystyrene, this polymer was developed in 1954 by Dow Chemicals. The company introduced the polymer under the brand name “Styrofoam” and was marketed as a lightweight protective packaging product. It is used to make packaging peanuts, takeaway food containers and coffee cups.

These polymers have become so widely used that we don’t even notice the importance of plastics in our daily lives. The innovations that led to the development of some of these products are often underappreciated. Plastics have a vital role to play in modern living, the economy and even the environment.

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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.

PS plastic successes in South Africa

Polystyrene (PS) is the sixth most widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is lightweight and durable – most commonly used in the food and restaurant industry. In fact, just over 5500 tonnes of PS was recycled in South Africa last year. It is one of the most widely-used polymers for food storage and takeaway containers, making it a valuable polymer for the economy.

South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – last year we recycled 15% more plastic than Europe. Of this volume, PS packaging was the sixth-highest polymer in terms of volume processed. Most of the PS plastic waste comes in the form of fruit and vegetable punnets, meat punnets, takeaway cups and plastic cutlery. These materials are recycled into seedling trays, toys, hair combs and lightweight cement blocks for the building industry.

PS plastic recycling is a successful industry

PS waste is a fairly common material processed at South African recyclers because it is readily available due to its popularity in various industries. PS is popular in retail applications, such as clear food containers, as well as in the food and drinks sector. It also has many uses in the construction industry as expanded polystyrene is a perfect insulator and lightweight building material. 

The end-markets for clear containers and expanded packaging polymers, such as PS, are growing steadily year-on-year. The biggest end-market for recycled PS is plastic furniture, followed by domestic houseware. A small portion of recycled PS is sold to the construction sector, although this is a rapidly-growing end-market for this type of recyclate.

PS has a number of beneficial properties

PS is a unique combination of durability, economic viability and environmental performance. It has a low carbon footprint and uses very little energy to manufacture and recycle. One of the main advantages of expanded polystyrene is its resistance to heat, making it ideal for use as coffee cups, food containers and cutlery. PS is non-toxic and non-reactive, which makes it perfect for food contact applications and to prolong the shelf life of edible products. 

High-impact PS is transparent and durable, which is why it is commonly used for fruit punnets and CD cases. It shows off the product contained within, while also protecting it during transport and sale. This type of PS is also used to make retail coat hangers, laboratory ware, printers and keyboards, as well as computer and television housings.

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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.

PVC plastic successes in South Africa

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the fifth most-widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is strong, durable and can come in three forms – rigid, flexible and liquid. PVC is considered to be one of the most versatile thermoplastics and it is recyclable in South Africa. It can be recycled into numerous products, making it a valuable polymer for the economy.

South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – just under 21 000 tonnes of PVC plastic was recycled in 2018 alone. Of this volume, most of the PVC plastic came from gumboots, cables, hosepipes, plumbing pipes, conduit and gutters. These materials are mainly recycled into shoe soles, car mats and plastic speed humps.

PVC plastic recycling is a successful industry

PVC recyclate is currently in high demand due to its various applications and low energy requirements. This plastic is inherently flame-resistant and is impermeable to liquids. PVC is cost-effective to manufacture and, because of its versatility, it is an abundant plastic polymer. It is widely used in the construction, irrigation, medical, mining and motoring industry as a result of these properties.

PVC can also be recycled into various rigid, flexible and liquid products, including rubber shoes, flooring, trays, mats, insulation, raincoats and many more. The clothing and footwear industry purchases the majority portion of PVC recyclate, followed by the construction and agriculture sectors. This polymer has many uses as a recycled material in various industries in South Africa.

PVC has a number of beneficial properties

PVC is a popular plastic material because of its advantageous properties. During the manufacturing process, chlorine is obtained from ordinary salt and is chemically combined with ethylene, which is derived from coal in South Africa. PVC is always compounded with additives to give it a range of properties, such as rigidity, flexibility, fire resistance and liquidity. 

PVC has excellent resistance to wear and tear, making it ideal for products that need to withstand hard usage over many years. It is lightweight, cost-effective and requires little energy to manufacture. PVC is highly valuable in this regard as it supports economic development and the environment, unlike many plastic alternatives. These properties make PVC a popular plastic polymer. It is widely recycled in South Africa thanks to our strong and resilient recycling industry. For more information on South Africa’s vinyls industry, visit SAVinyls.co.za

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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.

How PET packaging is recycled in South Africa

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a common packaging polymer around the world. In South Africa, it is widely used to manufacture beverage bottles, vegetable punnets, yoghurt cups and even clothing. PET is easy to recycle and has many beneficial uses – making it the second-most popular packaging material in the country.

Most of the plastics used for various packaging applications are mechanically recycled in South Africa. These materials are often picked, sorted and washed by hand before being processed. However, PET is different. Owing to the volume of PET recyclable waste in South Africa, many recycling facilities use technology to sort and process this polymer.

PET is recycled using automated technology

Discarded PET packaging is collected by waste management companies and informal waste pickers working at landfills. They source and collect the PET plastic before bailing them into dense packs for transport. These bundles of plastic waste are then taken to recycling facilities where the process begins. The bails are fed onto a production line that first passes under strong magnets to remove any metal contaminants.

Next, the PET plastic is fed to a hot washer that removes sand, dirt and oils. The labels on beverage bottles are also removed in this washer. These labels are collected and sent to another recycling production line. The cleaned PET packaging is then fed along a conveyor and scanned using high-speed optical sensors and infrared cameras to sort the waste. 

These sensors detect the type and colour of the PET waste, sorting it into batches of clear, green, brown and mixed colours. It is necessary to sort the plastic by colour as this results in a recyclate with consistent colours at the end of the process. If brown bottles were mixed with green ones, the batch would come out a dirty olive colour. 

Once sorted by colour, these bails of recyclate are sent to a granulator to be turned into small flakes. These flakes are then washed in three stages to remove any residual contaminants and sticky label fragments. The flakes are sent to a heater, which dries them, before being fed to a high-temperature oven to melt. This melted PET resin is extruded (stretched into long strands), cooled and chopped into small pellets. 

These pellets of plastic are sold to manufacturers, who can then use the recycled PET (rPET) to create new beverage bottles. These rPET fibres are also used to manufacture a variety of products, such as polyester clothing, carpeting, underbody shields for vehicles and recycled PET packaging products.

Other methods of recycling PET packaging

The Coca-Cola Company is trying to find more sustainable ways of recycling its PET bottles. It has started to chemically recycle its plastic bottles. This process breaks the polymer down into its basic molecules, separating the colourants, contaminants and impurities at the same time. The result is a number of near-pure products that can be processed back into PET packaging or used for other applications.

While this chemical recycling process is only being trialled in Europe, it could make its way to South Africa in the near future. Right now, South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – beating Europe by over 15%. PET is one of the easiest plastics to recycle and it can be processed again and again. This has numerous economic and environmental benefits if the plastic waste is disposed of responsibly.

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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 packaging alternatives may be worse for the marine environment

A committee of United Kingdom members of parliament (MPs) has warned that plastic packaging alternatives could be doing more harm to the marine environment than plastics. Compostable and biodegradable plastics could be adding to global marine pollution because they do not always break down as intended.

The use of these plastic alternatives is growing rapidly around the world, but there is a worldwide shortage of infrastructure to correctly process these waste items. Experts also argue that the lack of consumer understanding about compostable and biodegradable plastics actually increases the likelihood of littering and illegal dumping.

Most compostable packaging waste needs to be sent to an industrial composting facility in order to properly decompose. Being left out in the environment will not work. The same goes for biodegradable plastics – they need to be sent to a certified facility in order to break down as intended. The MPs state that there are not enough of these facilities around the world.

Environmental NGOs weigh-in

These concerns held by British lawmakers are also shared by environmental non-government organisations (NGOs) in many regions across the globe. They agree that the rapid introduction of so-called biodegradable plastic alternatives may have actually increased marine pollution. “If a biodegradable cup gets into the sea, it could pose just as much of a problem to marine life as a conventional plastic cup,” says Environmental Investigation Agency ocean campaigner Juliet Phillips.

Environmental think tank, Green Alliance, also says that there is evidence to prove that the term ‘biodegradable’ makes consumers think that it’s alright to discard these materials into the environment. This inadvertently encourages pollution on land and at sea. These materials also do not decompose the same way in the environment as they did under controlled circumstances in a laboratory during development.

Governments concerned about plastic alternatives

“In the backlash against plastic, other materials are being increasingly used as substitutes in food and drink packaging. We are concerned that such actions are being taken without proper consideration of wider environmental consequences, such as higher carbon emissions. Compostable plastics have been introduced without the right infrastructure or consumer understanding to manage compostable waste,” says United Kingdom chair of the Commons select committee Neil Parish.

“The drive to introduce bioplastics, biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics is being done with limited emphasis on explaining the purpose of these materials to the public or consideration of whether they are in fact better from an environmental perspective than the plastic packaging they replace,” explains UK-based independent environmental charity, Keep Britain Tidy.

South Africa in the same boat

Although these opinions are being voiced by UK-based experts, they hold true for biodegradable and plastic alternatives around the world. South Africa is also seeing a rapid increase in the use of compostable and biodegradable plastics. Many supermarkets, coffee shops and restaurants are already providing South Africans with biodegradable and compostable alternatives.

These materials are also not always suitable for recycling. South Africa has a thriving recycling industry and many of the plastic materials produced in the country end up being recycled into new products over and over again. In a country like ours, it sometimes makes more sense to recycle traditional plastic packaging and products than to push for so-called biodegradable and compost alternatives.

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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 medical plastic packaging is so important

Doctors, nurses, hospital patients and lab technicians can be exposed to deadly viruses and bacteria on a daily basis. One of the ways to protect them from harm is through medical plastic packaging. Plastic is an ideal material to seal off sterile equipment and prevent contamination. 

Plastics have a vital role to play in the healthcare industry; not only are they used to manufacture medical equipment, but they are also used to protect and seal needles and other apparatus to prevent the spread of diseases and bacteria. All of the single-use medical supplies found in hospitals and clinics are packaged in plastic or paper. 

Plastic packaging also allows these medical items to be transported safely and easily. Examples of medical plastic packaging include diagnostic device packaging, blister packs, intravenous (IV) bags and tubing, prescription bottles, serum vials and medicine dispensers. Most of these products and packaging materials are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as it is a strong and durable plastic.

Medical plastic packaging undergoes rigorous testing

Before any medical plastic packaging can be sold, it must first undergo numerous tests to ensure safety and suitability for its intended use. These tests usually include physicochemical tests, biological reactivity tests and tests for extractables. They aim to determine whether the plastics are safe for use on patients with weakened immune systems. 

Some of these plastics will also undergo biocompatibility tests to check whether they are possible irritants or could lead to cytotoxicity. All medical equipment needs to be sterile and non-reactive for humans, including the plastic packaging. This ensures that the packaging is compliant with all international health standards and guidelines before being used in the real world.

Is medical plastic packaging recycled?

Most medical equipment is incinerated once it has served its purpose. By burning this waste at extremely high temperatures, it ensures that no bacteria or viruses survive and spread. However, some of the plastic packaging used to protect unused medical equipment can still be recycled – only if these plastics are sterile and have not been exposed to bacteria, blood or tissue.

There are strict guidelines for recycling medical plastic packaging. Each hospital can outline its own recycling strategy but they also need to ensure that the plastic waste is not contaminated in any way. If the plastic has been exposed to sick patients or any form of bacteria, it will need to be incinerated with the rest of the hospital waste.

Medical plastics and the packaging materials used to protect this equipment have a vital role to play in the healthcare sector. Plastics are non-reactive and sterile materials; they protect medical apparatus during transport and prevent equipment from becoming contaminated. These plastics are vital for the daily functioning of hospitals and have saved countless lives.

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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.

The benefits of plastic packaging

Plastics are highly valuable materials that make modern life possible. They are such a big part of our daily lives that we don’t even know we are using plastic products sometimes, such as the kettle, toothbrush and television remote. They are used everywhere – our cars, supermarkets, banks and even hospitals.

The issue is not plastics, rather the irresponsible way in which they are disposed of – particularly plastic packaging. These materials are typically single-use and they have an important role to play in the economy. Plastic packaging protects our food, drinks and goods from being damaged and rotting. They can protect our health and even save our lives.

Plastic packaging is designed to be durable and tough, so consumers need to throw it away in a recycling bin rather than dumping it on the way home from the shops. Plastic packaging can have many benefits – we just need to dispose of it correctly and ensure that it is properly recycled. Here are a few of the major benefits.

Plastic packaging helps to prevent food waste

Most of the food that we buy from supermarkets comes wrapped in plastic – whether it is our cereal, bread, sugar, vegetables or meat. These protective coatings help to prolong the freshness of our foods by keeping them dry or preventing bacteria from contaminating the produce. Without plastic packaging, our food would spoil within hours.

These materials prevent food waste by keeping the products fresh for longer. Food waste is already a problem in South Africa – we throw away almost one-third of all food before it is even sold! This equates to around 10-million tonnes of food every year. We can’t afford to waste more food by removing the plastic packaging and allowing it to rot before it can be consumed.

Plastics prevent damaged goods

Just as packaging protects food items, it does so for household goods and gadgets. Most of the products we buy are protected by plastic packaging, from books and pens to toothbrushes and sports equipment. These outer coatings act as a shield against scratches and dents that can damage products during transport.

Damaged goods either don’t sell or they have to be discounted, which causes problems for shop owners and suppliers. The plastic packaging acts as a cost-effective way to ensure that a product is delivered in perfect condition. Consumers have become fussy with these issues, demanding lower prices for usable goods with scratches and cosmetic damage. 

Plastics packaging helps to retain value in the economy

The end result of plastic packaging is that it helps to retain value in the economy. Food items and goods that are protected by this packaging are sold at full price, which means that shop owners, suppliers and manufacturers benefit at the end of the day. They earn the value of their goods and are able to provide an income for their staff members. Preventing damage to goods during transport will also help to keep costs low – to the ultimate benefit of the buyer. 

Plastic packaging allows the economy to function properly, securing jobs and minimising losses through damage or contamination. Plastics are highly versatile and useful materials – they just need to be reused and recycled as much as possible. Everyone has a role to play in preventing plastic pollution, not just waste management providers. We have a responsibility to the environment, but also to the economy and society.

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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.

The future of plastic waste management in South Africa

South Africa has a strong and resilient plastics recycling industry. Issues of waste collection and plastic recycling rates are hot topics at the moment – evoking emotional responses from various sectors of society. The fact is that a normal life would not be possible without plastics but the responsible and ethical disposal of these products is an issue in most countries around the world.

The future of plastic waste management lies in environmental protection, citizen education and participation from all sectors of society. Plastics are far too valuable to simply throw away. They need to be reused, recycled and fed back into a circular economy. This will ensure that the value of plastics is retained and sustainable economic growth can be unlocked.

“Recyclables are a valuable resource and should be removed from the solid waste stream before reaching landfill,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom. “All stakeholders, including producers, manufacturers, brand owners, consumers, waste management companies and recyclers – have to work together to make plastics the material of choice, to manufacture locally, process it efficiently and to manage the end-of-life products in the most efficient manner that will benefit the consumer, the industry and the planet,” he explains.

The following steps will pave the way for the future of plastic waste management in South Africa:

1. Develop waste management infrastructure

Plastics need to be collected and removed from the environment. The existing waste collection infrastructure needs to be improved in order to boost recycling collection, sorting and processing. Plastics need to be separated from non-recyclables at the source – in the homes of citizens, at restaurants, stores, hotels and businesses. Almost 34% of South Africans do not have access to any waste management services, so they need to be better equipped to deal with their waste.

2. Reduce contaminants in the recyclable waste stream

Just separating plastics from non-recyclable waste is not good enough. Often, these plastics are contaminated with food scraps and beverage remnants. This can affect the quality of a batch of recycling. A collaborative effort is required to minimise the contaminants in the incoming waste stream. Citizens can rinse their plastic waste with water – even non-potable greywater will do. Restaurant owners, baristas and retailers can start to improve the cleanliness of their recyclable waste too by rinsing the plastics.

3. Help recyclers sustain their operations

South Africa has around 300 recycling businesses. No matter their size, it is an ongoing struggle for recyclers to keep their businesses profitable with the rising costs of electricity, transport and labour. Many new entrants in the recycling industry are also not legally-compliant, which puts an unnecessary burden on the rest of recyclers. South Africans can support their local recyclers by dropping off their recyclable waste at these facilities instead of leaving it up to their waste management providers – many of which send the waste straight to landfill.

4. Develop alternatives for hard-to-recycle plastics

There are certain types of plastic that are difficult to recycle or are not economically viable to process. Alternative solutions need to be developed by manufacturers and recyclers for these plastics, such as turning them into cement aggregate for building blocks. Alternative methods of plastics waste disposal may also lie in chemical recycling and using waste to create electricity. Manufacturers can also work on making these types of plastic easier to process and more cost-effective to recycle.

The future of effective plastic waste management lies in collaboration between citizens, legislators, waste management companies, the government and plastics manufacturers. While Plastics SA works towards long-term solutions to plastic pollution, infrastructure needs to be improved, educational awareness needs to be implemented and responsible waste disposal needs to be enforced. 

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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

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.

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