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All About Plastics: Polystyrene facts

What is PS?

Polystyrene is a lightweight polymer that comes in two types; high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) and expandable polystyrene (PS-E or EPS). It was first sold commercially in the 1930s as an economic plastic to enhance food hygiene and extend product shelf-lives. PS is commonly used in the food and beverage industry as takeaway containers, vegetable punnets, disposable cutlery and plastic cups. PS is also recycled into lightweight cement blocks for the building industry.

Its lightweight nature makes PS an energy-efficient plastic to produce with a low carbon footprint. This plastic is in high demand by recyclers as it is used to manufacture seedling trays, combs, rulers, picture frames and clothing hangers. It is the sixth-most processed polymer by South African recycling facilities. Due to the well-established waste collection network and the fact that plastic food and drink containers form a large portion of our waste, 5572 tonnes of lightweight polystyrene packaging were recycled in 2018 alone.

Benefits of PS packaging

PS has numerous unique characteristics that make it a valuable packaging material. The two types of polystyrene have different applications. HIPS is a transparent and semi-flexible plastic that is used to make fruit and vegetable containers (like grape punnets) as well as CD cases. PS-E is a foam-like polymer that is used to make vending cups, meat trays (like boerewors punnets) and cooler boxes.

PS is heat-resistant and acts as a good insulator – hence its widespread use in the food and beverage sectors. It is fairly easy to recycle and can even improve the aeration in landfills if it is not sent to a recycling facility. The furniture and domestic housewares markets are the two largest consumers of PS recyclate.

PS is non-toxic and non-reactive, so it can be used in food and beverage contact applications without affecting the consumer. These characteristics and benefits make PS a highly-valuable plastic packaging material in South Africa.

EPR Plan – Industry Update

Packaging SA, Plastics SA, the various PRO’s and other interested parties have been engaging with Government over the past 9 months regarding the proposed Section 18 notice.

 

Section 18 refers to the Extended Producer Responsibility aspect of the National Environmental Management Waste Act (NEMWA) and essentially replaces Section 28 (Industry Waste Management Plans) from 2017. Whilst both Section 18 and Section 28 essentially cover Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and material recovery, we welcomed the adoption of a Section 18 process as it allows industry to raise, manage and disburse EPR fees themselves.

 

WHERE ARE WE NOW

On 26 June 2020 the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), Ms. Barbara Creecy, published an amendment to the National Environmental Waste Act in the form of draft Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations. Members of the public and industry were given 30 days to comment and revert back to her with objections or suggested changes.

Once promulgated, the EPR Plan will substantially change the regulatory environment in South Africa, not only for producers and users of packaging, but for our various Producer Responsibility Organisations, i.e. PETCO, Polyco, the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA) and the Polystyrene Association of SA.

It will be the responsibility of the various Producer Responsibility Organisations (PRO’s) to drive sector based waste minimisation programmes, manage financial arrangements for funds to promote the reduction, re-use, recycling and recovery of waste; drive awareness programmes and innovate new measures to reduce the potential impact of products on health and the environment.

EXPECTED TIME FRAME FOR IMPLEMENTATION

Once approved and promulgated, producers and PRO’s will have 6 months to become compliant. However, the Minister has made it clear that she wants to implement the new regulations as soon as possible, and there is talk that it could be in place as soon as the fourth quarter of 2020. It is likely that the targets for the 1st year and reporting requirements will commence at the beginning of 2021. As currently drafted, the requirements essentially come into effect on the date of publication of the final notice, which could be as early as September 2020.

 

FOCUS AREAS FOR THE SA PLASTICS INDUSTRY

Of particular concern to us is ensuring that the final Section 18 notice is practical, reasonable and applicable to the South African context.

 

UNLOCKING THE HIDDEN VALUE OF WASTE

It is crucial that targets that are being set for the collection and recycling of the various forms of plastic, are based on the South African scenario, include local data, use our own best practice models and build on the successes that our existing PRO’s have already achieved.

A staggering 70% of the plastics that recycled in South Africa, are still obtained from landfill and other post-consumer sources.

34 % of South Africans do not have access to any waste management services. Waste management infrastructure needs to be put in place by municipalities throughout SA where concerned citizens can participate and which can deal with recyclable as well as non-recyclable waste.

Recyclables are a valuable resource and should be removed from the solid waste stream before reaching landfill where they become contaminated and extraction costly. Separation-at-source, whereby recyclable materials are separated from non-recyclables, is therefore a key success factor for all recycling.

The plastics industry is fully committed to cooperate with Government as we work to clarify the issues of concern.

For those producers who have not yet signed up to a PRO, you are advised and encouraged to join without delay. Not only will this ensure that your company is compliant and meet the obligations under the new legislation, but your input and contributions during this development stage of the game are much needed and could help to shape our industry focus and activities for many years to come.

For more information, kindly email Anton.Hanekom@plasticssa.co.za