The South African plastics industry is taking solid steps forward to mitigate the negative impact of plastic waste on the environment and society. This is evidenced by the amount of recycling of plastic waste that is already being undertaken in the country and initiatives geared at keeping our water-catchment areas free of plastic litter.
Plastics are affordable, practical and versatile. There simply is no other material that can hold a candle to its myriad of uses and applications. South Africa has seen a notable increase in the consumption of plastic packaging products.
This can partly be attributed to the high demand for health and hygiene products during the Covid-19 pandemic – especially throughout 2020 when very strict measures were implemented to contain the spread of the virus.
The plastics industry grew from 17% of manufacturing gross-domestic product (GDP) prior to the outbreak of the pandemic to 20% of GDP by number.
The per-capita consumption of plastic products is about 24kg per South African citizen and 29kg per person when adding recycled content. Although the last ten years has seen a 35% increase in the use of recycled content in plastic products, the plastics industry is convinced that more can be done and achieved if the country’s broken waste collection and recycling system is fixed.
“34 % of households throughout South Africa still do not have access to formal waste collection. Waste that could have been collected and recycled, is either sent to landfill or ends up in the environment. The majority (64%) of recyclables still come from landfill and other post-consumer sources where it becomes dirty and contaminated. Recyclers have to invest in expensive wash plants to clean the material collected,” explains Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics SA.
“We can have the best products that were specifically re-designed to be 100% recyclable. Unless they are separated at household level and moved to a central place for sorting and recycling, they will continue to end up in a landfill or the environment.”
As the umbrella body representing all sector for the South African plastics industry – including polymer producers and importers, converters, machine suppliers, fabricators and recyclers, Plastics SA plays an active role in encouraging the growth and development of this priority sector. It is currently in the process of developing a clear understanding for the local plastics industry with regards to circularity, its application in the real world and the role that plastics play in a low carbon future.
“Plastics are essential to achieving a low carbon future and the Sustainable Development Goals. They play a vital role in addressing society’s largest challenges, including improving medical outcomes, access to fresh and healthy foods, hygiene and sanitation, modern communication, transportation systems, infrastructure, and employment. For example, through light weighting cars and insulating buildings, plastics reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. These benefits are jeopardized if plastic waste pollutes our environment,” Anton explains.
Mindful of the impact plastic waste has on the environment and societies, the plastics industry is working hard to improve its reputation and reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans and on beaches. To this end, Plastics SA not only promotes the use of plastics as the material of choice and develops the skills needed through accredited training programmes at its three regional training offices, but also actively supports environmentally responsible actions that benefit industry and society.
“Research has shown that 80% of litter on beaches and in the oceans consists of land-based waste. For this reason we have launched a number of initiatives that are geared at keeping our country’s river-catchment areas clean of plastic waste. We work in close partnership with all relevant stakeholders, including various levels of government, Producer Responsibility Organisations and educators to focus on improving waste management and recycling, offering ongoing education, training and awareness in communities around the country,” Anton says.
One such an example is the Inkwazi Isu (Fish Eagle) project which was launched along the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast after flash floods washed up tonnes of plastic litter onto beaches. Later this year, Plastics SA will once again be coordinating its annual Clean-Up & Recycle SA Week (12 – 17 September), which culminates in River Clean-up Day (14 September), National Recycling Day (16 September) and World Cleanup Day (17 September).