Department of Environmental Affairs strives to improve plastic bag recycling in South Africa
12 April 2017
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has noted with concern an article reporting that “millions of branded plastic supermarket carrier bags claimed to be recycled are not,” as published in the Sunday Times edition of 9 April 2017.
The article further alleges that “to cut costs, the plastic manufacturers, known as converters, started adding chalk (calcium carbonate) as a cheap filler to the mix, sabotaging the mechanical process used to recycle the bag.”
The Department takes the allegations contained in article seriously, and will be liaising with the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to ensure that manufacturers of plastic carrier bags comply with the regulatory requirements and standards of their products.
In 2003, South Africa introduced plastic bag regulations in a bold move to address the challenge of plastic bag litter. The regulations essentially made the provision of thicker, more durable plastic bags compulsory. The compulsory specification was subsequently developed prescribing that only plastic carrier bags and flat bags of the minimum thickness of 24 microns can be manufactured or imported into the country at a levy of 3 cents (now 6 cents) a plastic bag. In terms of the regulations, the plastic bags ought to be recyclable, thereby making them more environmentally friendly. The new thickness also made them more reusable.
Since the inception of the levy in 2004, the National Treasury has been collecting the Plastic Bag Levy. The money collected goes into the National Revenue Fund and National Treasury allocates a portion of it to the DEA for regulation of the thickness of plastic bags. The collected levy is not ring-fenced and can only be allocated to recycling programmes following submission to the National Treasury of an approved and clear business plan on the implementation of such programmes.
The money is also used to support recycling initiatives through the establishment of necessary infrastructure for recycling in the country and the implementation of the Compulsory Specification for Plastic Bags (VC8087) through the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications. A contribution of R22.4 million will be allocated the NRCS for research on plastic bags over the next three financial years. As part of its mandate, the NRCS conducts compliance and enforcement of the specifications.
The DEA is implementing initiatives aimed at improving the regulation of the development and implementation of Industry Waste Management Plans in an effort to fast-track effective implementation of the National Waste Management Strategy, which promotes waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and recovery of waste in South Africa. As part of the strategy, and in terms of section 34A (1) of the National Environmental Management: Waste Amendment Act, 2014 (Act No. 26 of 2014), the Department has established a Waste Bureau which monitors the implementation of Industry Waste Management Plans.
The Department has published a call for the development of among others Industry Waste Management Plans for recycling purposes and diverting waste from landfills. The Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan is one of these Plans and comprises various waste streams, including plastic bags. The Paper and Packaging Industry Waste Management Plan provides effective and efficient ways through which plastic bags can be recycled, thereby ensuring that they are diverted from landfill sites.
It is for this reason that the DEA has allocated a budget of R155 million towards regulation of the thickness of plastic bags, and to support recycling initiatives for a period of three financial years. The funds are administered through the Waste Bureau.
The waste recycling economy will not only eliminate threats to the environment but also positively contribute to the growth and development of South Africa’s economy. It is through this economic ingenuity that the DEA will also contribute to sustainable development and inclusive green economic growth thus facilitating employment creation, infrastructure and skills development, and strengthening Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in the waste management sector.
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