Plastic production has doubled in 20 years

Several initiatives by the government have helped tackle plastic pollution in the country, Barbara Creecy, the minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, said Thursday.

Creecy praised the country for this achievement, noting that several combinations of voluntary work in the plastic sector, including improved household and community waste disposal. She also credited the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes for the same.

"The SA [South African] Plastic Pact has already identified unnecessary and problematic plastic products, and is committed to eliminating unnecessary and problematic plastics," she said on Thursday while addressing the South African Plastic CEO Engagement Breakfast in Cape Town, SA News reported.

Creecy explained that the pact, launched in November 2020 as a part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's global Plastics Pact network, ensured that "100% of all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable," adding that it also made sure "70% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled, and using 30% average post-consumer recycled content in plastic packaging."

She recalled that the government also introduced the EPR schemes in 2020 for the packaging of electrical and electronic equipment amongst other prioritized products.

The minister shared that the circular economy and EPR initiatives have further formed five registered extended producer schemes to support recycling and plastic waste collection.

"Our EPR Regulations aim to influence product design to take environmental considerations into account and are currently being implemented for paper, packaging and some single-use products, lighting, electrical and electronic products," she said.

So far, the government removed 368,600 tons of plastic waste from the country, supported more than 60,000 waste reclaimers and created 7,500 formal jobs.

The minister noted that earlier this year the government "put a restriction of a minimum of 50% recycled content as part of the product design measures for plastic carrier bags" with an intention to make plastic carrier bags and black refuse bags 100% recyclable by 2027.

"Because we share the industry's concerns regarding the contribution illegal dumping makes to the leaking of plastics into the environment, we recently launched the Municipal Cleaning and Greening program."

According to Creecy, the provinces and municipalities partnership has an aim to clear 7,251 illegal dump sites, which would create more than 37,000 work opportunities.

She concluded, "I am confident that with the acceleration of the cleaning program, 100% of the identified hotspots will be cleared by the middle of next year. The workers clean daily and educate their communities on how to dispose of waste in a responsible manner."