Closing the lid on plastic production
On 2 July 2021, the ban on Single-Use Plastics (“SUP”) took effect in the European Union. The ban halts the sale in EU markets of the 10 plastic products that most commonly wash up on the continent’s shores. These include, among other items, plastic bottles cups, cutlery, straws and plates, as well as Styrofoam food and beverage containers. All plastic packaging on the EU market must be recyclable by 2030, and the use of microplastics circumscribed (PBS.org).
While aggressive action is taken in the EU, the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (“DFFE”) Minister, Ms Barbara Creecy is not yet confident that a plastic ban can be enforced in South Africa. “I’m a great fan of carrots. But, of course, if you don’t like carrots, you might need a stick. We are seeing a shift and quite a significant shift. And I think that what we will have to measure is whether there’s a consistent shift.” As an alternative to the ban, the Minister proposed that plastic producers take financial responsibility for the waste associated with the lifecycle of the material. South Africans raise concerns on this proposal, indicating that thousands of rands have been spent on paying for plastic bags at supermarkets since inception of the “polluter pay principle”, yet they still continue to sell plastic bags, in millions, to customers.
According to the Daily Maverick, almost 80 000 tonnes of plastic find its way into the oceans and rivers of South Africa each year. About 2,3 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated in South Africa per annum. The number of consumer awareness campaigns about single-use plastic products has been steadily increasing in recent years. As South Africans are becoming more aware of their consumption of single-use products, heated debates ignite as to why a renewable resource, paper, has not yet been enforced as an alternative. Forests and plantations in SA cover over 40 million ha of the country’s land surface area. According to the DFFE, the forest and timber sector employs around 165 900 workers and provides about 62 700 direct jobs and 30 000 indirect jobs. Forestry provides livelihood support to 652 000 people of the country’s rural population. An increase in afforestation targets, due to a demand in paper as an alternative, will have a two folded benefit; expedite the replacement of plastics products with paper products and, expedite the SA’s processes to reach Net-Zero Carbon footprint by 2050.