Plastics SA, the umbrella body representing all sectors of the South African Plastics Industry (including polymer producers and importers, converters, machine suppliers, fabricators and recyclers) has congratulated the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries (DEAFF) on the hosting of a very successful Plastics Colloquium in Boksburg recently.
According to Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics SA, they applaud DEAFF Minister Barbara Creecy’s pro-active approach, openness and willingness to learn first-hand about the many successful projects that the various role-players in the plastics industry have initiated and been running over the past 10 years.
“As an industry, we have been the first to acknowledge the need to reduce the impact plastics have on the environment and ensure that plastic litter does not end up in our oceans, water sources or anywhere in nature. To this end, Plastics SA and the four plastic Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs), namely Petco, Polyco, SAVA and the Polystyrene Association of SA have launched various recovery and recycling projects, with which we have had great success. It was encouraging that Minister Creecy created an opportunity for the industry to showcase these achievements to her, her department and other environmental groups. Instead of blindly bowing to the pressure of anti-plastic campaigners, she expressed a willingness to engage with us,” Hanekom says.
An estimated 500 people representing the entire plastics value chain attended the Plastics Colloquium on the 21st and 22nd of November, which was presented in collaboration with the Consumer Goods Council South Africa (CGCSA) and Plastics SA. More than 50 exhibitions demonstrated the plastics industry and other stakeholders’ commitment to Extended Producer Responsibility, recycling and creating a circular economy. Attendees represented government, civil society, brand owners, recyclers, waste management companies, waste pickers, NGO’s and SMMEs who were all encouraged to attend the presentations, panel discussions and visit the exhibitions.
Speaking at the opening of the Colloquium, Minister Creecy said: “Plastics have been with us since the 1950s. Because it is so versatile, it is used throughout modern society. The material is waterproof, durable, versatile and inexpensive. However, these characteristics are precisely what create so many pollution problems. With the growth in plastic consumption, concerns about plastic pollution are also growing”.
She praised the work done by both government and the private sector in terms of the setting up of infrastructure for the recovery and recycling of plastic and the informal sector for collecting much of these materials, but warned that the evidence suggested much more still needed to be done.
“It is time to combine the wealth of collective experience to relook at the complex and difficult problem. Considering the whole value chain and lifecycle of products, the aim is to develop a comprehensive plan as part of an ongoing initiative that would engage all citizens to create a love for South Africa and the environment,” Creecy said, highlighting the need for a holistic approach to be taken in line with the principles of the circular economy.
“We found it hugely reassuring to hear that the Minister shares our passion to get South Africans recycling and separating their waste at home. By implementing effective waste management services at municipalities around the country, we will be able to get access to good quality, recyclable waste and reduce the burden on our country’s landfills. This will also be a major step forward in preventing plastic from entering our rivers and, eventually, the sea,” Hanekom says.
Another major focus at the Plastics Colloquium, was the importance and value of creating a circular economy. “Waste can be converted into value. Every ton of waste that ends up on dumpsites creates one job opportunity. However, every ton of waste that gets recycled, creates 18 jobs,” the Minister stressed. Key to creating a circular economy is ensuring that plastic products and packaging are designed with their recyclability in mind. To this end, the challenge was made to brand owners, packaging designers and manufacturers to design products that are not only fit-for-purpose, but also environmentally responsible.
Looking ahead and explaining what the next steps will be, Hanekom says the Minister and her team will be drawing up a Master Plan, consisting of targets and timeframes, in consultation with industry.
“The working groups of the SA Initiative to End Plastic Waste will continue their work and will be giving quarterly feedback to the Minister about their progress. They have been tasked to develop evidence-based solutions that will fit our unique South African context, and come back with suggestions and recommendations. A second Plastics Colloquium is proposed for next year to monitor the progress made and ensure that the plans are implemented effectively and that all of the talking that has happened until now, doesn’t end up as empty promises,” he explains.
“We are optimistic about what the future holds for the plastics industry and the rest of the country as a whole. It is clear that for the first time in many years a relationship of trust has developed between government, industry and other role-players. There is a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to work shoulder to shoulder to find the best solution possible for everybody concerned,” Hanekom concludes.
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