Government is looking at a number of policy interventions to cut down on the environmental impact of plastics in South Africa.
Speaking at the launch of South Africa Plastic Pact, Oceans and Coast deputy-director general Judy Beaumont said that the Department of Environmental Affairs was looking at amending the current policies around plastic shopping bags in South Africa as well as the introduction of legislation around single-use plastics.
“We are busy with initiatives on plastic bag policy assessment, where we want to determine a new policy direction and to inform amendments to existing policy instruments governing the production and sale of plastic carrier bags,” she said.
“We are also assessing the extent of single-use plastics waste with a view to propose policy options for addressing its environmental impacts.”
A number of South Africa’s biggest shopping malls said that they will be adopting a ‘no plastic shopping bags’ policy across its malls as of 1 January 2020.
Property developer Liberty Two Degrees (L2D) said that it will has also initiated the introduction of recycling drop-off booths across a number of its properties.
A plastic bag levy was introduced in June 2004, at a rate of 3 cents a bag on some types of plastic shopping bags, with the aim of reducing litter and encouraging plastic bag reuse.
The levy was increased to 4 cents a bag from 1 April 2009 and further increased to 6 cents a bag from 1 April 2013 and to 8 cents a bag from 1 April 2016. From 1 April 2018 it was increased again to 12 cents a bag.
According to the 2018/19 tax statistics published by SARS at the end of the year, revenue brought in by the sale of plastic bags via the plastic bags levy increased by R59 million to R300 million for the year.
In 2018 former Environmental Affairs minister, Edna Molewa, said that her department was looking at the possibility of reviewing legislation with a view of phasing out harmful plastic products including straws.
A number of cities around the world have announced bans on straws to fight litter and for environmental reasons, with Vancouver in Canada, and Brisbane in Australia, the latest in a growing list.
At the time, the minister said the possible review would look at plastic products that are seen to be harmful to the environment.
“There are some plastics that are really not helpful. Plastic straws is one of them. It is highly possible that when it comes to that review, we will certainly say that.
“Also just the use of plastic. We agreed as a country that we will just use the plastics that will continue to be manufactured. The thickness thereof would be such that the plastic bags are usable again and again,” Molewa said.
The announcement of a ban on plastics was criticised by industry players and it remains to be seen if the Department of Environmental Affairs will introduce a complete ban on single-use plastics or stick to less drastic reforms.