New rules for plastics and packaging in South Africa

 ·2 Mar 2023

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) is introducing new certification regulations for plastics in South Africa, as it moves to clamp down on packaging that makes vague claims of being “environmentally safe”.

Dr Sadhvir Bissoon, the acting CEO of the Bureau, said that the new regulations expressly caution against vague environment claims such as ‘environmentally safe’, ‘environmentally friendly, ‘earth friendly’, ‘non-polluting’, ‘green’, ‘ozone friendly, ‘plastic free’ etc.

“Manufacturers that wish to claim their plastic packaging are degradable need to subject the packaging to the relevant testing and certification requirements,” Bissoon said.

The newly published standard is listed as the South African National Standard (SANS) 1728. Under the new standard, packaging and plastics will have to bear new labels identifying the type of plastic they’re composed of, and whether or not they are degradable.

“Degradable plastics include but are not limited to biodegradable, compostable, oxo-biodegradable and water-soluble plastics,” said Bissoon.

SABS said that consumers will need to learn to recognise the correct markings and to be aware that any product that claims to have biodegradable plastic packaging needs to be verified according to the standard, which is aligned with global requirements, said the CEO.

SANS 1728 further requires that the plastic material used in the packaging must be presented on the packaging, using a material identification code from 1-7, and contained in a triangle.

  • 1 = PET (polyethene terephthalate)
  • 2 = PEHD (High-density polyethene)
  • 3 = PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)
  • 4 = PELD (Low-density polyethene)
  • 5 = PP (Polypropylene)
  • 6 = PS (Polystyrene)
  • 7 = all other materials (e.g. ABS, PLA, SAN, etc.)

The new standard brings South Africa more in line with international practices, the SABS said.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), South Africa generates 2.4 million tons of plastic waste every year.

“This means that every South African contributes about 41kgs of plastic waste per year, and about 14% is recycled,” said Bissoon.

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), together with other national standards bodies and standardisation forums, continue to work to provide standards and guidelines for environmentally friendly production and processing of plastics and plastic products.

Recycling signs on products are important as they inform consumers about how to properly dispose of the product, reducing waste and promoting sustainability.

Should the plastic packaging be of a degradable nature, it will be indicated below the triangle, as illustrated below (extract from SANS 1728):

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