South Africa on track with new rules for plastic bags

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment minister Barbara Creecy has outlined the government’s push to phase out harmful plastics and replace them with recyclable alternatives.

In a media briefing on Thursday (15 April), Creecy said a this is in line with the department’s commitment to reduce plastic waste in the environment and prevent the dangerous pollutant from entering rivers and oceans.

“Government is also in the process of amending our plastic bag regulations,” Creecy said. “As a result, from the first of January this year, all plastic bags must be made of a minimum of 50% post-recyclate material, 75% recycled materials from the start of 2025, and must be comprised of 100% post-consumer recyclate by 2027.”

“These targets will be met by ensuring that post-consumer recyclate is made up of household, industrial and commercial waste diverted from landfills, thus further entrenching circularity in waste management and product development.”

Creecy said that efforts here have spanned across the retail and fast food sector where we have seen significant initiatives by the Consumer Goods Council to eliminate single-use plastics, promote changes in product design to facilitate recycling; and invest in R&D to promote new products made from plastic recyclate.

This week retailer Woolworths said it will scrap single-use plastics at 52 additional stores in Gauteng, the Western Cape and the North West, as part of its campaign to make all its packaging reusable or recyclable by the end of April.

The additional stores take the total number of outlets that have dropped single-use plastics to over 200. The move comes as part of the group’s vision to have zero packaging waste-to-landfill, and for all packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2022.

To reach this goal, first announced in 2018, Woolworths said it has made ‘positive changes’ in stores, by using less packaging, less plastic material in packaging and ensuring that all out packaging is recyclable.

It said that the recent rollout of the new avocado packaging to all varieties sees the polystyrene plastic punnet being replaced with a kraft box base made from 63% recycled paper which equates to an annual plastic saving of between 35 – 40 tons and is covered with a fully recyclable shrink wrap.

“We are confident that the new packaging will deliver the functionality that we need. Kraft board is an excellent packaging alternative to plastic in that it is 100% fully recyclable, biodegradable, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC N002141) certified and locally-sourced,” Woolworths said.

A number of prominent South African shopping malls announced the phase-out of plastic shopping bags in 2020.

Liberty Two Degrees (L2D), with a property portfolio including Sandton City, Eastgate and Melrose Arch, now has a ‘no plastic shopping bags’ policy in place.

Other retailers, including Pick n Pay, have also announced initiatives to phase-out harmful plastics.

Read: Woolworths expands plastic bag free stores to these 52 locations

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South Africa on track with new rules for plastic bags