By Koketso Mamabolo

Throughout the world, public and private sector organisations are joining communities and NGOs in initiatives and changes which are addressing the impact of plastic waste. South Africa is a global leader in plastics recycling and has developed models that are being used as benchmarks across the African continent. Here we take a look at developments in research and the growth in recycling efforts.


Research for a cleaner future

A few months ago, the Japanese government donated equipment and an automated testing facility worth R5-million, through the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), to the Council for Scientific Research (CSIR). The CSIR now operates the continent’s only facility capable of testing and verifying “imported or locally produced products that are being promoted as biodegradable,” reads a statement from Plastics SA. 

The laboratory is “capable of establishing the conditions and timeframes for the biodegradation of materials.” The CSIR is already developing a solution to the problem of single-use plastics, through products that are made in part from biomass resources such as cellulose and starch. These resources are biodegradable in both domestic and industrial conditions.

Speaking at the handover of the testing facility, the Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Hon. Barabara Creecy, gave context to the importance of the initiative. “Inadequate waste management poses a significant threat to our environment, causing pollution to soil and ground water and undermining ecosystem functions and services. Marine plastic waste is a global problem that threatens biodiversity and wildlife. The services that will be offered through this facility will broaden transparency and ensure that product claims can be tested in accordance with environmental labelling standards.”

The handover was also attended by a key stakeholder in the plastic recycling industry, the waste pickers, represented by two associations. The African Reclaimers Organisation and South African Waste Pickers Organisation each received waste collection trucks to further their capacity to collect recyclable waste.

  • 1 ton of plastic recycled saves 5.7m³ landfill space
  • Europe has a 31% impact recycling rate from plastic
  • South Africa has a 46% impact recycling rate from plastic

(Source: SAPRO)


Plastics reprocessors are represented by the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation. Members “procure sorted, baled end-of-life plastics and reprocess it into raw material.”

Plastics SA

In July this year, Plastics SA joined the global movement calling for a complementary approach, in a strategy that is based on science, to reduce the amount of environmental waste.

“We don’t endorse the call for the people to go plastic free, but we support the appeal for a plastic-free environment,” said Plastics SA Executive Director, Anton Hanekom.

A study conducted by the CSIR, in 2020, found that when shopping bags made locally are reused they have the least environmental impact, compared to carrier bags, which are made from alternative or biodegradable materials.

“Some of society’s biggest challenges are being addressed with the help of plastics,” said Hanekom, “including improving medical outcomes, access to fresh and healthy foods, hygiene and sanitation, modern communication, transportation systems, infrastructure and employment.”

Plastics SA works with a range of stakeholders such as the public and private sectors, as well as educators, to raise awareness and improve the management of waste in communities. 

“Plastics give us reliable performance at an affordable price,” continued Hanekom. “There are many applications of plastics in the healthcare environment, automotive industry, technology, building and construction and mining.”

“More of the plastic used in these sectors are either recyclable, or are being manufactured with a percentage of recycled plastic contents as products designers and developers are grasping the benefits and savings afforded to them by supporting the circular economy.”

World Clean-Up Day

Clean-Up & Recycle SA Week is being held from 12th to the 17th of September, driven by Plastics SA. River Clean-Up Day will be on the 14th of September. National Recycling Day is on September 16. The week ends on World Clean-Up Day/International Coastal Clean-Up Day on the 17th. World Clean-Up Day has seen 56.6 million volunteers get involved since 2018. 

SA Plastic Pact

The plastics industry has come together in an effort to create a circular economy. The industries wants to achieve four targets by 2025:

  • Reduce “problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging”
  • Make 100% of plastic packaging reusable
  • Efficiently recycle 70% of plastic packaging
  • Recycle content of 30% across all plastic packaging


 In 2020

  • 1 739 500 tons of plastic produced in SA
  • 461 500 tons of plastic waste collected for recycling in SA
  • 52 100 income opportunities


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