The second annual Plastics Colloquium created a national platform for government, the private sector and civil society to establish more effective partnerships to enhance sustainable management, exchange best practice information, identify key economic opportunities from plastic waste, discuss how the informal sector can be incorporated into plastic waste recycling, and deliberate mechanisms and technologies for the effective delivery of waste management services by municipalities and other service providers.
Six working groups reported on progress, successes and challenges since the 2019 Plastics Colloquium.
1. Biodegradable and compostable plastics
Chairperson, Nicky van Hille, explained that in early 2020, the working group facilitated a workshop for major biodegradable and compostable plastics sector players, which recognised the need to embrace extended producer responsibility (EPR), work with the traditional plastics value chain and adopt a solution-driven approach by establishing the Compostable Plastics Association (detailed report published in PPM August 2020).
The group worked with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation/Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)/Wits team to identify suitable products and evaluate alternative materials, advised retailers and brand owners on fit-for-purpose applications, and conducted a detailed review of oxo-biodegradable plastics.
In 2021, it will liaise with DEFF on Section 18 requirements, develop an EPR plan, and build capacity to certify materials and products according to local and international standards.
It will also engage with producer responsibility organisations (PROs) and government on pro-degradant additive management, and the SA Plastics Pact on expanding on-pack recycling labels (OPRLs) to include biodegradable and compostable materials. The latter collaboration will extend to PROs and include clarifying consumer education messaging and highlighting the risks of incompatible material types.
The group’s final priority involves quantifying the size and shape of the biodegradable and compostable plastics sector, mapping the size and capacity of processing facilities, investigating the performance of materials under South African conditions, analysing lifecycle assessments and establishing the viability of local resin production.
2. Product standards and certification
Chairperson, Mpendulo Ginindza, unpacked three product standards and certification challenges, the first being partial funding of the SA Plastics Pact and PlasticsISA’s national implementation of OPRLs. More funding is needed for the system, which outlines updates for packaging artwork with the correct logos for reuse, recycled content and compostability to provide consumers with clear on-pack recycling messaging.
The second challenge is involving all stakeholders in developing quality standards for recyclates (specific grades for specific applications), and liberating more material into food-grade and other high-quality applications.
The final challenge is industry’s role in separation-at-source infrastructure and end-use markets for challenging-to-recycle films, plus the implementation
of Design for Recyclability Guidelines.
In 2021, the working group will develop a comprehensive, accurate and consistent OPRL system for all local retailers and brands, which tells consumers what to do with their packaging. The OPRL system will require effective administration and governance to ensure its integrity, relevance and long-term sustainability.
The National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications will assess amendments needed to align VC 8087 with SANS 695 and consult all stakeholders on the proposed changes.
The UN Environment Programme and Life Cycle Initiative will continue publishing results of the meta-analyses of life cycle assessment studies on single-use plastic products and their alternatives. Each meta-analysis highlights the key advantages and disadvantages of alternatives and distils key messages for policymakers to potentially develop further standards.
The Southern African Vinyls Association will resume its membership drive and roll out its product stewardship commitment and food approval guidelines to other vinyl packaging applications, such as bottles for honey.
3. Product design, development and innovation
According to chairperson, Sanjeev Raghubir, three product design, development and innovation initiatives can be scaled up: the roll out of OPRLs to inform consumers about packaging’s recyclability, Packa-Ching mobile recyclable material collection units, which incentivise communities with poor waste management infrastructure to exchange their recyclables for e-coupons, and the implementation of existing Design for Recyclability Guidelines.
The design guidelines have assisted PETCO members to improve the recyclability of their PET bottles, Sanjeev reported. For example, Happy Culture has changed its labels from metallic paper to non-metallic dairy film printed with regular inks, Diageo has piloted water-soluble glue for its labels, Chill Beverages has launched tonic waters in 100% recyclable one-litre bottles, and Coca-Cola has taken Powerade from full to partial shrink sleeve labels with perforation for easy removal, and introduced tear-away strips on its Glaceau a nd Fuze Tea shrink sleeves.
The key challenges are commitments from brand owners/decision-makers to support circularity, greater collaboration and synergy along the value chain to ensure that each product’s packaging is designed and branded correctly to maximise circularity opportunities, designers and brand owners requiring more guidance on design for circularity, separation at source, and lack of high-quality plastic waste feedstocks and technologies suitable for local water and energy constraints.
Priorities for 2021, therefore, are multistakeholder, multimaterial and value chain collaboration and partnerships, wider implementation of design for circularity guidelines, increasing post-consumer recyclate content that is food-grade compliant, and researching new plastic waste recycling technologies.
4. Integration of the informal waste economy
This working group listed the past year’s highlights as the circulation to municipalities of a draft waste-picker integration guideline, roll out of integration programmes in some municipalities, support for waste-pickers during the Covid-19 lockdown, the start of training and capacity building for integration by Wits and the SA Plastics Pact, payment of reclaimers for separation-at-source services during a Johannesburg-based pilot project (see PPM July 2020), PRO and corporate support for pilot programmes and via equipment donations, industry and waster-picker collaboration for reclaimer-led separation-at-source awareness and training programmes, and reclaimer registrations of waste-pickers and organisations.
Chairperson, Eli Kodisang, cited the main challenges as a lack of space and facilities, including difficulties accessing municipal and government land; ongoing prioritisation of private companies over waste-pickers; lack of core funding for waste-picker and reclaimer organisations (even though integration depends on their existence); lack of respect for waste-pickers and continued exclusion from decision-making processes (collaboration has improved), and lack of payment for reclaimer services.
Chairperson, Matlou Setati, outlined the major infrastructural challenges as poor municipal accountability for the provision of appropriate waste management services, lack of funding access for smaller enterprises, irresponsible consumer littering and illegal dumping, a value chain with too many stakeholders handling and processing waste (adding to the material costs without adding value), and a lack of separation at source in formal areas and mobile/stationary buy-back centres in informal areas. ‘Separation at source is essential for shortening the value chain, improving waste quality and eliminating/reducing potential leakage into the environment,’ Matlou explained.
The working group’s priorities for 2021 are improving collaboration with municipalities to support access to land and develop infrastructure, strengthening industry collaboration to secure funding for joint municipal infrastructure investments, encouraging partnerships between industry and municipalities to establish recycling hubs, consolidating PRO resources to establish blueprints in one or two municipalities, and securing additional funding from the Global Alliance to End Plastic Waste for further phases of the Inkwazi Isu project.
6. Consumer education and awareness
Chairperson, Douw Steyn, reported that PROs and PlasticslSA developed plastics education materials for learners, educators and consumers; PETCO finalised an education strategy with Pick n Pay’s school club, and Polyco launched a pilot educational recycling schools campaign in Langa, Cape Town to establish if Packa-Ching’s marketing support programme increases the volume of recycling materials dropped off at the school.
Scalable initiatives include support for environmental days and campaigns such as Clean-Up and Recycle SA Week and International Coastal Clean-Up Day, Polyco Million+’s social media platforms for sharing easily accessible information, and PETCO’s consumer work to destigmatise waste reclaimers and highlight the valuable role they play. Douw emphasised that these initiatives require a dedicated budget and comprehensive strategy specific to the Plastic Colloquium’s desired outputs.
Roadmap for 2021
‘The colloquium feedback session was an important step for the plastics value chain,’ said Plastics|SA’s executive director, Anton Hanekom. ‘It was encouraging to hear about the impressive progress of the various working groups this past year, despite Covid-19 disruptions.’
Also commendable, said Anton, was the willingness of government and other stakeholders to collaborate on workable and sustainable solutions to reduce plastic waste in the environment.
Five key areas will occupy 2021. The first is developing a proper municipal collection system for waste collected in neighbourhoods. This includes addressing landfill constraints and assessing incineration possibilities for difficult-to-recycle plastics.
The second is clearly defining the role of reclaimers in the waste management process, considering their relationships to household waste collection and separation, expanded public work programmes and municipal public employment systems.
Third is formalising producers into EPR schemes to eliminate ‘free riders’ that don’t contribute financially towards plastic waste collection and recycling of packaging entering the local market. Certain single-use plastics will need to be phased out and replaced with compostable plastics.
The fourth area is ongoing research by the CSIR on the use of compostable plastics and waste-to-energy to provide decision-makers with a clear understanding of how these systems will work – ensuring evidence-based and -driven policies and actions.
The final focus is building on the work of Plastics|SA and the CGCSA in educating consumers about the consequences of littering, the importance of recycling and their role in creating a litter-free South Africa.
Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, emphasised that the entire value chain has to do considerably more about plastic litter because of its serious implications for the country’s water supply, fisheries and other ecosystem services. She has set the 2021 Plastics Colloquium as the deadline for working groups to present a possible system, and governance and financing model for the roadmap to a coherent Plastics Master Plan.
Anton Hanekom added: ‘Although the minister acknowledged that plastics is way ahead of many other sectors in the country, we must keep up our efforts to end plastic waste in the environment. We continue to encourage retailers, brand owners, producers, raw material suppliers and recyclers to join us in one vision, one message and one consumer awareness campaign.’