An assessment of the current levy, including a clarification of the tax treatment of compostable bags, will also be undertaken.
According to Plastics|SA’s executive director, Anton Hanekom, the announcement of the increased plastic bag levy was framed within the context of the green economy and conveyed the impression that the funds raised will be used to mitigate climate change.
‘If the expected R250-million generated from raised levies is used to boost recycling and grow a circular economy, we’d welcome and support the minister’s announcement. However, past experiences, such as the failed Buyisa e-Bag initiative, have shown that government views the plastic bag levy as an easy way to raise funds to pay for other projects that have nothing to do with the environment,’ Anton reports.
PlasticsISA calculates that almost R2-billion was raised through the levy on plastic carrier bags – applied to the manufacturers but passed on to consumers – since it was first introduced in 2004. ‘A section 21 company, Buyisa-e-Bag, was established to administer the funds by promoting waste minimisation and awareness initiatives in the plastics industry, expanding collector networks, creating jobs, as well as kick-starting rural collection by empowering SMMEs and creating additional capacity in non-governmental organisations. However, the project quickly failed, and less than half of the money raised went towards recycling projects. The rest was channelled into the National Revenue Fund and allocated to government departments,’ he states.
Despite the lack of government funding, the local plastics recycling industry has continued recording year-on-year growth, achieving an input collection rate of 46.3% for all plastics in 2018.
‘In recent years, the industry has taken important steps to address the issue of plastic bags polluting the environment. For example, bag manufacturers agreed to remove fillers to produce bags that are fully recyclable. Additionally, recycled plastic material is now used to produce most of the carrier bags sold in South Africa.’
According to Anton, the plastics and packaging industries continue to work in close consultation with the Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries and other interest groups around developing an extended producer responsibility scheme.
‘We hope that the money raised through the levy will be ring-fenced for the recycling industry and that the entire process will be managed with transparency, accountability and clear communication,’ he concludes.