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Speech delivered by Minister Creecy at the Plastic Colloquium feedback session

12 November 2020

Mr Albi Modise – Programme Director
Mr Naomasa Kugimoto - Representative of Embassy of Japan
Mr Jan Huesken - Deputy Ambassador Kingdom of the Netherlands
Mr Anton Hanekom - Plastics SA: Executive Director
Ms Neo Momodu - CGCSA:  Executive: Legal, Regulatory and Sustainability
Mr Simon Mbata - Chairperson: South African Waste Picker Association (SAWPA)
Ms Eva Mokoena - Chairperson: African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO)
Mr Ishaam Abader - Acting Director-General, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries
Ms Mamogala Musekene – Acting DDG of Waste Branch, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

Thank You for joining me today so we can take stock of the work done since our first the 1st Plastic Colloquium held in November 2019. 

The fact that we are meeting in this virtual form and amid these trying times, confirms our common understanding of the urgency to address plastic waste.  It is underlines our willingness to hold each other accountable for the commitments we made last year.

Since we last met, our sector has been hard hit by the Covid 19 pandemic that has affected lives and livelihoods across the world. The dramatic decrease in the oil price in the early phase of the pandemic affected markets for recycled plastic. Lockdown regulations suspended collection and processing activities. Enterprises and reclaimers have been hard hit.

Its important to take this moment to acknowledge significant work undertaken by all our partners both together and separately to ease hardship of the most vulnerable sectors of our community with donations of food, vouchers and other humanitarian support.  These important activities cemented our nascent partnerships in a common spirit of human solidarity.

Perhaps its important for focusing our discussions today to begin with a statement of the problem we are trying to solve. Globally plastic use increases by about four percent per annum, with 322 million tonnes produced in 2015. In the same year it is estimated that SA used 1.5 million tonnes of virgin plastic and only 293 000 of recycled polymer.

Packaging represents the highest proportion of use both globally and in our own country where is estimated fifty three percent of consumption is on packaging.  Packaging typically represents single use plastic and reaches the end of its life soon after production.

Globally only fourteen percent  of plastic is recycled and eighty six percent  is leaked into the environment, landfilled or incinerated.  The World Economic Forum estimates that thirty two percent of all plastic produced is leaked into the environment with devastating effects on water systems and marine biomes. South Africa is considered globally to have the 11th highest mass of mismanaged plastic.

This results from weak household refuse collection systems, uncompliant landfilling, poor levels of public understanding of the dangers of plastic waste on the environment.

Our colloquium last year identified the need for alternative approaches to reduce leakage of plastics into the environment and recover more value from plastic waste. These need to include better systems of collection and sorting, recycling operations and energy recovery processes.

As you are all aware, the Plastic Colloquium wasn’t, and isn’t, an initiative of government alone.  It is a collaborative effort involving civil society and the private sector, both of which are key to controlling and managing plastic pollution. 

As we meet to report back on the work done since November 2019, it is important that we understand that today’s primary task is to now to move beyond innovative pilot programmes and significant local partnerships, to craft a roadmap for our country as a whole to address matters related to plastic waste in the environment.

But before we do this we need to report back on work undertaken by the different partners so far. From the side of government reforming our policy environment is an important starting point.

A major recent success was the approval by Cabinet of the National Waste Management Strategy in September.  This is a significant milestone in our fight against waste, especially plastic waste.  The Strategy emphasises cooperative governance in the management of waste and the allocation of shared responsibilities in dealing with the waste issues.

More importantly, it reflects our ambitious goal of transitioning from a linear to circular interventions as we manage our country’s waste. It is a Strategy that emphasises the need to Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and Recover all waste. The pillars of the 2020 strategy address waste minimisation, effective and efficient waste services, including household waste collection – a key role of local government, compliance and protection of the environment..

As highlighted in the National Waste Management Strategy, Municipalities have a large role to play in managing waste.  At the Waste Management Officers’ Khoro in September this year, the need was emphasised for increased support of, and assistance for, Municipalities to extend waste services and to take advantage of the opportunities being brought by the Reconstruction and Economic Recovery Plan.

We will be using the government’s District Model to expand and strengthen our Municipal interventions on keeping South Africa clean.   The Department is also presently assisting Municipalities to apply for the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) in order to procure compactor trucks that aid in waste collection and landfill compactors for operation of landfill sites.

On 5 November I am happy to announce today, our Department published the regulatory framework on for Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes in our country. We have also published   the Plastics and Packaging Extended Producer Responsibility notice to provide for the post-consumer management of waste plastic products.

The establishment of an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme is informed by collaborative arrangements between the industry, government, SMMEs and waste pickers. These EPR schemes are part of the Reconstruction and Economic Recovery Plan recently announced by President Ramaphosa as key contributors towards Green Economy initiatives.

Annual targets for post-consumer waste management have been set and the producers will be accounting to the country each year on progress towards meeting these targets. We need to applaud the efforts of those producers that have committed these targets even before the Regulations were published. This EPR regulatory framework eliminates free riders in the system.

From 1st April 2020, National Treasury also ensured that the economic instruments also demonstrate an aggressive government response to the plastic pollution problem The levy increased from R0.12 to R0.25 and the interim comparative analysis of the revenue figures between September 2019 and September 2020 show a decline, in the number of consumed plastic carrier bags, a % decrease of 6.2%. 

This Circular Economy policy approach can be seen in the proposed amendments to the Plastic Bag Regulations which were recently published for public comments.  In developing the proposed amendments to these Regulations, the Department and the CSIR conducted studies to inform the evidence-based policy approach emerging policy approach all plastic carrier bags and plastic flat bags being made from a minimum of 50% post-consumer recyclate from 2023, with these being  increased in a phased approach to 100% by 2027.

The combined policy effect on the plastic bag is in line with sentiments of South Africans that require more stringent control on plastic pollution. There are sectors of the South African community that is advocating for a total ban of plastic bag use in South Africa. Government commits to working closely with the industry to avoid any unintended consequences while we explore alternatives to plastic bags to mitigate the resultant socio-economic impacts.

The regulatory framework has been strongly influenced by the various Working Groups set up after our Colloquium last year and therefore includes matters such as ensuring environmental labelling conform to acceptable SABS standards and promote public awareness and influence greener choices on the part of consumers.

Other standards that have been critical to the focus of the Plastic Colloquium are those of compostable plastics. It is not enough to claim that a product is made from plant based material and/or compostable, without the producer assisting the consumer with the necessary infrastructure to support post-consumer waste management.

If we are to look purely at figures, it is clear that actions taken by government and the private sector are resulting in positive change.

In 2019 the total quantity of recyclate used in local manufacturing was 337 700 tonnes, while in total 503 600 tonnes of plastic waste was collected for recycling. Last year over 58 000 income opportunities were created through the purchasing of plastics waste, and R2.065 billion was injected into the informal sector. And, especially relevant in terms of our green economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic, in 2019 plastics recycling is estimated to have saved 244 300 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of 51000 cars’ emissions, from entering into the atmosphere.

Steps are being taken to finalise the Plastic Sector Master Plan. together with other key stakeholders as part of a social compact aimed at supporting the long-term growth, development and sustainability of the plastics sector. One of the themes identified as part the draft Plastics Master Plan revolves around plastic sustainability & circularity of the economy where waste is neither landfilled nor leaks into environment but it is recycled and recovered.

This Plastics Master Plan acknowledges that the circular economy is central in order to reduce the negative impact of plastic waste on our country and its people. The Master Plan makes use of industrial policy to address plastic pollution as part of sustainable consumption and production and supports the sustained growth of the secondary materials economy.

The plastics industry in South Africa has taken the lead in the search for solutions to the waste problem. The activities of Plastics South Africa and the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa in championing the zero plastics initiative are applauded. Through private sector’s efforts, the six (6) Working groups dealing have been meeting since last year’s colloquium to develop new policies and interventions that will address the issue of plastic pollution and integration of circular economy practices.

The efforts and outcomes of these working groups have resulted in a number of encouraging progressive developments. These include product design to facilitate recycling as has happened with the Sprite bottle, and investment in waste management infrastructure such as buy-back centres in areas like the Buffalo City Municipality

A lot of work is also being done by the NGO sector.  These organisations have significantly contributed to national and international activities aimed at assisting South Africa respond to the impact of plastic waste on society, and the economy.

Among these is the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has partnered with DEFF on Research and Development initiatives. These are directed towards finding measures to support policy initiatives to combat marine pollution caused by plastic. Studies indicate that rivers contribute between 10% to 20% of all ocean plastic waste every year. The Marine Plastics and Coastal Communities initiative (MARPLASTICCs) is led by the IUCN in South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique, and uses the integrated life cycle approach which supports a global transition from a linear take-make-dispose model to a circular plastics economy.

Another significant intervention is the South African Plastics Pact, led by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-SA) and implemented through Green Cape. The pact brings together key stakeholders in the plastics value chain – business, Government and NGOs -- behind a common vision to address plastic waste and pollution issues.

The intervention is aligned with the global ambition of more than 400 signatories to the new plastics economy Global Commitment, all of whom are united behind a common vision of a circular economy for plastic so that it never becomes waste or causes pollution.

One of the key objectives of the Colloquium has been inclusivity. We could not aim to address the challenges we face without including stakeholders in the informal sector.  Waste reclaimers are a key part of any plan to reduce litter and recycle waste.  Reclaimers play a significant role in assisting Municipalities to divert packaging waste from landfill. This includes plastic waste. 

While we acknowledge the contribution of the reclaimers in assisting Municipalities to save on costs linked to landfill airspace, we need to strengthen steps to integrate reclaimers into the waste management system and the EPR Regulations provide the foundations in this regard. This requires further collaboration between government, business and NGOS.

The significant efforts and interventions by most Producer Responsibility Organisations, in the provision of free training to new and existing small and micro businesses that intend to collect and recycle plastic waste is noted and appreciated.

The Department remains committed to continue guiding entrepreneurs entering this space as we work towards a future free of plastic waste.

Ladies and Gentlemen it is now time to turn to the key areas of focus for today.  As I said at the outset, we have achieved much under difficult circumstances. Our partnership has consolidated through trying times and shared efforts.

As our country focuses on building back our economy and our society in we join many countries across the world in looking for more sustainable developmental paths.  The circular waste economy presents us with one such opportunity that offers opportunities for sustainable resource use, technological innovation and job creation.

To achieve this we need a common road map to deal with plastic waste that will move isolated areas of good practice to a nation-wide solution to environmental pollution and resource use.  To achieve this I want to suggest we need to focus on a few areas: first and foremost we need to work with local government to improve household waste collection and take firm decisions regarding the roles of household separation and reclaimers; secondly we need to do dramatically more to educate communities about the dangers of plastic waste in the environment and the role they can play in preventing it; thirdly we need a systematic and ongoing programme across the country to clean up our water sources, our wetlands and our estuaries and prevent plastic pollution from entering the sea; we need to take firm decisions to remove a range of single use plastics from our production and consumption processes with clear incremental targets on an annual basis ;  we need to do more to create a sustainable market for recycled plastics and  we must intensify our efforts with regard to product design to facilitate the circular economy and lastly we must research the environmental impact and viability of energy reclaiming from plastic products unsuited to recycling.

I look forward to our discussions

Thank You.


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