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Opening remarks by the honourable Minister Barbara Creecy, at the South African Plastic Pact CEO engagement breakfast, Cape Town


30 November 2023



Mr Saliem  Fakir – Executive Director, African Climate Foundation

Mr Eric Leong Son – Head of Sustainability, Heineken



Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good morning.


The United Nations Environment programme tells us that around the world, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, while up to five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes – used just once and then thrown away. 


A recent Business Day article said that by 2050 there will be so much plastic in the sea that its volume will equate to 33 billion elephants!


Plastics including microplastics are now becoming part of the earth's fossil record and a marker of the Anthropocene, our current geological era. They have even given their name to a new marine microbial habitat called the "plastisphere".


Globally pressure has been increasing to secure multilateral efforts on tackling plastic pollution. In 2022, the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA5) decided that a legally binding instrument should be developed to coordinate global efforts to end plastic pollution.


The third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee met earlier this month to consider the zero-draft text of this instrument. One of the key obligatory measures proposed by the zero draft-text of the legally binding instrument is the reduction of problematic and avoidable plastic products, including short-lived and single-use plastic products and products with intentionally added microplastics.


I have been briefed by the South African negotiators that were in Nairobi (INC-3) that although South Africa and other member states called for intersessional work to exchange information on problematic and avoidable plastic products, consensus could not be reached at the third meeting.


This is disappointing news and reflects the difficult road which lies ahead for effective action at a global level to combat plastic pollution.  I am, however, pleased to say today that through the SA Plastics Pact and other forms of government action, our country is making progress in addressing plastic pollution.


Four and a half years ago when I was appointed to this Ministry, I was lobbied to ban short-lived and single use plastics. At that time, I had to weigh up the consequences of this action for the plastics industry and the likelihood of such a ban being enforceable.


Having weighed up the issues I concluded that a combination of voluntary approaches to the plastics industry coupled with improved household and community waste disposal and the creation of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes was a better option.


Through this approach I am pleased to say that the SA Plastic Pact has already identified unnecessary and problematic plastic products and is committed to eliminating unnecessary and problematic plastics; ensuring that 100% of all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable; ensuring that 70% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled; and using 30% average post-consumer recycled content in plastic packaging.


The targets set were for 2025 and I look forward today to hearing progress that the Pact has made in achieving these targets.


Ladies and Gentlemen


From the side of government in 2020 we adopted The National Waste Management Strategy, which prioritises three strategies to:

  • Support and strengthen municipal waste management services to prevent plastic leaking into the environment;

  • Increase waste diversion from landfill through various approaches including EPR schemes to collect, reuse and recycle plastic waste with the aim of promoting a circular economy in the plastic industry;

  • Promote public awareness and clean up campaigns to remove plastic waste from rivers, wetlands, and beaches. Enforcing compliance is also an area of focus.


In 2020, Government also introduced the Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations which called for EPR schemes for plastic packaging and electrical and electronic equipment amongst other prioritised products. This circular economy and EPR initiatives have resulted in the formation of 5 registered extended producer schemes that support plastic waste collection and recycling.


Our EPR Regulations aim to influence product design to take environmental considerations into account and are currently being implemented for paper, packaging and some single use products, lighting, electrical and electronic products.


These efforts have removed of 368 600 tons of plastic waste from the environment; they have supported between 60 000 and 90 000 waste reclaimers as well as creating seven and a half thousand formal jobs.


In 2023, Government put a restriction of a minimum of 50% recycled content as part of the product design measures for plastic carrier bags. The intention is that by 2027 Plastic carrier bags and black refuse bags should be made from a hundred percent recycled material.


Because we share industry’s concerns regarding the contribution illegal dumping makes to the leaking of plastics into the environment, we recently launched the Municipal Cleaning and Greening programme. This partnership with provinces and municipalities targets clearing 7251 illegal dump sites, by creating more than 37 000 work opportunities under our public works programme.


By the 30 September this year, we had cleared 1299 or nineteen percent of the sites. I am confident that with the acceleration of the cleaning programme 100% of the identified hotspots will be cleared by the middle of next year.  The workers clean daily and educate their communities on how to dispose of waste in a responsible manner.


Through the Top 40 programme, government has prioritised 40 municipal landfills for improved compliance through a public/private partnership model currently championed by Infrastructure South Africa. Together with COGTA and National Treasury we have revised the Municipal Infrastructure Grant Policy so municipalities can purchase yellow fleet to improve household collection and improve landfill management.


Since the initiation of this programme, our department has processed applications for specialised waste management vehicles from over 100 municipalities across the country. In the last two years we have spent over one hundred and sixty-four million rand to buy 44 waste collection vehicles and 21 landfill management waste vehicles for 58 municipalities.


Ladies and gentlemen,


As we collectively assess the contributions our voluntary work has achieved, we will need to evaluate the role of regulation and enforcement in taking forward our collective effort to reduce plastic pollution. Our experience in the extended producer schemes is that the Green Scorpions have an important role to play in targeting free riders and those refusing to comply.

Going forward we now know that if we do not address problematic plastic products, they threaten the reputation and hence the future of all plastic products. Consequently, we will need regulatory instruments to ensure greater compliance in removing problematic plastics from our ecosystem and ensure those who have refused to join the Plastics Pact also comply with the systematic changes we are trying to implement.


Let me take this opportunity to thank you all for the work we have done together thus far. Because our journey is long, we will need to continue together, because together we can lead the change both people and nature need from us.


I thank you.


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