The Department of Environmental Affairs is considering a total ban on all single-use plastics in South Africa. The department is in the process of consulting with various industry stakeholders and consumer bodies to determine whether a total ban will be the right move for single-use plastics.
The department’s deputy director-general for chemical and waste management, Mark Gordon, says that single-use products such as straws, earbuds and plastic stirrers are particularly harmful to the environment, particularly the ocean. “We have started a discussion document that we have shared with a number of stakeholders and we are in the process of inviting comments around it,” says Gordon.
Consumer awareness campaigns on the rise
The number of consumer awareness campaigns about single-use plastic products has been steadily increasing in recent years. As major supermarkets, restaurants and food and beverage manufacturers move away from plastic, South Africans are becoming more aware of their consumption of single-use products.
The subject of most of these awareness campaigns has been the plastic straw. Many businesses have stopped providing and selling plastic straws to customers. However, other single-use plastics also pose a significant threat to our ecosystems. Products such as lollipop sticks, food wrappers and plastic containers are among the most common plastic pollutants found on South African beaches.
The government is targeting plastics
The Department of Environmental Affairs will focus on the most problematic plastic products first. “We have identified [certain plastics] as the priority products that we need to address,” says Gordon. The department is also looking at the costs of environmentally-friendly alternatives and their availability in South Africa.
“We are really quantifying every aspect of [plastic alternatives] to look at its market readiness,” he explains. “We are still in consultation with the industry, consumer groups and the retailers on how we could phase out or ban these products, and what would be the replacement and alternatives for them,” concludes Gordon.
A complete ban on single-use products would certainly be better for the environment, but it would have negative implications for local businesses and consumers. Biodegradable and compostable alternatives are currently quite expensive to produce and purchase.
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