In the past few months, there have been commemorations of World Environment Day, World Oceans Day, and a whole month (July) being dedicated to going ‘plastic free’. This comes on the heels of increased awareness of plastic pollution on land and in the oceans.

Many countries have adopted policies to reduce the use of products such as plastic bottles, plastic straws, and cotton buds.

In South Africa, for several years, the focus has been on reducing the use of plastic carrier bags. It ranged from charging customers for each plastic bag to selling reusable shopping bags. While this has made a slight difference to both the environment and customers’ wallets (how many people always remember to bring along their own plastic bags to the shops?), it has made a big enough dent in plastic products consumption.

Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom penned an op-ed article for Independent Newspapers, pondering this very issue. He said that most of the “plastic alternatives” on the market had not been properly evaluated and tested.

According to the internationally accepted standard for compostability (EN 13432), the packaging has to be mixed with organic waste and also has to be maintained under test scale composting conditions for 12 weeks.

If not kept under ideal conditions, these bags will not biodegrade and are most likely to end up in one of the country’s landfills (also not ideal composting environment) or worse – in the recycling stream where it will contaminate the entire stream and render more material unrecyclable.

On the other hand, when combined with a responsible, well-organised waste management system, a recyclable product not only underwrites and supports a circular economy but also ensures that precious resources are protected and reused for as long as possible.

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