South Africa’s Department of Environmental affairs has entered into talks with industry bodies to ban or phase out certain plastic products, like plastic straws and plastic earbuds.

The department’s deputy director-general for chemical and waste management, Mark Gordan, mentioned the negative impacts of single-use plastics on the environment, making a special note of the effect on marine life. Gordan stated that, “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. I think we presented previously around this on what would be their replacements.   We know that to some extent there has been a replacement of plastic straws with paper straws and I am not sure if everybody likes it. There are bamboo straws, there are stainless steel reusable straws.”

Consumer awareness campaigns have, in part, been driving a recent consciousness about single use plastics. Movements like “the last straw”, “ditch the straw” and “refuse the straw” have drawn attention to the negative effects of single-use plastics.

Gordan noted the pervasiveness of plastic items like earbuds, straws, stirrers, plastics like table cups, tableware, and polystyrene packaging, saying that “We have identified those five as the priority products that we need to address and we are doing this in a matrix where we look at these products – what are the compostable alternative availability, the cost of the alternative, the market readiness in terms of availability in South Africa – and we are really quantifying every aspect of this to look at its market readiness.”

The department is working in partnership with the plastics industry, consumer groups and retailers in order to find a solution.

The decision comes after previous talks about the impact of micro plastics on Gauteng’s water. The department is currently introducing consumer awareness campaigns that aim to encourage the public to avoid using plastic straws. South Africa currently uses approximately 1.8 million tons of plastic each year, of which 16% is sourced from recycled materials.