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Minister Barbara Creecy lays claim to waste reclaimers

26 Aug 2022

Minister Creecy officiates at handover of biodegradation testing and research laboratory at the council for scientific and industrial research

“Good morning and thank you for the invitation to be part of this auspicious occasion which celebrates two important milestones in our quest for more sustainable solutions to Waste Management namely: support for Waste Reclaimers who are the cornerstone of waste recycling in our country; and new laboratory equipment to assist us in testing and ensuring verifiable standards for bio-plastics.

Inadequate waste management poses a significant threat to our environment, causing pollution to soil and ground water and undermining ecosystem functions and services. Marine plastic waste is a global problem that threatens biodiversity and wildlife. Marine plastic litter originates mostly on land from single-use plastics. When these products and packaging are not properly disposed of, they leak into the environment. 

To improve waste management in South Africa we have to progressively increase the number of  households with access to weekly waste collection; improve landfill compliance and look to the future of waste disposal beyond landfilling. In this regard the reduction and recycling of waste plays and important role.

Government is aiming to divert  forty percent of waste from landfill within 5 years through reuse, recycling, recovery and alternative waste treatment.  We aim to reduce the current amount of waste by about twenty five percent over the same period and ensure a further twenty percent of waste is reused in the economic value chain.  

Government has over the past year introduced Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for the packaging, eWaste and lighting sectors. We are currently consulting on extending these schemes for batteries, pesticides and lubricant oils.

Regulations for organic waste treatment, as well as the composting of organic waste, were published earlier this year for implementation. This will help ensure that organic waste, including  food waste, is diverted from landfills and used in composting and other sustainable technologies

Consumers are increasing conscious of the impact of their choices on the environment  and consequently, constantly in search of products that are more environmentally friendly.

At present, bio-plastics represent less than one percent of plastics produced annually. However, rising demand, and an increase in more sophisticated applications means  production capacity is set to increase. Bioplastic alternatives exist for many current plastic products, and we expect consumer choice to drive their mainstreaming and increased uptake over time.

And so regulators are challenged to ensure that the certification systems for these products protect both consumers and the environment. The Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations include a transitional timeframe which affords industry time to prepare for the enforcement of environmental labelling obligations. So that producers can provide assurance in accordance with approved SABS standards,  laboratory facilities with necessary equipment are much needed. 

The services that will be on offer through today’s donation will broaden transparency and ensure product claims can be  tested in accordance with environmental labelling standards. At the same time, the South African Bureau of Standards is currently in the process of developing local standards for biodegradable packaging.

It is estimated that there are between sixty and ninety thousand informal waste reclaimers working at the heart of South Africa’s recycling economy, recovering mostly paper and packaging waste from households and businesses.

Data published by the packaging sector prior to the Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations coming into effect, estimated that waste reclaimers collect 80-90% of  post-consumer paper and packaging for recycling.  

Government, industry and civil society recognise the important role waste reclaimers play in the diversion of valuable resources away from landfill and the need to formalise and protect these livelihoods and the circular economy they promote.

A notable feature of the agreement between UNIDO, the Government of South Africa and the Government of Japan, is the recognition of the informal sector’s role in waste management and the critical link they provide between households and recycling enterprises.

I am excited that the CSIR plans to partner with waste reclaimer organisations  to further integrate them into circular economy waste streams. The planned training and awareness  programmes will make a great contribution to the formalization of this often under recognised and under-valued sector.

Actors in the informal sector need to educated on the differences between recyclable and compostable material, as well as the best practice with regards to identifying, collecting and storing the different materials.

Allow me to conclude by saluting our partners Unido, the government of Japan and our sister Department of Science and Technology  for this important initiative that does so much to promote a more sustainable approach to waste management. Today you demonstrate your commitment to making our world a better place: we all know there is no Planet B!

I thank you!”