Is South Africa ready for bioplastic packaging?

Plastics SA invited experts to discuss the impact of bioplastics in South Africa. Plastics SA hosted a talk on bioplastics in Johannesburg on 2 June 2015. During the event, a special award was handed over to South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Rejoice Mabudafhasi,in recognition of her support as patron of Plastics SA’s annual Clean-Up and Recycle Week for the past 13 years. 

Renowned expert Prof. Dr Christian Bonten from the Stuttgart University in Germany was one of the speakers at the event. He was also one of the keynote speakers of the African Marine Debris Summit, which took place in Cape Town from 3 to 5 June.

Prof. Dr Bonten explains that the term bioplastics refers to a variety of materials, including biodegradable plastics and bio-based plastics, which are materials made from renewable resources like sugar cane or starch. He notes that not all biodegradable plastics are made from natural materials and, at the same time, not all bioplastics are biodegradable.

At the talk, Prof. Dr Linda Godfrey, a principal researcher of the CSIR, shared information on the possible impacts of bioplastics on South Africa’s waste and secondary resources economy at the event. ‘About 90 per cent of waste in South Africa is still going to landfill. We estimate that the value of resources the country is losing to landfills is around R17 billion per annum,’ she explains. These materials could be recovered and reintroduced into the country’s manufacturing economy.

According to her, various factors, including the fact that a high percentage of materials are going to local landfills, has created the perception that the country should be using more biodegradable products. She explains the perception is that these packs will be able to breakdown in the environment before they cause long term impacts.

‘The question is what the opportunities are for biodegradable plastics in the discussion. Information from European Plastics suggests that there are niche markets where biodegradable plastics make sense, especially in agriculture and horticulture where packaging and content is very similar,’ reports Godfrey.

‘The concept of a circular economy is that we create products that we can recycle and return back into the manufacturing sector.’ She notes that the major growth is around bio-based substrates that are sourced from plant materials but can be treated and recycled in exactly the same way as traditional fossil-based packaging. She recommends that packaging manufacturers do a thorough lifecycle analysis of products using bioplastics to identify the sustainability of these materials in comparison to tradition substrates.

She mentioned that some of the global drivers behind the use of bio-plastics include:

  • The price of oil
  • Resource scarcity
  • The opportunity to establish new “green” economic sectors
  • Public concern and interest in the environment and climate change
  • The end-of-life of landfills
  • Environmental policies that promote the use of bio-based materials

IMAGE CAPTION: The Plastics SA bioplastics talk hosted speakers Prof. Dr Christian Bonten; Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi; Prof. Dr Linda Godfrey; Anton Hanekom, executive director at Plastics SA; and Douw Steyn, sustainability director at Plastics SA



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