Disrupting the Plastic Industry in South Africa

Over the past decade, a number of countries have been looking at ways to reduce plastic pollution including South Australia which issued a nationwide ban on checkout-style plastic bags in 2009. But unlike Australia, South Africa still distributes conventional plastic bags made from petroleum-based chemical materials which release hazardous toxins when they make their way into landfills and the ocean. According to plasticwastesolutions.com, a trillion plastic bags are circulated globally every year (of which only 1 to 2% are recycled). This equates to approximately 10 million plastic bags being used every 5 minutes!

Things may just be changing for the better, however, following the announcement of a new biodegradable plastic bag that was recently invented by a team of scientists in Port Elizabeth. According to Dr Sudhakar Muniyasamy, Senior Researcher in Biodegradable Plastics at the Council For Scientific and Industrial Research, the new bags biodegrade in mud, soil, water and compost in three to six months. Made from maize and sugarcane, these bio-bags are designed for durability so that they can be re-used.

Despite the fact that they cost two to three times more to manufacture, major retailers such as Woolworths and Pick n Pay have already lined up to test the product during its pilot phase. Muniyasamy explained that the new bags can “improve market opportunities and end-user industry, and reduce the amount of plastic waste in South Africa.”

Muniyasamy says that the costs of manufacturing the bags will be minimised if production can be upscaled. “We hope that by September we will be able to give them some pilot samples to try out and we expect to be in the commercial stage by early next year.” There are also plans underway to link up with Plastic SA to educate South Africans on how to use the bags and dispose of them properly.

Sustainability Manager at Plastics SA Jacques Lightfoot cautions that the new bags will have to be clearly marked as not to be mistaken for the non-biodegradable plastic bags that are presently recycled throughout South Africa as this could upset our local recycling industry. One way or another, we hope that this innovation will lead to a massive reduction in plastic pollution across the country.

Want to learn more? Listen to Muniyasamy’s interview with 702 host, Azania Mosaka, below.