Mitigating plastic’s negative public image

19th January 2018 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Creamer Media Online Writer

Mitigating plastic’s negative public image

BERNHARD MAHL The characteristics of plastics, including being lightweight, versatile and durable, allow for a strong contribution to a more environmentally sustainable South Africa

Continued local and international pressure to ban plastic bags and other single-use plastics, as cited in the media and social media, is at an all-time high, says plastics industry representative body Plastics South Africa (Plastics SA).

“Plastic waste management is a critical issue globally, owing to its link to pollution, litter and marine issues, and the plastics industry will have to innovate and adapt if it is to survive this negative wave,” notes Plastics SA chairperson Bernhard Mahl.

Speaking at Plastics SA’s annual general meeting, held in November last year, Mahl highlighted that, ten years ago, plastic was still the “material of choice”, but it now had a negative public image.

“We manufacture for food protection, safety, and leisure, and allow for transportation, quality of life, sanitation, renewable energy, communication and entertainment, covering all sectors including packaging, building and automotive.”

Mahl added that the characteristics of plastics, including being lightweight, versatile and durable, allowed for a strong contribution to a more environmentally sustainable South Africa.

To counter plastic’s negative public image, he suggested that South Africa adopt the visions of the new plastics economy and the circular economy, creating a new way of thinking about the plastics value chain and life cycle.

These economies refer to an inclusive process, from sourcing material, converting material, manufacturing, distributing and retail, to the separation and collection involved in waste management and recycling, with parties involved, including government, company owners and consumers.

Strategic Initiatives
To aid this inclusive process, Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom notes that industry support through public–private partnerships is one of the company’s strategic initiatives, aimed at stimulating and building relationships with government, and allowing for open engagement on matters that affect the industry.

Plastics SA also delivered a presentation on maximising the circular waste economy in South Africa, which will assist in guiding future plans on the waste economy, at the Department of Environmental Affairs’ parliamentary colloquium, held at Parliament earlier in 2017.

Additionally, a critical initiative in protecting the industry is Plastics SA’s participation in the South African Revenue Service’s risk engine, which flags containers for inspection at customs based on certain rules in terms of reference pricing.

“We are monitoring four lines of imports, but these will soon increase to 15, ensuring that products do not enter the country at prices that can either damage our industry or export jobs,” affirms Hanekom.

Further, Plastics SA, in collaboration with manufacturing industry associations, is participating in the MAP-to-a-Million initiative, which aims to create one-million jobs by strengthening and growing the local manufacturing sector.

“The first step is to identify bottlenecks and constraints that the manufacturing industry is facing; it will highlight remedies, the support required from government and indicate the expected growth in the manufacturing sector and, ultimately, in the plastics industry,” he points out.

Moreover, Hanekom emphasises that the circular economy should become the plastics industry’s new roadmap to enjoy sustainable growth.

He says Plastics SA put together a sustainability advisory board from specific disciplines to help drive sustainability forward. “Previously, sustainability growth was limited to recycling waste and its methods; now, with a circular economy focus, we look at adapting products and processes before plastic even becomes waste.”

Plastic Progress
Plastics SA educates society about the benefits of plastics and its effect on the environment, as well as initiates plastics awareness and educational programmes with specific focus areas, target groups and projects.

Training milestones for the company include having had 3 187 learners, for the year ending June 30, 2017, participating in its learnership programmes on offer and three new pipe extruding machines bought for each Plastics SA regional office to be used for training.

Plastics SA has offices in Midrand, in Gauteng, Pinetown, in KwaZulu- Natal, and Maitland, in the Western Cape.

Throughout the year, Plastics SA presents educational programmes to schools about the importance of recycling and how to go about doing so. The company also presents technology days where customers learn more about technology and companies in the field of plastic manufacturing and recycling.

The company also offers customised programmes on injection moulding for managers especially working with automotive components, and pipe extrusion action plans to improve productivity on pipelines, butt welding and bends fabrication.