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Is the regulation of single-use plastic in South Africa a waste of time?

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The aim of a partial or complete ban of the use of single-use plastic in food packaging would be to reduce the amount of plastic waste that plagues South Africa and results in pollution to both our land and water resources. The reduction of plastic pollutants is not only important for the short term health of animals, plants and humans but it is critical to ensure that these resources are preserved for future generations. As such, in curbing plastic pollution we would also be meeting one of the objectives of the National Environmental Management Act1 as well as numerous obligations we have as signatories to international agreements. Measures to regulate the use of single-use plastic bags have been implemented in some international jurisdictions already. These are useful to consider for both their suitability for implementation in South Africa and to identify any challenges that may have resulted and may be relevant to South Africa. South Africa is already behind many countries that have to date either partially or completely banned certain plastic products and therefore if we do not act soon, we will find ourselves under increasing pressure from the international community to conform. The banning of these products is best approached in phases and manufacturers and consumers need time to adapt in order to avoid negative consequences that may result. It is therefore important that we expedite this process as it will take some time to finalise. here are a number of potential challenges to the implementation of bans of single-use plastic. For South Africa in particular, the economic impact of a partial or total ban of single-use plastic will be an important consideration for a country that can ill afford a loss of jobs in the single-use plastic manufacturing industry. The consideration of this aspect in the paper and whether such challenges can be overcome is important given the economic downturn being faced by South Africa currently. However, whilst these challenges may exist, the conclusion is that regulating the manufacture and use of single-use plastic in South Africa is not a waste of time. This is quite simply because the scourge of plastic waste is not an issue that we can continue to ignore nationally or globally. It will have a devastating effect on our environment and it is imperative that we all apply our minds to how government, business and individuals can best deal with the problem before it is too late.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.