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Recycling is no longer a voluntary matter. It is now mandatory for all producers, brand owners, and importers of packaging material.

Waste is the scourge of any society; it damages the environment, is an inefficient use of material resources, and it’s akin to throwing money away. Every year South Africa generates 108 million tons of waste, and 90 percent of it ends up in landfills which are quickly reaching capacity. As the world battles with the effects of climate change and disrupted supply chains, reducing waste is becoming an even more critical issue for sustainable development.

Paper and plastic waste have a visible impact on the environment, for example, through deforestation and islands of plastic in the ocean. With that in mind, the South African Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries (DEFF) has published Section 18 Regulations to the National Environmental Management: Waste Acts that affect the;

  • Paper industry, 
  • Packaging & some single-use packaging industry, 
  • lighting industry and 
  • electric & electronic industry.

The regulation comes from an understanding that to protect the environment and reduce wastage, producers must take responsibility for a product throughout its lifecycle; starting with where and how it sources raw materials, designs its products, consumers use the product, it can recover products and how to recycle or reuse the products. The National Environmental Management Waste Act (NEMWA) refers to this as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

EPR holds a company financially and physically responsible for its products even after the post-consumer stage. The regulations came into effect on 5 May 2021, and companies must be compliant by 1 November 2021.

Under the Extended Producer Responsibility regulations, companies will be responsible for;

  • Collecting products after the consumer stage
  • Reusing waste products
  • Recycling products
  • Energy recovery and 
  • Disposal of their products in the post-consumer stage

Implementing an extended producer responsibility scheme

To comply, companies must either establish an extended producer responsibility scheme within their structures or join an established producer responsibility organisation (PRO) such as Polyco and PETCO. PROs like PETCO are preparing for the new regulations by diversifying into multi-materials to help their members become compliant. To be eligible, both the internal and the PRO must have approval from the DEFF.

The extended producer responsibility scheme must encompass the entire value chain. The company or PRO will ensure the payment of a fee to fund the extended producer responsibility scheme’s operations and performance which will include;

  • Maintaining independently audited books and making them available to the DEFF annually or on request. The scheme will also be responsible for collecting, recording, and submitting data to the South African Waste Information System.
  • Conducting a product life cycle assessment to find changes in the product’s design, composition, or production that can reduce inputs, make it environmentally friendly, and prevent waste or lower toxicity.
  • Using an internal downstream value chain or outsourcing the service to sort, collect, recover, and recycle waste.
  • Working with waste management companies, informal waste pickers, and municipalities for collection and recovery of recyclable waste.
  • Recording quantities of products in the market and waste generated by the products along with data on collection, sorting, recycling, and recovery of the products. 
  • Developing and establishing secondary markets for recycled products.
  • Establishing and nurturing the growth of black, young, disability and female lead companies within their operations.

Companies and PROs will propose an extended producer responsibility fee for participants to the government for approval. The fee will be based on full cost recovery, and the rate will differentiate each item category and category class. The following factors will determine the fee; 

  • Weight of the product.
  • Whether it can easily be recycled.
  • The demand of the material for recycling.
  • The costs of establishing a separate waste collection system.
  • The collection, transport, and treatment costs for collected waste.
  • Administrative costs.
  • Costs for public communication to raise awareness.
  • Minus the revenues from recycled material sales the scheme makes.

Failure to comply with the regulations will result in a fine, penalty, or imprisonment.

Extended producer responsibility scheme for paper, packaging, and single-use products

The regulations apply to any individual or organisation that manufactures, converts, distributes or imports paper, packaging, and single-use products into South Africa for commercial purposes. The regulations apply to waste from;

  • Paper and paper packaging material; such as milk cartons, printing paper or cardboard.
  • Plastic packaging; including polyolefin, polyethene terephthalate (PET) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
  • Biodegradable and compostable plastic packaging; namely raw materials that comply with SABS or ISO standards 17088.
  • Single-use plastic products; like garbage bags, pallet wrap, cups, tubs, cutlery, bottles, containers, jars, straws or trays
  • Single-use compostable plastic products;
  • Single-use biodegradable plastic products;
  • Glass packaging; such as bottles and jars
  • Metal packaging containers; such as aluminum, steel or metal products.

The inclusion of producers, brand owners, and importers is purposely broad to create a fair scheme. This is partly because if the regulations only applied to producers, it would create an environment where importers have lower costs and could potentially ship manufacturing jobs abroad.

The inclusion also gives everyone in the supply chain a stake in the implementation of the scheme. For example, without their inclusion, the manufacturer of milk cartons has less pressure to collect them after use since it’s not their brand on the line; similarly, the milk brand has the final say on product design, so a policy that only targets carton manufacturers wouldn’t be as effective.

The government has set strict annual collection and recycling targets for the first five years after implementing an EPR scheme. So, once a company has started or joined an EPR scheme, it will have five years to reach recycled content, reuse, collection and recycling targets. The targets vary according to each type of product.

If you need more information on how your company can become compliant, benefit from professional waste management and reach its EPR targets, then contact us for expert advice.

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