The end is nigh for plastic bags, whether we like it or not

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The end is nigh for plastic bags, whether we like it or not

Plastic bags used to mark World Plastic Free Bag Day are the first in SA to be compostable and recyclable

Dan Meyer

They may not have known or noticed it, but shoppers at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town made a bit of history on Tuesday.
The plastic bags used in the shopping centre’s Pick n Pay to mark World Plastic Free Bag Day were the first in South Africa to be compostable and recyclable.
They came from the Really Great Material Company, which has the South African rights to import high-grade Mater-Bi resin from an Italian bioplastics pioneer and industry leader, Novamont.
The resin is used to manufacture biodegradable bags which were handed out for free to shoppers on Tuesday, as well as being used for fruit and vegetables and as barrier bags.
“It has been used by a leading South African conventional plastic bag manufacturer to produce bioplastic bags with only minor adjustments to its machinery,” said Andrew Smith, who established the Really Great Material Company (RGMC) with Andrew Pollock and Arthur Williams in Cape Town a year ago.“Bioplastic products are widely used in Italy and increasingly elsewhere in Europe, North America and Australia, but this is the first time they have been introduced in South Africa.”
Conventional plastic products are manufactured from petroleum oil and are not biodegradable or compostable. “Bioplastic products are derived from renewable resources such as starch, cellulose and vegetable oils,” said Smith.
“They do not contain polyethylene or polypropylene, and are fully biodegradable and compostable. They come from nature and can be returned to nature.”Pick n Pay chairperson Gareth Ackerman said a lot had been done in the past 15 years to encourage customers to move away from single-use plastic carrier bags, but there was still a long way to go.
“Sustainable solutions require all parties involved  to work together collaboratively,” he said, adding that government had a key part to play.
“Without clear integrated waste management plans, and investment in infrastructure from government, we will never on our own as retailers be able to make a sustainable impact. Simply put, government needs to intensify its commitment to recycling and waste management,” he said.
Pick n Pay transformation director Suzanne Ackerman-Berman said the bioplastic bags would break down after three to six months, compared with 500-1,000 years for traditional plastic bags.
“Customers can also bring the bags back to our stores and we will take them to a Pick n Pay composting facility,” she said.Smith said Tuesday’s event was “the start of a long journey with a single step. Consumers need to fully understand the difference between bioplastics and petroleum-based plastics.
“They need to fully appreciate the pollution being caused by conventional plastic products, with the most topical example being the millions of tons of single-use plastic waste now threatening marine life in the world’s oceans.
“Compostable bioplastic bags are significantly more expensive than conventional products but a strong factor in their favour is that government will increasingly be forced to impose taxes on conventional plastic products and restrict their use as municipal landfills run out of space and environmental problems mount.”A whale skeleton made out of plastic bags and bottles arrived at the V&A on Tuesday, and shoppers can go there to swop their old plastic bags for a reusable bag made from recycled plastic bottles
“By appealing to our tenants and staff and educating visitors to support our vision for a more sustainable plastic-free future, the V&A Waterfront can drive meaningful environmental change and become a bulwark between a sea of plastic waste and the ocean,” said V&A operations executive Andre Theys.
The V&A bags have been produced by Township, a women-owned community-based sewing and craft co-operative that uses recycled material to create corporate bags, fashion accessories and shopping bags.

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