On Thursday, government gazetted a raft of strict new regulations requiring manufacturers of plastic packaging, electronics, glass bottles, and cardboard, among other goods, to include an increasing amount of recycled material in their products. They must also take responsibility for where their products end up.
The new rules are aimed at drastically reducing the amount of waste that enters South Africa’s landfill sites.
Under the new Waste Act, which is part of National Environmental Management legislation, “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) is placed on the manufacturers, distributors, and importers of a long list of products.
It’s an exhaustive list of virtually all consumer items, including electronic and electric equipment, as well as metal, steel, tinplate and aluminium products, and plastic packaging and products (including cutlery, cups and garbage bags). All kinds of lighting products including lightbulbs, solar and even car lights are included, as well as paper products like newspapers and magazines.
For many of the products, producers must now make sure that, after consumers have used their goods, the items are collected or returned and then reused or recycled. Producers must work with waste management companies, as well as informal waste collectors, to establish collection and recycling schemes within the next six months.
So, for example, producers of lightbulbs (incandescent filament lights) must introduce a scheme that – after the first year it took effect – has collected 50% of all their used bulbs from consumers. After five years, 70% of all used bulbs must be collected.
For LED lights, 5% of lights that can’t be used anymore must be collected after the scheme’s first year. After five years, the target is 20%.
There are also steep collection targets for everything from office paper to PET plastic beverage bottles. More than 70% of these bottles must be collected within a year of the scheme’s launch.
Producers must be registered with the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment, must submit regular audits about their schemes, and must pay an “extended producer responsibility fee”.
Different products also received new targets to include recycled content.
For example, all single-use plastic products – including food packaging, garbage bags, cups and cutlery – must contain 8% of recycled material after the first year of the scheme. After five years, this must hit 20%.
All glass packaging must contain 20% recycled content after the first year, and 50% by the fifth year. Plastic PET beverage bottles must contain 10% of recycled content after a year, and 20% by the fifth year.
Producers will have to submit information about the “life cycle” of their products, reduce the consumption of natural resources, and show that products are designed to be more environmentally friendly.
Under the regulations, offenders can be imprisoned for up to 15 years, or fined, or both.