South Africa has just adopted strict new rules that will require plastic bags to be made from recycled material – totally so, within a couple of years.

All plastic carrier bags and plastic flat bags used in South Africa – including imported bags – must contain a minimum of 50% recycled materials from 1 January 2023, under the new rules gazetted on, and so in force from, Wednesday.

From 1 January 2025, bags must be manufactured from 75% recycled material, and from 1 January 2027, the whole bag must be made from “post- consumer recyclates”, which are defined as material generated by households or businesses which can no longer be used for its intended purpose.

The new amendment to regulations, under the auspices of the Environment Conservation Act, also holds that those who break the rules may be fined up to R5 million, with a maximum prison sentence of up to five years possible.

In the case of a second or subsequent conviction, fines are hiked to a maximum of R10 million and imprisonment of 10 years.

In November last year,  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 recycled-plastic minimums were intended to “promote resource efficiency (that is, the use of recyclate as opposed to virgin materials),” said environment minister Barbara Creecy about what were then draft regulations.

“[It is also to] improve waste management and create a demand for waste materials; increase circularity, recycling and recovery and to improve the design of environmentally sound bags and mitigate the economic impact of an outright ban of plastic carrier and flat bags.”

Environmental lobby groups have called for such an outright ban on plastic bags, and in some cases have demanded that it be implemented immediately.