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Plastics industry responds to South African President’s 2024 State of the Nation Address

The impact of the nation’s challenges is felt by the plastics industry.

Government states that it has taken steps to address the youth unemployment challenge in the country. Despite this, our unemployment rate is the highest it has ever been.

“The plastics industry was identified as a priority sector for the South African economy as it employs 60 000 people. However, the recent economic downturn, energy crisis and labour challenges are forcing many plastics manufacturers and recyclers to downscale their operations and risk the jobs of many workers. Immediate and drastic measures are needed to protect and restore the entire manufacturing sector, but especially to revitalise the competitiveness of the plastics sector,” Anton Hanekom, executive director of Plastics SA said. He also urged government to extend the RAF fuel rebate offered to food manufacturers on diesel for generators to include plastic packaging manufacturers.

“Because we recognise the need for a skilled and trained workforce that can add value in each sector, we continue to provide cutting-edge, hands-on training in the latest manufacturing and leadership techniques that not only address our unemployment crisis but also help to stimulate economic growth and ensure our competitiveness on a global stage,” he added.

Improving infrastructure

Plastics play a crucial role in modern infrastructure, offering versatility and cost-effectiveness in various construction applications. Explains Hanekom: “In infrastructure projects, plastics are utilised in numerous forms, including pipes, cables, insulation materials and roofing membranes. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes are commonly used for water distribution and sewage systems due to their corrosion resistance and longevity. Plastics such as polystyrene and polyurethane are employed in insulation, enhancing energy efficiency in buildings. The lightweight nature of plastics facilitates easier transportation and installation, reducing labour costs and environmental impact.”

The Department of Water and Sanitation aims to enhance water resource management by initiating infrastructure projects to secure water supply and diversifying water sources to reduce dependence on surface water. In addition, government has committed to increasing the construction of infrastructure through innovative funding mechanisms. The industry eagerly awaits the commencement of these infrastructure projects to provide products that will contribute to cost effectiveness, durability and a low carbon footprint.

“Plastics plays a crucial role in the country’s infrastructure and food security. However, we need government support and political will to revitalise the manufacturing sector, support local businesses, and combat the influx of cheap imports coming into our country and eroding our markets,” Hanekom urged.

Protecting the environment

Finding solutions to South Africa’s pollution problem and protecting the environment continue to be a key focus area for both government and the plastics industry worldwide. Hanekom reiterated that plastics have an important role to play in combatting climate change.

“Numerous studies and lifecycle analyses have proven time and again that when plastics are collected and recycled as part of a circular economy, they have a smaller environmental footprint compared to other packaging materials. They can be reused many times over. Plastics that have a one-time purpose can be recycled into useful applications with long-term use, for example, water bottles are recycled into duvets,” he explained.

For this reason, Plastics SA is relentless in its efforts to promote and educate end-users about recycling, supporting the industry with the development of end markets and working with local and national government to improve waste management and collection systems throughout the country.

Over the last few years, government has had to confront the effects of climate change, and in this year’s address, the president highlighted their plans to invest in green energy. He invited the private sector to participate in the expected boom that will be generating green hydrogen energy projects.

“Hydrogen is viewed as a promising alternative to fossil fuel, but the methods used to make it either generate too much carbon dioxide or are too expensive. It is exciting to note, however, that researchers have recently found a way to harvest hydrogen from plastic waste using a low-emissions method that could more than pay for itself and could provide a win-win solution for us,” Hanekom said.

Other growth sectors

Numerous other areas of focus and investment were singled out by the president where plastics have an important role to play. Says Hanekom: “Whether it is stabilising the country’s energy supply, fixing logistical problems or boosting electric vehicle manufacturing, plastics have a role to play in every area”.

It is important to recognise the crucial role that plastics play in the future of South Africa. With proper waste management and recycling initiatives, these issues can be effectively mitigated, allowing for the continued utilisation of plastics in various sectors. The industry’s willingness to support national objectives underscores the potential for positive change. However, political will and decisive action need to align with these efforts to steer the country and its economy towards growth and prosperity. By addressing plastic pollution, while harnessing the benefits of plastics responsibly, South Africa can forge a sustainable path forward for generations to come.


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