Single use plastics ban; Marine Protected Areas expansion

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

27 February 2019
Chairperson: Mr M Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs met with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to be briefed on the banning of single use plastics, and to receive details of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which were proclaimed recently.

Highlights of the brief on the banning of single use plastics included a brief introduction on global plastic use; global and South African production and consumption; data on the country’s recycling industry; the fact that marine pollution occurred due to plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean; and key policies, legislation and regulations. The brief also identified the plastic products prioritised for regulatory control, which were plastic carrier bags, plastic packaging and single use plastic products. It also outlined the preliminary emerging regulatory options on plastic carrier and flat bags, and options on micro-beads in cosmetics. The brief ended with the identification of key stakeholders in the discussion on the impact of phasing out single use plastic products, and the current regulatory work in progress.

The Committee asked about the levy introduced on plastic carrier bags; steps to coerce companies to take responsibility for recycling; how it would manage job losses, based on the impact of phasing out single use plastic; prioritised single use plastic waste management; awareness programmes on the separation of single plastics for recycling; and the waste management plan.

Highlights of the brief on the MPAs which had been proclaimed recently were an overview of the process followed in the consultation on confirming, defining and securing the additional 20 MPAs that would contribute to 5% of the ocean environment of South Africa, and a virtual tour of the MPAs and their importance to the country.

The Committee questioned the process of consultations for the approval of the MPAs; the timelines for their gazetting; why more of the MPAs had not yet been proclaimed the in eastern regions of the country; how MPAs were monitored and managed; awareness programmes on MPAs; why specific MPAs where vital for climate change studies; and the status of shark and whale cage allocations.

Members expressed concern as to what would happen to jobs if prioritised single use plastics were banned, but emphasised that all educational awareness programmes and engagement with industry should be employed, because prioritised single use plastics would be banned eventually. It suggested that the industry could use alternative new technology, such as the production of paper bags and sustainable bio-packaging to create jobs when jobs were lost by phasing out prioritised single use plastics. It encouraged the DEA to continue with the on-going stakeholder engagements with the industry in order to find the best way to reduce job losses when the ban eventually occurred. It also expressed concern about the levy on plastic carrier bags and how retailers were cashing in on the opportunities in the recycling industry. The Committee agreed that the levy was a way to reduce its use, but asked the DEA to regulate the levy collections from the recycling industry.

The Committee said it was aware of the target to expand MPAs to protect them for future generations and eco-tourism, and commended the DEA’s Oceans and Coasts branch for its good story. It was vital that the DEA protect marine areas, and it hoped the DEA would discover more MPAs.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s physical confrontation

The Chairperson said the agenda involved a briefing by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on the banning of single use plastics, and on the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which had been proclaimed recently. He said he had informed the Director General (DG) that on 26 February 2019, after the Working on Fire (WOF) meeting, a young man from the WOF had nearly assaulted him because of the Committee’s resolutions on the WOF. He said he was of the opinion that he would have been assaulted, because the man had been very angry and was confronting him physically. It was always a point of concern when the Committee met and protective services were not available. However, no Members could abandon their responsibilities, as the Committee still needed to hold agencies accountable. He noted that such confrontations would not deter the Committee from carrying out its duty. Also it pointed to the fact that WOF needed to be scrutinised because it was obvious that something was not right. The Committee might need to engage with WOF again before Parliament rose.

Regulatory control of single use plastic products:

Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, Director-General, DEA, invited Mr Mark Gordon, Deputy Director General (DDG): Chemicals and Waste branch, to brief the Committee on the regulatory control of single use plastic products:

Mr Gordon said global plastic use continued to increase by about 4% per annum. The production of plastics worldwide accounted for 4% to 5% of fossil fuel use in 2015, while South Africa accounted for 0.5% of fossil fuel use. The consumption of virgin plastic had increased from 2005 to 2016, although there was a reduction in 2009. There was also an increasing trend to recycle plastics. In South Africa there were 1 800 converters; 53% of plastics was used in packaging; the plastic industry employed about 60 000 people; and about 1.5M tonnes was used in virgin plastics. Also about 329 000 plastics were recycled, and the market size of converters was about R76 billion.

There were some positive benefits in single use plastic, such as rigid plastics, automotive, building construction and poly vinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. In the South African recycling industry, the collection rate of poly ethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles was 65%. Recycling had grown by 59%, but there was very little commercial extraction of fuel from waste products. Studies by Jambedi et al 2015 showed that waste inputs from plastics on land got into the oceans and this had negative implications. The 2015 figures showed that South Africa was number 11 among the 20 top countries that mismanaged waste from plastics.

He outlined the key policy context of regulations by the DEA, and said the priority was to have regulatory controls on the flow of short-lived plastics through the economy due to their consistent presence. These were different types of plastics -- the plastic carrier bags made of low and high density poly ethylene, qnd these are being analysed to establish a recyclable content standard. Others were soft drink packaging and textiles made from PET and polypropylene, polystyrene, PVC and bio-plastics.

An emerging production of bio-plastics was trending globally because of its significant environmental benefits. The DEA was involved in the discussion because it decomposed easily, but the question was how available the raw materials for bio-plastic production in South Africa were. He outlined the standards on plastic carrier bags and bin liners, but noted that although there was a consultative process to legislate the standards, there were concerns by the plastic industry on whether there was post-consumer recyclate to meet the minimum content requirements.

Presently in supermarkets there were alternatives for the use of carrier bags. A levy of 12 cents had been introduced by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) -- the industry charges a token for recycling plastic bags, which results in a charge of over 50 cents for carrier bags at supermarkets. The 12 cents charged by SARS is regulated, but the difference charged by retailers is not regulated. The questions are: what is the impact of the levy on the carrier bags? Would people still pay for carrier bags, or should there be another regulation option to make people disinterested?

The Chairperson asked DEA to clarify if plastic bags had been free before the 2005 regulation.

Ms Ngcaba said plastic bags had been free before the regulation because there was no incentive for recycling plastic carrier bags. There was progress on waste management, but the industry had transited only to its moderate use.

Mr Gordon said a number of shopping outlets, like those at the V & A Waterfront, ask customers to bring their own plastic carrier bags.

The preliminary potential regulatory options by DEA included presently carrying out studies jointly with universities on how to reduce the use of carrier bags as a first option, and the most recent was last week. It involved exploring better management of plastic bags and exclusive promotion of alternatives such as biodegradable plastic bags, paper bags or photo degradation bags. The second option involved using calcium carbonate filler to achieve thickness, but the challenge was on how calcium carbonate affected recycling. Also proposed was an increase in the plastic bag levy.

The first option involved phasing out the use of micro-beads in cosmetics through amendment of the cosmetics regulation under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act administered by the Department of Health. Another option was to promulgate regulations under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) for Section 44(1)(aA) and (aB), or the status quo continued.

If any of the two options was used, the DEA would have to go into a full consultation process. If the DEA was not able to use any of the options, it would have to use a defined source of control such as ultrafiltration, which was expensive.

Discussion

The Chairperson asked Mr Gordon to confirm if micro-beads actually worked when used in cosmetics.

Mr Gordon said only ladies could confirm this.

The DEA had given notice of what was excluded as plastic packaging in the packaging definition. They were shipping containers; packaging made of timber and textile; and plastic pallets and industrial bulk containers with a capacity exceeding 1 000 litres. The DEA had produced a discussion document that said paper straws would replace plastic straws, but people did not like it. Other kinds of alternative straws were bamboo and stainless steel straws, which were reusable. He gave a list of prioritised single use plastic products, such as cotton buds; take away packs; plastic plates, cups and cutlery.

The DEA had started consultations and discussions on how the prioritised single used plastics could be phased out, but it did not want jobs to be lost. He outlined the key stakeholders involved in the joint consultations and the current regulatory work that was on-going.

The Chairperson asked Mr Gordon to give a breakdown of the costs that go into the cost of producing plastic, recycling it and what profit the retailer made.

Mr Gordon said DEA did not have such estimates, but had just shown an estimate of the market size. The data on the 12 cent levy could be collected from SARS, but the other recycling costs and profit could be collected from the retailer.

The Chairperson said retailers might be getting a lot from the recycling, so it needed to be regulated. Even with a lot of campaigns, if consumers bought a lot of goods at supermarkets, they may still need to buy plastic carrier bags. He commented that the DEA was not promoting awareness on phasing out plastic carrier bags, but he would love to see how the use of plastic carrier bags could be made extinct.

Ms J Steenkamp (DA) said that the statistics on global plastics use were high. She asked if there was a chance of getting more recent ones, since the study gave 2015 figures and there was now more awareness of the danger of plastic carrier bags that ended up as waste in the oceans. She asked what efforts were being made to ensure that there was an increase in recycling single use plastics. How could the DEA coerce companies that used poly ethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles to package products to take responsibility after the contents had been consumed? She said it would be nice to know if the growth in recycling had gone beyond 5.9% in 2016. She also asked the DEA to confirm if the recent plastic waste input of South Africa from land to water still placed it in 11th position out of 20.

She asked the DEA to expound on the impact of a phased out ban of single use plastic, specifically with regard to job losses. Was separation at source a plan of the DEA to reduce the use of single use plastics? What was the situation regarding coercing people to separate single use plastics at source in municipalities? What were the chances of locating the raw material for bio-degradable and compostable bags in South Africa? She asked if micro-beads were manufactured in South Africa or if they were imported. Had assessments on the regulations been done before consultation started?

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) said it was understandable that the country wanted to phase out the prioritised single use plastics, but the DEA needed to work out a means to ensure people did not lose jobs. What was its plan to eradicate prioritised single use plastic waste from informal settlements? Did it have any awareness programme to make people know of the challenges prioritised single use plastics could cause? Did the DEA think it was doing enough on plastic waste management, and was there presently an awareness program on separation of single plastics for recycling? She said it was true that people were still buying plastic carrier bags when shopping, even when they were levied, so the DEA had to come-up with other incentives to ensure that people stopped using prioritised single use plastics.

Mr Gordon said the DEA recognised the impact of the replacement of prioritised single use plastics on jobs. Consumers were already getting aware of its challenges and there were already instances of phasing out of its use in some restaurants and supermarkets. A study on the impact of phasing out prioritised single use plastics had been initiated by DEA, and the report would be forwarded to the Committee when it was completed. Global pressure would, however, lead to regulations that would terminate the use of prioritised single use plastics. Education and awareness would have to be continuous, but society had to be involved as well as Government.

Phasing out prioritised single use plastics could be addressed through regulations and incentives. Incentives could be given to households. Regulations on the separation of waste were already in place, but the challenge was that municipalities did not have the resources to recycle correctly. He agreed that the country was not doing enough to phase out prioritised single use plastics. It was a multi-disciplinary process. At the municipal level, a lot of infrastructure still needed to be put in place, and the DEA also needed to create more awareness among consumers.

The amount of plastics produced globally was increasing, and the source had to be looked into before it could be recycled to ensure that virgin materials were not used to produce plastics. If the materials used could be regulated, it would go a long way to increasing recycling activities. The DEA had had discussions with Coca-Cola to recycle its PET bottles in order to reduce its being dumped at dumping sites. Presently, Valpre was recycling its branded drinking water, which was why it had a recycling sign on its PET bottle. Globally, the amount of plastic recycled was only about 9%, and lots of plastic was dumped in South East Asian waters through huge rivers that went through dense settlements.

He said DEA would give updates in written form to the Committee on whether micro-beads were made in South Africa or imported. It would come-up with regulatory frameworks on how to control the use of single use plastics, including plastic carrier bags, by the end of March 2020.

The Chairperson asked Mr Gordon to describe the DEA’s progress on the industry waste management plan around paper and packaging.

Mr Gordon said the DEA had received about 13 plans before the deadline. It had concluded the Government and Department evaluation plans. It was presently engaging with National Treasury on the ways the plans would be funded. It was also looking at the legal implications following certain recent court rulings. It hoped to finalise the industry waste management plan before the end of the financial year, in line with its annual performance plan commitments.

The Chairperson said the awareness programmes may have to start with Parliament, because it used lots of prioritised single use plastics. The affluent generate more waste than the poor, so the awareness should target the affluent areas because prioritised single use plastics had a negative impact on marine areas. He reminded the DEA that it had not addressed the question of job creation and reducing prioritised single use plastics waste.

Mr Gordon said the DEA had started discussions on how alternative new technology that allowed paper bags and sustainable bio-packaging to be produced, could be used to create jobs when jobs were lost by phasing out prioritised single use plastics.

The Chairperson said the discussion on whether jobs would be lost if alternatives were produced instead of prioritised single use plastics, would go on but the global trend was to ban the use of prioritised single use plastics. He expressed concern on what would happen if prioritised single use plastics were banned, but emphasised that all educational awareness programmes and engagement with industry should be employed, because prioritised single use plastics would be banned eventually. He also expressed concern on the levy on plastic carrier bags and how retailers were cashing in on the opportunity in the recycling industry. He observed that it was a way to reduce its use, but asked DEA to regulate the levy collections.

Expansion of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Ms Judy Beaumont, DDG: Oceans and Coasts Branch, DEA, said the branch had a good story that required on-going work, as the Minister and her Cabinet colleagues had endorsed 20 MPAs in 2018 as part of the Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy programme, creating a viable MPA network. The brief would give an overview of the process followed in the consultation, confirming, defining and securing the additional 20 MPAs that would contribute to make 5% of the ocean environment of South Africa.

Mr Gcobani Popose, Director: MPA, DEA, gave background into the public consultation process and bilateral discussions with the Deputy Minister (DM) and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) had that led to the extensive adjustments to the boundaries of the proposed MPAs that allowed for the design of 20 MPAs that increased protection to 5% of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Four focus areas -- marine protection service and governance; eco-tourism; oil and gas; and aquaculture -- were identified. He outlined the process towards a network of MPAs, and said MPAs were a key to sustainable use of the nation’s resources. National Oceans and Coastal Information Management System (OCIMS) had been used as tool to monitor compliance on MPA boundaries. A pilot study by National OCIMS had revealed a vessel fishing in MPAs around Marion Island.

The Chairperson asked if the discovery by Total had been outside the MPA.

Mr Popose said the Committee would be pleased to learn that the discovery by Total was outside the MPA.

The Chairperson commented that Total had discovered oil and gas resources and Shell had been working at Mossel Bay for some time. He therefore asked the DEA why no local oil firm had discovered oil and gas resources.

Mr Popose said the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) gave oil blocks to players all over the country but the reason why local oil companies may have not found oil and gas resources could be linked to finance. However, more detailed information could be requested from the DMR.

The Chairperson said it was not necessary, but it would have been a game changer if local companies such as Sasol had discovered oil and gas resources and made economic progress.

Mr Popose gave examples of how the country could benefit from eco-tourism in MPAs through whale watching. Also National OCIMS had the capacity to do real time vessel tracking, and national and provincial conservation agencies would continue to monitor the coastal boundary and compliance.

Ms Beaumont gave a virtual tour of the MPAs in South Africa, and spoke about why the MPAs were important. Some of the MPAs included the Orange Shelf Edge; Namaqua Fossil Forest; Namaqua National Park; Childs Bank; Benguela Mud Banks; Cape Canyon; Robben Island; Brown Bank Corals; Agulhas Bank Complex, Agulhas Muds; South West Indian Sea Mount; Agulhas Sea Mount; Port Elizabeth Corals; Amathole Offshore; Protea Banks; Aliwal Shoal Offshore; Uthukela Banks, Ismangaliso and Addo Elephant Algoa Bay.

The Chairperson asked if the MPAs had been identified in conjunction with marine scientists.

Ms Beaumont said a team of marine scientists in the Ocean and Coasts branch of the DEA had worked in conjunction with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) to identify the MPAs.

The Chairperson said he had visited Ushaka Marine World in December 2018 and had seen educational pamphlets put forward for the MPA. He was impressed by how some organisations compiled educational materials on the Ushaka Marine World, and asked if the DEA provided educational materials on other MPAs in the country.

Mr Popose said it was not only at Ushaka Marine World that such messages were compiled. Even in Cape Town at the Aquarium and the V & A Waterfront, the DEA compiles such messages jointly with other government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Mr R Purdon (DA) asked how the DEA would manage, police and monitor the offshore areas in the MPA. What other adverts, education or communications was it putting out on the MPA for awareness? Why was the South West Indian Sea Mount important for studies on climate change? He also asked DEA to explain what a submarine canyon was, and to state the timelines for the MPA network.

Ms Mchunu commented that MPAs were important to ensure that South Africa’s marine environment was safeguarded, and welcomed the brief. She expressed happiness on the 20 additional MPAs, but expressed concern over why more MPAs were not discovered in the eastern region of the country. For instance, four MPAs were approved in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), despite its warmer climate, as the discovery of an MPA in a zone would lead to more jobs, education, culture and heritage, and sustainable development in the area. She believed that if more research was conducted, more citizens from the eastern region would also benefit from the location of MPAs in the region.

Mr Popose said marine scientists were involved in identifying these MPAs, and consultation had taken place because of the provisions of legislation before the MPAs were approved. The DEA was mandated by law to cover more areas of the country to locate MPAs, and other studies were being done. It had a constitutional programme through Operational Phakisa, jointly with municipalities, the DAFF and the South African Police Service (SAPS) to monitor and police the MPA environments. Their involvement had led to an improvement in the monitoring of these offshore MPAs because in the past, the DEA had been working alone. It was a clear requirement that the DEA should cover equally the whole of the country in its protection of marine areas but what DEA had depended on was available sites at the time. This did not stop the DEA’s on-going work on the Agulhas 2 to see new areas for protection. In his opinion, there would be more areas to protect, especially in KZN. Location and identification of MPAs was difficult, because the DEA relied on information from marine scientists. Hence more areas would be discovered, particularly with the on-going Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy drive.

Ms Beaumont said two MPAs -- the Benguela Banks and Brown Banks Corals -- were excluded from the MPAs presented to Cabinet because of the amount of interest by stakeholders in the area. The interests of stakeholders included minerals, petroleum and fisheries. The two potential MPAs were put on hold to allow the MPAs that had received agreements to be approved. These two potential MPAs would be considered in future.

The South West Indian Sea Mount was considered to be a potential for research from the climate change point of view. These potentials included the ability to assist marine ecosystems to be resilient to climate change/warming of the ocean; its buffering shoreline that helped protect marine life from flooding; and its ability to provide a benchmark for measuring change. The South West Indian Sea Mount may give a particular indication of healthy ecosystems which a sea level rise and temperature increase might have negatively affected. It also showed the impact on healthy corals. The DEA had held back on an extensive media campaign until the MPAs are gazetted, and this was the process that Mr Popose had mentioned. The DEA was finalising the detailed regulations on what may or may not take place in an MPA.

Mr Purdon asked for the anticipated timeline for gazetting MPAs.

The Chairperson said Mr Popose had mentioned that they would be gazetted before the end of the financial year.

Mr Purdon said he still did not understand the reason for the importance of the South West Indian Sea Mount which was so far out at sea, and the statement that it could buffer flood damage to a shore line.

The Chairperson remarked that the discussions were getting too scientific.

Ms Beaumont said she had given only the generic reasons from an climate change adaptation perspective. An MPA might be important, but in the case of the South West Indian Sea Mount it was vital because of the corals that were sensitive to the impact of varying ocean temperatures. The reasons were generic, but the South West Indian Sea Mount could be used as a benchmark to measure changes.

The Chairperson said Mr Purdon was probably having issues with the phrase ‘shore line buffer,’ and asked the DEA to explain more to him outside the meeting. He asked DEA to state the Act used for the newly proclaimed MPAs.

Mr Popose said the DEA had completed consultations, and it was just waiting for the Minister to sign. The Protected Areas Act would be used for the proclamation of the new MPAs.

The Chairperson said the Committee had received complaints on the whale and shark watching, and asked for the party responsible the regulation.

Mr Popose said the Oceans and Coasts branch was in charge of the regulation. The Minister had just completed a study on shark and whale cage allocations.

The Chairperson asked DEA to give the status of the shark and whale cage allocation.

Mr Popose said the DEA had started issuing licences on shark and whale cage allocations. After 2011, it had introduced new polices to ensure that parties that were previously excluded could become role players in the industry. Four main criteria had been used to consider parties for licences. These were operational plans; transformation score; how many jobs would be created; and readiness. The only challenge was where owners would operate.

The Chairperson asked him to clarify the process.

Mr Popose said that the complaints were high because of the high income generated. The licence issue was part of the process that had been completed by the Minister.

The Chairperson said the Committee was very far from the process, because it involved only the executive. The DEA had not mentioned that there was a convention on biodiversity that addressed the protection of marine areas and off-shore wildlife areas. He was aware that there was a target to expand MPAs to protect them for future generations and eco-tourism.

The story presented by the DEA was good for the country, as it was vital that it protected the marine areas.  He hoped it would discover more MPAs.

The meeting was adjourned.

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