The Polystyrene Association of South Africa says plastics are not the problem everyone has made them out to be and that a lack of appropriate waste disposal infrastructure is the real challenge.

This comes after a Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs identified five so-called problem plastic products before the National Assembly last week. Among these problem products was polystyrene, plastic cutlery, stirrers, earbuds and straws.

Association’s Chief Executive Officer, Adri Spangenberg notes that while polystyrene is one of the items frequently found in the environment, owing to the fact that it is incredibly lightweight and is therefore easily scooped up and blown away by the wind it is a material that gets the job done. “The problem therefore does not lie with the material, but how it is discarded after use,” he explains.

“In our opinion, this highlights the need for proper waste management infrastructure to be developed and implemented by municipalities around the country,” Spangenberg stresses.

Well-developed end markets

He says polystyrene is much more than just a single-use plastic, because South Africa has developed various end-markets that use recycled polystyrene with great effect.

According to Spangenberg recycled polystyrene is in great demand by recyclers, who use the material in the production of picture frames, cornices and stationery.

“The biggest demand for polystyrene, however, has come from the building and construction industry where recycled polystyrene is used in the production of lightweight concrete bricks and screeds,” he explains.

The Department of Environmental Affairs agreed that the country cannot afford a knee-jerk reaction to problematic single-use plastics and has called for a thorough socio-economic impact assessment to measure the effect that alternatives to these problem products will have on the industry, consumers and jobs.

On the cusp of a breakthrough

This is a sentiment shared by the association, “The plastics industry provides employment to more than 60 000 people and the Polystyrene Association has recently unveiled exciting plans that will see this figure increase even further.

“Banning polystyrene just as we are on the cusp of an exciting breakthrough will jeopardize the future employment of thousands of people and undermine the excellent work we have been doing over the last 11 years.  Our industry is committed to finding a solution that will permanently bring an end to plastics polluting the environment,” Spangenberg adds.

The association is set to partner with municipalities to take polystyrene collection and recycling to the people with the establishment of Polystyrene Trading Hubs in the larger metro cities and Municipal Polystyrene Recycling Hubs in outlying areas.