Industry closing the loop toward a circular plastic economy: the South African Plastics Pact

TO reduce the negative environmental impacts of plastics and accelerate the transition from a linear plastic material flow to a closed loop or circular flow situation, the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-SA) and the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO) are spearheading the development of the South African Plastics Pact.

The partners also have the support of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), technical support from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

The SA Plastics Pact brings together all key stakeholders at national level to implement solutions towards a circular economy for plastics. The initiative will be led by a South African organisation, uniting businesses, governments and citizens behind a set of concrete, timebound, ambitious targets, relevant to the local South African context which also compliment statutory requirements. It not only builds on the transition agendas for plastics and consumer goods as set out in the Waste Act, Waste Phakisa, Good Green Deeds, ‘The New Plastics Economy’ published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter, but it will also contribute towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 12 (ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns), SDG 13 (take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts) and SDG 14 (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development).

The SA Plastics Pact has the potential to be part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Pact network and will present a platform to exchange learnings with other initiatives and organisations from around the world, all working to implement a common vision for a plastics system that keeps plastics in the economy and out of the environment.


The development journey of the SA Plastics Pact

The South African Plastics Pact has evolved since it was unveiled at the Design for Recycling event at Propak Africa and the GreenCape and Sustainable Retailers Forum Circular Economy event in March this year. An intensive scoping and engagement phase has been initiated, driven by WWF, and there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from key stakeholders across the value chain including: national government, NGOs, retailers, brand owners, plastic industry bodies, Producer Responsibility Organisations and waste management companies interested in taking this collaborative initiative forward.


Collaborating towards concrete and measurable goals

In a bold move, distinguishing itself from other initiatives, the prospective SA Plastics Pact signatories are supporting the undertaking in a pre-competitive setting and in cooperation with players in the plastics value chain, to collaborate and lead the way in:

  • addressing problematic single-use plastic products and packaging
  • increasing the recyclability in practice of plastic products and packaging
  • enhancing corporate social responsibility
  • pooling resources for research and innovation, and
  • improving consistency in communications and messaging to customers and consumers.

To this end they have set concrete and measurable goals up to 2025. The national targets proposed are as follows:

  • Target 1: Define a list of problematic/unnecessary plastic packaging and items and agree to measures to address by 2021
  • Target 2: 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable or compostable# by 2025 (# applicable only in closed loop and controlled systems with sufficient infrastructure available or fit-for-purpose applications, eg tea bags)
  • Target 3: 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled by 2025
  • Target 4: 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging by 2025 (average across all product lines)
  • Target 5: could include number of jobs created in the plastic waste sector and/or; economic contribution of the plastic waste sector to overall GDP and/or 100% of plastic producers are members of Producer Responsibility Organisations.


At this stage, the SA Plastics Pact is mainly focussed on fast-moving consumer goods (i.e. single-use plastic products and packaging as well as plastics recyclate applications in complementary consumer goods industries, such as furniture, electronics, clothes and toys).

The work streams to support the achievement of these targets are at the inception stage. However, momentum has already been gained in some instances with the WWF holding the OPRL (On Pack Recycling Label) guidance initiative. Other work streams that have been identified are guidelines on biodegradable and compostable materials (which ties in to Target 2 ) and the ongoing government and industry driven dialogue on waste collection and the informal waste sector (which impacts Target 3).

The SA Plastics Pact will be managed by an independent coordinating body or secretariat. There will be on-going engagement with the organisations that have expressed interest in the role of the SA Plastics Pact.


Recruitment and roll out

To jointly work towards the vision for a circular economy for plastics and the targets of the SA Plastics Pact, the WWF and the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA, the secretariat of the SA Alliance of Plastic Waste Forum) are in discussions on the synergies between the Pact and the SA Alliance on Plastic Waste Forum.

In the coming weeks, WWF plan to release a ‘Signatory Pack‘ which would include information on organisational structure, fee structure, targets, marketing and scope. Potential signatories will be encouraged to sign-up by the end of August 2019 whereafter the steering committee will be formalised in September with a view to launching by October 2019.

  • For more information on the SA Plastics Pact, or to become a part of this pioneering initiative, please contact Lorren de Kock at the WWF (Lorren manages the Circular Plastics Economy Policy & Futures Unit at the WWF-SA): tel +27 (0)21 657 6656;