Bioplastics – Lifting the lid on Compostable Plastics

The Organics Recycling Association of South Africa (ORASA) held a half day seminar titled ‘Demystifying Bioplastics’ on 11 July 2019 at the V&A Waterfront Clock Tower in Cape Town. The event aimed to shed light on compostable bioplastic packaging, while bringing various stakeholders in the organic recycling, packaging, retail, research and government sectors together.

There were a range of speakers, including industry representatives and academic researchers.

Emile Fourie MCing at the Demystifying Bioplastics event  Catherine Morris presenting at Demystifying Biopalstics
Emile Fourie, left, and Catherine Morris, right.

ORASA founder member and owner of YWaste, Emile Fourie, was MC for the day. Early on he highlighted the importance of examining bioplastics within the South African context and the need for unique and appropriate local solutions, adapting international techniques and trends where necessary.

Catherine Morris, founder and MD of GREEN HOME, provided an outline of the international standards for compostable bioplastics. These are designed to ensure materials truly biodegrade in a reasonable timeframe, resulting in compost that’s free of eco-toxicity and healthy for plants. She also addressed the need for legislation in South Africa that supports clear and accurate product labeling, while limiting problematic and misleading materials.

Presenter speaking to the audience at Demystifying Bioplastics  William Stafford presenting at Demystifying Bioplastics
Berenice Westmore, left, and William Stafford, right.

After compostable certification, field testing of compostable packaging in local compost facilities further ensures they can be composted as necessary. Berenice Westmore, ORASA founder member and owner of Postwink, presented on first steps toward developing protocols for field testing in South Africa.

Rob van Hille, director of the Moss Group, shared recent research which reveals the enormous waste generated by convenience food packaging, like crisp packets and sweets. Far from being luxury items, these products are often essential for people in lower income groups who rely on their availability from spaza shops during long commutes. Rob emphasized the need for solutions tailored to all sectors of South African society.

Lorren De Kock from WWF gave an overview of the South African Plastic Pact. The pact is linked to international efforts driven by the Ellen McArthur Foundation which aim to create more circular material flows for plastics, while reducing problematic plastics. Its goal is for all plastics to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.

William Stafford from the CSIR shared a wealth of knowledge on a range plastic and bioplastic materials as he outlined current CSIR research comparing life cycle analyses of carrier bags in the South African context. The bags in the study cover a range of materials including compostable bioplastic, conventional plastic, recycled plastic, paper and more. Results of the research will be available toward the end of this year.

ORASA’s chairperson, and owner of Zero to Landfill Organics, Melanie Ludwig, also provided an update on ORASA’s activities and the challenges associated with the implementation of the looming organic waste to landfill ban in the Western Cape. She highlighted our landfill crisis and the urgency of organic waste diversion.

The event ended with a lively discussion session, followed by networking. Feedback for the event has been very positive, and ORASA look forward to continuing the conversation, while driving increased organic recycling in South Africa.

About Cassandra Gamble

Cassandra is GREEN HOME's Environmental Research & Communications Ambassador.
Her BSc (Hons) degree from the Open University (UK) focused on Environmental Science, plastic pollution and sustainable innovation.
On behalf of GREEN HOME, Cassandra is also a founder member of ORASA,, the Organics Recycling Association of South Africa.