Recycle logos but shopping bags dumped! No to bags!

In spite of wording on their plastic shopping bags such as Recycle Me – Set a Trend (Woolworths),

In spite of recycle messages our recycler has to send these shopping bags to landfill..

In spite of recycle messages our recycler has to send these shopping bags to landfill..

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE (PnP  & Shoprite),  We love our country. Please Recycle (Spar), these bags are not being recycled because of an additive that makes them difficult to recycle.   If this is not illegal in terms of advertising standards, it is certainly dishonest.

CHECKERS shopping bags made of 100% no 2 plastic by TUFFY are the current exception. Made from recycled plastic and recyclable they get the thumbs up.  

Right now people are dumping 3 x more plastic into the sea by WEIGHT than we are catching fish from the sea.   There is a global initiative to stop the production of single use plastic. Start by signing the Avaaz Petition at :

It is clear that in the plastic industry `Producer Responsibility’ simply does not exist or is being held hostage by a market economy that promotes a race to the financial bottom line. To stay in the game the costs of production and of disposal are EXTERNALIZED.  Clever economic term – externalized!  Where is `external’ on our small blue lifeboat planet?  It is the litter eddies in our towns and cities which make their way to the rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches and the sea.  So the billions of single use and non- recyclable plastic all goes AWAY – off the balance sheets of the plastic producers and the wholesalers and retailers.  AWAY – a sad euphemism for not taking responsibility. There is no AWAY on our planet. The giant Pacific Plastic Gyre, so big it can be seen from the far away of outer space, is the proof.

Since the packaging industry in combination with its retail clients can’t or is too slow to take responsibility we need to push for global and national legislation. Single use plastic and the linear plastics economy of extract oil, produce polymer, make packaging, use once, discard must be replaced with a circular economy of produce, use, collect and reuse or recycle.

I hear the plastic industry crying that this will cause them increased costs of production, factory closures, job losses and decreased financial revenue?  But far louder, I hear the cries of starving turtles with stomachs stuffed with the plastic mistaken for jelly fish?  I hear the distress of the fish that nature designed to change sex as they get older, but can’t because they unknowingly absorbed too many micro-particles of plastic containing endocrine disrupters?  I hear the choking sounds of seals, sharks and seabirds slowly strangling because they got entangled in floating loops of plastic?  All of wildlife is calling ENOUGH!  Why doesn’t industry hear this collective distress?  There is a soft echo from a few voices in the packaging and retail industry who also saying enough – while the rest is still in a paradigm of  externalizing costs and a belief in a place called away.   Recycling would create more employment so this is not about people vs wildlife but about living in a way that all can live.

In South Africa our plastic retail carrier bags are a particularly sad example of a lack of producer responsibility. The typical grocery shopping bags are made from a recyclable polymer No2 PE-HD (High Density Polyethylene).  The PE-HD logo is stamped on the bag so that recyclers can identify the plastic.  In addition Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Spar and Shoprite all have either a Please Recycle Me logo on their bags or wording with a recycle message. Many of these bags also contain percentages of recycled material. BUT the sad reality is that these bags are not being recycled because of an additive to make the bags cheaper. This additive makes the bags difficult to recycle.  This is how industry is externalizing costs – and so brazenly that they even print please recycle me on the packaging.  In theory PE-HD bags are recyclable but in practice they can’t be cost effectively recycled because of a calcium carbonate additive. In the wash and float separation process used to clean and separate recyclable from non recyclable plastic, the PE-HD bags with calcium carbonate sink along with the dirt and non-IMG_20170521_124028 (2)recyclables.  AND industry has known this for long enough to do something about it. CHECKERS is the one retailer that is using pure PE-HD polymer bags made by TUFFY which are made from 100% recyclable plastic and are recyclable after use as well.

A sub- committee with representatives from industry has been set up to `resolve the non- recyclability issue’. To assist them in shifting rapidly to a circular economic model of reuse and recycling and ultimately taking responsibility for their plastic the public need to put pressure on PnP, Woolworths, Shoprite, Spar and the rest.( I do not have information about the recyclability / or not of the MassMart chains or Food Lover’s Market, Mica Hardware, BuCo, AgriMark etc).  So email or phone the HQ of the retailers where you buy your household goods and food and insist that they change to recyclable bags.  In the meanwhile don’t buy these single use shopping bags. Rather buy cloth or heavy duty reusable bags.

I don’t want to live in a world of depleted wildlife and dominated by plastic – do you?

Kim Kruyshaar May 2017

An industry comment received from a spokesperson from PlasticsSA. A working group has been set up of recyclers, retailers and converters (the producers of plastic products and packaging) concerned about the recyclability of plastic.  Its brief is:

  1.  to clarify on what is technically recyclable vs locally recyclable.  While all polymers are recyclable they are not always recycled for a range of reasons including dirt levels impacting washability, high levels of additives or fillers, supply stream too small or far apart, lack of end-use market for recycled products.
  2. to consider optimum levels of filler in various plastic products and determine methods to test for compliance.
  3. to research technology and equipment to deal with plastics with high levels of fillers.

The Working Group is assisted by an external materials expert and has until the end of June 2017 to finalize their work and report back to the broader industry.

For an update go to:

Retailers key to recyclable plastic shopping bags!


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15 Responses to Recycle logos but shopping bags dumped! No to bags!

  1. Kathryn Kruyshaar May 22, 2017 at 8:23 am #

    And we don’t even need to take our shopping home in any one of these bags. All it takes is a mind shift to remembering the any number of fabric bags we have at home. It is all about convenience that has caused us to become lazy and complacent. Littering is one of the most unnecessary environmental evils as well as being one of the easiest to solve if we just become sufficiently aware to make the changes

  2. Karen Gray-Kilfoil May 23, 2017 at 3:50 pm #

    Great article, Kim! Lets ban plastic bags, like they have in India and some African countries (Luanda?). In the meantime we can use less and reuse the ones there are for crafts. Yes, even the non-recyclable ones can be crocheted or knitted into useful items.

    • Jacob van Pareen June 21, 2017 at 10:57 am #

      I do not think we should ban the bags; it is the only way millions of South Africans carry their shopping home in taxis.

      We should rather ban adding additives that make bags not recyclable. The recycling industry does a great job and gives work to millions!

      • admin June 21, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

        Industry is re looking at the additive and recyclability issues and said they will release their findings / decisions at the end of the month. In the meanwhile, the Waste Reduction – Far South Team has written to the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Molewa calling on her to ban non- recyclable plastic bags. A few years ago the government set a standard of the minimum thickness of shopping bags to improve their value for recycling. This direct intention to make them more attractive for recycling with the spin -offs of job creation etc has been undermined by the current industry practice of adding chalk to our shopping bags.

  3. Patrick Dowling May 23, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

    Is it OK if we send this excellent article to all the supermarkets and invite them to explain their case at the next waste meeting?

    • admin May 23, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

      Hi Patrick, YES. It seems as if the `converters’ the part of the plastic industry who use either polymers directly from the processing of crude oil, or who use post industrial / post consumer plastic are now also adding / considering adding chalk to other PE-HD packaging such as milk bottles. If this is allowed to continue then it will impact on the recycling of these as well. an industry spokesperson explained that it is not just an issue of making plastic bags sink in the recycling wash and separation process, the chalk (calcium carbonate) is abrasive and damages the machinery in the recycling process. What a mess!!!

  4. P A Spence May 24, 2017 at 8:11 am #

    Yes, let’s do what is right and take fabric shopping bags for our groceries. I want to leave the world a better place for my children and grandchildren and future generations.

  5. Melanie May 25, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

    Pls stop plastic bags!! Woolies are contradicting themselves

  6. Sonia Mountford May 29, 2017 at 7:27 am #

    & consumers are paying up to 50c a shopping bag believing the misleading claims that it is recyclable. Surely the manufacturers of these bags should have told the retailers that they were misrepresenting the recycle status of the bags and insisted they stop making these claims or did they? Come on SPAR, Woolworths, PnP & Shoprite. The game is up – consumers require a commitment from each of these retailers to only make use of recyclable plastic materials.

  7. Errol Smith June 13, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    Actually it will not solve the problem to ban the bags entirely, or other plastic products.
    These bags, if pristine (no additives or other contaminates such as heavily printed) can be recycled and used (i.e. recycled) over and over again.
    The real problem is that there are not enough products that use recycled plastic material in them when producing new plastic products. We need innovation for new products using recycled plastic material and an increase in the percentage of recycled material when producing plastic carrier bags and other plastic products.
    We need all the plastic that is produced to be recyclable or banned. Cradle to grave is NOT good enough. Cradle to cradle is what is required.
    Using other materials to replace these bags will only have their own environmental impacts when considering the large volumes (even if reduced) that the consumers require.

    • admin June 19, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

      Hi Errol, I agree that we need recycled bags and a cradle to cradle system. In some cases the problem is that there isn’t a big enough market for products from recycled plastic – In which case I believe an alternative should be used. In the case of plastic shopping bags there IS A MARKET – NAMELY NEW SHOPPING BAGS FROM OLD. This is what TUFFY supplies to Checkers. However as most of the other retailers shopping bags have additives which makes them unattractive for recycling there is not enough feed stock to make new from old. Unsustainable economics when you understand that the market economy is a subset of the environment. Destroy the environment and ultimately you destroy yourself.

  8. Jacob van Pareen June 21, 2017 at 11:01 am #

    I do not think it is good to ban plastic carry bags; it is the only means for millions of people to take groceries home going home in taxis and busses.
    We should rather ban additives that make these bags non recyclable.

    The recycling industry does a great job and creates many job opportunities!!

    • admin June 21, 2017 at 12:33 pm #

      Agree with recycling and the job opportunities as well as keeping plastic out of the environment. Problem is with industry `doing a cheap and nasty and making a very convenient plastic product non-recyclable. We need to ban non-recyclable plastic bags and in fact all non- recyclable plastic packaging. If some specific health requirements means that a multi-plastic product is required which makes it non- recyclable – then other uses should be found such as shredding it and adding it to bitumen road surfacing – as is done in India. But sending it to landfill and apologizing for the tons of escapee plastic that ends up in out environment is not acceptable.

  9. Derrick Snyman October 11, 2017 at 4:25 pm #

    Have the working group findings been published and if so whete can we access them as these resultsx and recomendations will hopefully reveal some insight into the potential solutions.

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