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Mon Oct 20 10:10:42 SAST 2014

Plastic bag levy goes into a black hole

DENISE WILLIAMS | 29 January, 2013 01:01
A plastic bag wrapped around a gas pump
Image by: LEE CELANO / REUTERS

Ten years after the government began regulating the use of plastic bags there is no certainty about where the millions of rands paid for bags have gone.

In an attempt to reduce the number of plastic bags polluting the country, the government introduced a 3c levy on recyclable bags in 2003.

Shoppers have since had to buy bags at supermarket tills or use their own.

At the time, the government said the Treasury would collect money from plastic bag manufacturers and allocate it to the creation of "green" jobs and the building of waste-disposal plants.

At first, the handling of the funds collected was outsourced to a section 21 company, Buyisa e-Bags, but a year ago the Department of Environmental Affairs took over the task amid allegations of corruption and abuse of public funds, according to department spokesman Albi Modise.

The plastic bag levy has since been increased to 4c.

Modise said that in 2009-2010 Buyisa collected about R174-million in levies.

It had established 15 plastic bag buy-back centres and supported 25 existing facilities.

But it was not possible to say how many of the 1900 to 3800 new jobs predicted had been created or how many bags had been recycled, he said.

"Currently, there is no obligation on the recycling industry to report on numbers of bags recycled. This will be rectified with the implementation of the Waste Act and its waste-information regulations," Modise said.

Retailers, too, are in the dark about where the money has gone.

Mike Prentice, marketing executive of Spar, said: "What the government is doing [with the money], to be honest with you, we don't know."

Depending on the region and the competition, bags cost consumers about 40c each.

"The problem is that it is our cost; we make nothing on the selling of these plastic bags. They cost us more than we sell them for."

Pick n Pay spokesman Jennifer Crocker said: "We contribute to the plastic bag levy but we have not had any updated information from the government regarding how this levy is spent, or of the establishment of recycling plants."

Annabé Pretorius, of the SA Plastics Recycling Organisation, said the government had not told the industry what it used the levy for: "In its books it is an environmental levy and can be used as fiscal income."

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