CSIR biodegradability testing laboratory to tackle leakage of plastic waste into environment

CSIR biodegradability testing laboratory to tackle leakage of plastic waste into environment

South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) now hosts Africa’s only laboratory equipped to test and verify imported or locally produced products that are being promoted as biodegradable.


This follows the recent handover of an automated testing facility and equipment, valued at R5 million, to the CSIR by the Japanese government, through the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The testing laboratory is capable of establishing the conditions and timeframes for the biodegradation of materials. Tests can be performed under different conditions – aerobic (compost, soil, freshwater and marine) and anaerobic.


Speaking during the handover ceremony in Pretoria, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Barbara Creecy, said the new research equipment donated to the CSIR will boost the country’s capability to test bioplastics and ensure their verifiable standards.


“Inadequate waste management poses a significant threat to our environment, causing pollution to soil and ground water and undermining ecosystem functions and services. Marine plastic waste is a global problem that threatens biodiversity and wildlife. The services that will be offered through this facility will broaden transparency and ensure that product claims can be tested in accordance with environmental labelling standards,” said the Minister.


The Minister was accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Buti Manamela, who thanked the Japanese government for its contribution to combating the marine plastic litter issue in South Africa.


“We have all been horrified by images of macro-plastics impeding the lives of sea animals, including birds, and the dangers of micro-plastics that can carry potentially harmful chemicals that accumulate in animals as they feed on each other. Cooperation such as the partnership that we are celebrating can contribute significantly to reinforcing international friendships, solidarity and understanding. By working together and supporting the United Nations and its specialised agencies, such as UNIDO, South Africa and Japan have the opportunity to make the world a better place,” said the Deputy Minister.


The CSIR is currently developing materials to replace single-use plastics that cannot be  recycled due to contamination or economic reasons. These environmentally sustainable products are partially made from local biomass resources, like starch and cellulose, and are biodegradable in home or industrial composting conditions.


CSIR Chief Executive Officer Dr Thulani Dlamini welcomed the donation of laboratory equipment. “The opening of the biodegradability testing facility signifies the value of research, development and innovation partnerships. Through the generous funding and support received from Japan, the CSIR is now better positioned to provide adequate support to the South African industry to transition from conventional plastics to more environmentally sustainable alternatives,” said Dr Dlamini.


The event was also attended by two waste picker associations, the African Reclaimers Organisation and the South Africa Waste Pickers Association, and each received a waste collection truck to assist with the collection of source-separated waste as part of waste picker integration.


“The logistical truck we received enables us as reclaimers to collect six or seven bags a day as opposed to one full bag. As a result, the impact was felt immediately. The truck has also enabled us to collect plastic in rural areas where it normally gets burnt. Through this initiative, we have been able to educate and show people and retailers in rural areas that there is value to plastic waste,” said Luyanda Hlatshwayo, African Reclaimers Organisation.