SA looks to ban some batteries, bulbs, and skin-lightening soaps next year. Here's why.

Business Insider SA
Neon light (Getty Images)
Neon light (Getty Images)
  • South Africa's moving to phase out a host of products that contain mercury.
  • The country's latest draft regulations for the Management of Mercury in South Africa were gazetted for public comment on Monday.
  • This phase-out plan will prohibit the export, import, and manufacturing of some light bulbs, batteries, cosmetics, and pesticides.
  • All products identified within the gazette, referenced with a threshold for mercury content, are scheduled to be banned from 1 April 2023.
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South Africa is phasing out products containing mercury, with the aim of banning the import, export, and manufacturing of certain goods by April 2023.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the toxic heavy metal. South Africa is a part of this treaty and, in aligning with the convention's aims, has developed draft regulations for the Management of Mercury in South Africa.

These draft regulations, gazetted for public comment by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment on Monday, include a detailed phase-out and phase-down plan affecting products and processes containing mercury above certain concentration levels.

Several mercury-added products, or MAPs, have been highlighted by the department for the first part of the phase-out plan. The import, export, and manufacturing of these products will "not be allowed" beyond 1 April 2023, according to the draft regulations.

These MAPs include batteries, except for button zinc silver oxide batteries and button zinc-air batteries with a mercury content of less than 2%. These are the type of round, flat batteries most commonly found in wristwatches and other small electrical appliances.

Mercury is also found in some switches and relays. These are also being phased out, except for "very high accuracy capacitance and loss measurement bridges", "high-frequency radio frequency switches", and "relays in monitoring and control instruments" with a maximum mercury content of 20mg per bridge, switch, or relay.

Many lightbulbs and lamps will also be affected by South Africa's phase-out plan. Lights to be banned after April 2023 include compact fluorescent lamps that are equal to or less than 30 watts with more than 5mg of mercury per lamp burner.

Linear fluorescent lamps under 60 watts with more than 5mg of mercury will also be outlawed if of the tri-band phosphor variety, while halophosphate phosphor lights under or equal to 40 watts won't be allowed to have more than 10mg of mercury.

High-Pressure Mercury Vapour Lamps or HPMVs for general lighting purposes will be banned entirely. Cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs), commonly used in neon lighting, and External Electrode Fluorescent Lamps (EEFLs) will also face restrictions if containing between 3.5mg and 13mg – depending on the lamp's size – of mercury.

Cosmetic products, including skin lightening soaps and creams, with a mercury content above 1ppm (parts per million), will be banned, except for "eye area cosmetics where mercury is used as a preservative, and no effective and safe substitute preservatives are available."

Any pesticides, biocides, and typical antiseptics containing mercury will also be banned.

While the draft regulations have a potentially far-reaching impact on many products, some MAPs, used under very specific circumstances, have been excluded from the phase-out programme. If, for example, one of these products is "essential for civil protection and military uses", it will not be banned. Similarly, those used in research applications and traditional or religious practices will also be excluded.

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