Plastic is a complex material that provides value across several industries, yet its strength and durability have resulted in widespread persistence in the environment, threatening human health and the health of our marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. These negative externalities, once quantified, reveal the true costs of plastic.
Numerous global and regional initiatives and voluntary agreements have been established with different approaches to solve the plastic pollution challenge.
INTERNATIONAL STRATEGIES, PARTNERSHIPS AND FRAMEWORKS
Since 1972, South Africa has ratified several international treaties, forged partnerships and subscribed to legal frameworks to combat plastic pollution in its terrestrial and marine environment. This is giving South Africa a firm footing to voice its concerns in global forums, on the one hand, and gaining access to the latest environmental considerations regarding the combating of plastic pollution, on the other. Various initiatives and platforms exist, and this list is not exhaustive.
2019: The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which South Africa is party to, at its 14th Conference of the Parties, adopted a decision to incorporate certain categories of plastic under its scope. This includes giving parties the right to prohibit the import of plastic at end of life as well as requiring parties to obtain prior written informed consent for the export of plastic of this nature. To be traded, waste plastic must be clean and consist of single or clearly defined plastic polymer types that can be recycled. Mixed bales of rubbish are not acceptable.
This decision obtained great media coverage and was a statement from the 187 countries to address the plastic pollution problem. Since then, the world has seen developing countries, specifically the Philippines and Indonesia, sending back shipments of plastic scrap and waste to countries of origin, including the USA, the UK and Australia.
2017: The G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter was agreed upon by the G20 countries (akin to the G7 Action Plan of 2015). The action plan includes a commitment to “take action to prevent and reduce marine litter of all kinds, including from single-use plastics and micro-plastics”.
South Africa is one of the G20 countries.
2015: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all UN member states. A blueprint for achieving this agenda took the form of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs that specifically relate to combating plastic pollution are:
• SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
• SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
• SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
• SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
• SDG12: Responsible consumption and production
• SDG 13: Climate action
• SDG 14: Life below water
• SDG 15: Life on land
• SDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
2014: Several UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) resolutions have been made on marine litter and microplastics from the first UNEA meeting in 2014. These resolutions called for strengthening the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) role in acting on marine litter and microplastics in UNEA-1; establishing the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics in UNEA-3; and addressing single-use plastics in UNEA-4. Resolutions also call for greater collaboration and coordination of efforts to address plastic pollution.
South Africa is part of the member states participating in the UNEA discussions.
2011: The Honolulu Strategy: Global Framework for Prevention and Management of Marine Debris is a voluntary approach to connect marine litter programmes and foster collaboration among them by sharing lessons learned and best practices. It is the recommended framework to be used for UNEP’s GPA (see 1995 below).
South Africa is part of two Regional Seas Programme Conventions, namely the Abidjan and Nairobi conventions, which places it in a unique position to coordinate initiatives through both platforms.
The Abidjan Convention is currently undergoing a regional assessment on marine litter to inform a Regional Action Plan to address marine litter in member countries. The Nairobi Convention completed a marine litter assessment in 2008 and is currently implementing its Regional Action Plan.
1995: The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) was set up in 1995 and is hosted by UNEP. The Global Programme of Action aims to foster collaboration and coordination among states to prevent marine pollution from land-based sources and encourage action at the national, regional and international level. The programme operates primarily through the Regional Seas Programme.
1982: Part XII (Articles 192–237) of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) aims to protect and preserve the marine environment from land- and sea-based sources of marine pollution. UNCLOS is a comprehensive convention that covers virtually all matters relating to the management and use of the ocean.
South Africa ratified UNCLOS on 23 December 1997.
1978: The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) aims to prevent marine pollution from operational or accidental causes by ships.
South Africa accepted participation in MARPOL in February 1985.
1972: Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes and Other Matter (the London Convention) and the 1996 Protocol to the London Convention (the London Protocol) aim to control pollution of the sea by dumping and to encourage regional agreements supplementary to the Convention.
South Africa is a party to the London Convention.
2020: President Cyril Ramaphosa is the chairperson of the African Union (AU) in 2020, presenting another opportunity for leadership in the case where the AU has also called on African cities to commit to recycling at least 50% of the urban waste they generate by 2023 and to grow urban waste recycling industries.
2019: In 2019 the African First Ladies took the lead on the plastics front by hosting two high-level side events. The first was on Banning Plastics towards a Pollution-free Africa Campaign, which resulted in the Addis Ababa Communique to advocate the banning of plastics. The second was on Plastic Pollution Solutions for Development in Africa to initiate the implementation of the Communique.
2016: The East African Legislative Assembly passed a Bill in 2016 to ban the manufacture, sale, import and use of certain plastic bags across its six member states, with a combined population of approximately 186-million people. A total of 127 countries have put into force some type of legislation to ban the use, manufacture, free distribution and import of plastic bags as at July 2018. African countries have been seen to be leaders in this regard, with 37 countries regulating plastic bags in some way.
TOWARDS A NEW GLOBAL LEGALLY BINDING AGREEMENT ON PLASTIC POLLUTION
The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) held in Durban in November 2019, saw 54 member states endorse a declaration calling for global action on plastic pollution. Among the options to be further explored was a suggestion for a new global agreement to combat plastic pollution. African governments have now joined the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Pacific Island Countries and the Nordic states in their call for strong global action on plastic pollution.
The South African Minister of the Environment, Barbara Creecy, holds the AMCEN presidency for 2020/21, which is an opportunity for South Africa to take the lead on several topics, including addressing the plastic pollution challenge.
THE NEW PLASTICS ECONOMY
The New Plastics Economy is an ambitious global initiative to build momentum towards a plastics system that works. It applies the principles of the circular economy and brings together key stakeholders to rethink and redesign the future of plastics, starting with packaging. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is a shared vision agreed upon by businesses, governments and organisations to address plastic pollution at source. It is led by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation together with UNEP to drive engagement with governments and other key players.
The New Plastics Economy also hosts a global Plastics Pact Network, which is a platform for multiple national implementation initiatives. Each national initiative will be aligned with the common vision outlined in the Global Commitment but will set national targets and develop a roadmap to suit the local context. The South African Plastics Pact was launched by WWF South Africa in partnership with the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO) and the UK’s Water and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in January 2020. It is the first national Plastics Pact in Africa and joins the global Plastics Pact Network.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN PLASTICS PACT – A FIRST IN AFRICA
The South African Plastics Pact was launched in January 2020 and joined The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Pact global network aligned with the New Plastics Economy vision. The first of its kind in Africa, the South African Plastics Pact joins France, the UK, the Netherlands, Chile, Australia and the Pacific and the European Union to exchange knowledge and collaborate to accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastic.
The South African Plastics Pact is managed and implemented by GreenCape, with the founding members committed to a series of ambitious targets for 2025 to prevent plastics from becoming waste or pollution.
The South African Plastics Pact members are Berry Astrapack, the Clicks Group, Clover, Coca-Cola Africa, Danone, Distell, HomeChoice, Myplas, Pick n Pay, Polyoak, Palletplast, RCL Foods, SPAR, Spur Holdings, The Foschini Group, Tigerbrands, Tuffy, Unilever and Woolworths. Supporting member organisations include the African Circular Economy Network, African Reclaimers Organisation, the City of Cape Town, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Fruit South Africa, the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa, the Polyolefin Responsibility Organisation, the Polystyrene Association of South Africa, the PET Recycling Company, South African Bottled Water Association, SAPRO and the Southern African Vinyls Association.
By 2025, all members commit to:
• Eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery models
• 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable*
• 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled
• 30% average post-consumer recycled content across all plastic packaging
*In the case of compostables, this is applicable only in closed-loop and controlled systems with sufficient infrastructure available or fit-for-purpose applications.
To achieve these 2025 targets for a circular economy for plastic in South Africa, various activities are required:
• Some plastic items are problematic or unnecessary and need to be designed out.
• Reuse models can reduce the need for single-use packaging, while at the same time holding the potential for significant user and business benefits.
• All plastics need to be designed to be reusable, recyclable or compostable in practice and at scale, with a concerted effort on both the design and the after-use side.
By delivering on these targets, the South African Plastics Pact will help to boost job creation in the South African plastic collection and recycling sector, and help to create new opportunities in product design and reuse business models.
ALLIANCE TO END PLASTIC WASTE
Another global initiative is the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), which was founded by various global petrochemical companies. The alliance aims to raise funds in order to invest in developing and scaling up solutions to manage plastic at end of life, through education, innovation, clean-ups and investment in infrastructure in Southeast Asia. The fundraising and investment target is $1,5 billion, to be provided by the member organisations over the next five years.
Sasol is currently the only African-owned company which is a member of the Alliance.
AFRICAN MARINE WASTE NETWORK
The African Marine Waste Network is a project under the Sustainable Seas Trust. It aims to prevent marine litter at source by providing a platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing through its network of government bodies, industry and civil society. Its current projects include developing and testing marine litter monitoring guidelines in collaboration with UNEP, developing educational materials for schools, promoting enterprise development and providing research expertise in ghost gear and microplastics.
The Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) aims to support four developing countries (the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, South Africa and Belize) in preventing plastic litter from entering the marine environment. CLiP is led by the UK through the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and is funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
THE AFRICAN CIRCULAR ECONOMY ALLIANCE
The African Circular Economy Alliance is a project hosted under the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy by the World Resources Institute. It aims to share best practices, undertake collaborative projects and advocate for the circular economy between countries at a ministerial level. The alliance was founded by Rwanda, South Africa and Nigeria in 2016, and joined by Niger, Senegal, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018.
©Text 2020 WWF South Africa Published in 2020 by WWF – World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund), Cape Town, South Africa.