REPORT | Plastic: Past and present

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.

SOUTH AFRICA’S ENGAGEMENT

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.

South Africa became a signatory in May 1994. The Basel amendments will take effect from 1 January 2021.

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.

AFRICAN PARTNERSHIPS

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.

CLiP

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.

Read the Green Economy Journal to find more articles like the one above

READ THIS ARTICLE IN THE GREEN ECONOMY JOURNAL ISSUE 45

©Text 2020 WWF South Africa Published in 2020 by WWF – World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund), Cape Town, South Africa.

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VIDEO | What really happens to the plastic you throw away?

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Developing a roadmap for plastic waste management

Key role-players in the plastics manufacturing, collection and recycling industries, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and other interested parties recently participated in the 2020 Plastics Colloquium feedback session which was held virtually. This was the second Plastics Colloquium following the inaugural event that took place in Johannesburg a year ago and was jointly hosted by DEFF, the Consumer Goods Council of SA, Plastics|SA and the informal sector associations.

The objectives of the annual Plastics Colloquium are:

  • To create a platform for representatives of government, private sector and civil society to engage with one another in order to provide a more effective partnerships with the aim of enhancing plastic waste management
  • To promote discussions between these role-players on sustainable management of plastic waste in the country
  • To create a national platform where information can be exchanged on best practice with regards to plastic waste management
  • To identify key economic opportunities that could be realized from plastic waste and discuss ways in which the informal sector could be incorporated into plastic waste recycling
  • To deliberate mechanisms and technologies for the effective delivery of waste management services by municipalities and other service providers

Six working groups were each afforded an opportunity to present on the progress they have made against the priorities that were agreed to at the 2019 Plastics Colloquium.  Representatives of these working groups offered some insight into the success and challenges being faced with biodegradable and compostable plastics; product standards and certification; product design, development and innovation; integration of the informal waste economy; infrastructure (including SALGA activities); and consumer education and awareness.

“The 2020 Plastics Colloquium feedback session was an important step forward for everybody involved in the plastics value chain. It was hugely encouraging to hear about the impressive progress the various working groups have made this past year despite the huge disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Anton Hanekom, executive director of Plastics|SA.

Hanekom also applauded the clear commitment made by government and all the other stakeholders to work together to find workable and sustainable solutions to prevent plastic waste from ending up in the environment.

“Achieving our objective of zero plastics in the environment is not something that the plastics industry alone can achieve. Finding a solution to the plastics leaking into the environment and ending up in our rivers, streams, and oceans requires teamwork, focus, and dedicated effort from everybody involved.”

Anton Hanekom, executive director of Plastics|SA

Whilst he admits that much work still needs to be done before South Africa reaches the implementation phase, Hanekom added that it was encouraging that the various stakeholders and role players were each willing to take responsibility for a specific section of the plan.

The following were identified as key areas requiring attention during 2021:

  1. Developing a proper municipal collection system with the necessary infrastructure to deal with the waste collected in neighbourhoods, (i.e., landfills, incineration possibilities for plastics that are difficult to recycle, buy-back centres etc.)
  2. The role of reclaimers in the waste management process, with proper consideration and attention given to their relationship with regards to household waste collection and separation, expanded public work programmes and municipal public employment systems;
  3. The role of producers and formalizing them into EPR schemes in order to eliminate the “free riders” who do not financially contribute towards plastic waste collection and recycling the packaging that enters the local market. Where necessary, certain single-use plastics will need to be phased out and replaced with compostable plastics;
  4. Ongoing research by the CSIR to include the use of compostable plastics and waste-to-energy, in order to provide decisionmakers with a clear understanding of how the system works and ensuring that every decision taken in the future is evidence-based;
  5. Building on the work already done by Plastics|SA and the Consumer Goods Council of SA when it comes to educating and informing consumers about the consequences of littering, the importance of recycling and their role in creating a litter-free South Africa.

Minister Barbara Creecy set the 2021 Plastics Colloquium as the deadline by when she will be requiring the various working groups to present a possible system, governance model and financing of the plans.

“Plastic waste has huge value and can create much-needed wealth and opportunities for our country if it is managed correctly. The Minister acknowledged that the plastics sector is way ahead of many of the other sectors in our country. However, we cannot afford to slow down in our efforts to design a clear road map for ending plastic waste in the environment. To this end, we are working with retailers, brand owners, producers, raw material suppliers and recyclers to unite with us around one vision, one message and one campaign,” Hanekom concludes.

For more information, visit www.plasticsinfo.co.za

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Plastic industry announces positive PET recycling rate

Latest stats show 62% of all PET plastic beverage bottles produced in SA in 2019 were collected for recycling.

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How a South African roof tile innovation will recycle 29 million plastic bottles per year

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VIDEO | A radical plan to end plastic waste

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This talk was presented at “We the Future,” a special event in partnership with the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.

At “We the Future,” a day of talks from TED, the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation at the TED World Theater in New York City, 18 speakers and performers shared daring ideas, deep analysis, cautionary tales and behavior-changing strategies aimed at meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global goals created in partnership with individuals around the world and adopted at the United Nations in 2015.

Visit noplasticwaste.org to learn more about how we can clean the oceans through technological innovation and policy change.

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Eco-heroes wear masks to make a difference where they are

Each year, the local plastics industry welcomes the arrival of Spring and warmer weather by encouraging citizens to help make a difference where they live, work, learn or play by participating in Clean-Up & Recycle SA Week – an annual public awareness week during which plastics and other litter are removed from our country’s neighbourhoods, rivers, streams, beaches and oceans. 

Plastics SA’s Director of Sustainability, Douw Steyn, explained that this year’s Clean-Up & Recycle SA Week is scheduled to take place from 14-19 September this year. This will coincide with National Recycling Day which takes place on Friday, 18 September and International Coastal Clean-Up Day/Let’s Do It World Clean-Up Day on Saturday, 19 September this year. 

“Unfortunately, early indications are that Covid-19 pandemic will be forcing a change in our plans to host our annual beach and community clean-ups,” said Steyn.

Steyn explained that South Africa finds itself in the same uncertain situation as countries around the world owing to the fact that large public gatherings are prohibited and beaches are closed in an effort to prevent the spreading of the disease.

He added that the International Coastal Clean-Up Day is the world’s biggest volunteer effort for ocean health and that South Africa has been a part of the event for more than twenty years. 

“We have seen tens of thousands of people give up two hours of their time to help rid our beaches of litter. This year, however, we will be supporting the global call to avoid large group gatherings and maintain social distancing in the interest of everybody’s health and safety,” Steyn said.

Covid-19 leads to a change in plans

Instead of flocking to beaches or gathering in groups for clean-ups, Plastics SA is spreading the message that this year, every South African should be an eco-warrior; one who wears a mask maintains safe distancing and makes a difference in their immediate area.

In the same way, the health pandemic has forced individuals to take responsibility for their health, the plastics and packaging industries are uniting their voices in calling on South Africans to also become responsible citizens when it comes to disposing of their waste.  Plastics SA believes it is possible for us to turn the tide on ocean pollution if every person becomes conscious of his or her immediate surroundings and picks up the visible litter around our homes and neighbourhoods.

Importance of recycling

Stey explained that it is necessary to recycle as much as possible to reduce the strain on the country’s landfill sites. He further added that recycling reduces the environmental footprint because it uses less water, energy and raw materials to create new products.

“In addition, more than 60 000 people are employed by the plastics manufacturing and recycling industries, making a meaningful contribution to the country’s economy,” Steyn added.

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CCBSA expands their initiative to reduce plastic waste

Following the successful roll-out of its Eastern Cape pilot project in November 2019, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) is expanding the roll-out of the 2L returnable Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles across Northern Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, offering consumers value for money, while including them as an important part of the recycling value chain. 

The Managing Director of CCBSA, Velaphi Rashefola, explained that there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from consumers. 

“We have seen customers in the Eastern Cape opting to switch over to purchasing the returnable 2L bottles and returning them after consumption. After each bottle reaches the end of its useable lifecycle, it joins a regional manufacturing value chain which ultimately means less pollution in the environment,” said Ratshefola. 

The returnable PET bottles are identifiable by a new paper label, with ‘RETURNABLE’ appearing in green on the front of the bottle. The roll-out constitutes a significant investment by CCBSA in the new packaging line to ensure that the PET bottles comply with global standards for design, hygiene and safety for PET packaging. 

“We said that we would assess the way forward after the 2L returnable pilot project and we are therefore pleased to announce that we are now starting to roll out the new packaging line to Northern Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. From there, we will identify geographies in the rest of the country to continue the expansion over a five-year period,” says Ratshefola. 

Returnable PET is part of The Coca-Cola Company’s World Without Waste vision that aims to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle and can that it sells globally by 2030. This focuses on the entire packaging value chain, from how bottles and cans are designed and made, to how they’re collected, recycled and reused later. 

“We’re committed to increasing recycled material in our packaging and ensuring more packaging is collected and recycled. The roll-out of returnable PET plastic bottles is another way we can support a circular economy in South Africa,” says Ratshefola. 

Once a bottle is returned to Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa, it will go on a looped journey to be cleaned to Coca-Cola’s stringent measures and requirements, then refilled to start its next lifecycle. When the bottle reaches the end of its useable lifecycle, it joins the recycling value chain and is repurposed into another PET product. 

The recommended retail price for the 2L Coca-Cola Original Taste – Less Sugar beverage is R15, which excludes an R9 deposit. Other brands, like Coca-Cola No Sugar, Sprite and Fanta, are also available in the new 2L returnable PET plastic bottle at a recommended retail price of R12 excluding the R9 deposit. This means a saving of around R7 per bottle, depending on where a customer purchases their bottle.

According to the PET Recycling Company (PETCO), 62% of PET bottles were collected after use and recycled in South Africa last year. The Coca-Cola system in South Africa currently uses an average of 8% recycled content in its plastic bottles in South Africa – the more bottles that are collected and recycled, the more recycled content the company can use in its bottles.

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Greenpeace Africa calls for an end to plastic

Environmental group, Greenpeace Africa is calling on supporters to join the Break Free From Plastic movement. It is an international movement that began in 2016 and has more than 8000 member organisations and supporters. Greenpeace Africa has called on its own supporters to sign a petition supporting the Break Free From Plastic movement. 

The petition calls for corporations such as Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever and Mondelēz International to stop producing plastic. The organisation believes that while there are those who have done their part, more needs to be done. They claim that the plastic industry has created a “false narrative” in making plastic “just an ocean problem” and making “recycling as the sole solution”.

“What this did was to shirk meaningful responsibility and keep a shiny spotlight on the individual consumer,” Greenpeace Africa said. 

Since the Break Free From Plastic movement was launched they have made it their mission to challenge these notions with information from experts as well as grassroots voices from all over the globe. They advocate for changes in systems at policy, corporate and culture-shift levels.

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