SA Plastics to tackle plastic pollution ahead of UNEA 5.2 (Nairobi)
The UN Environmental Assembly will be meeting for their fifth session (UNEA 5.2) in Nairobi, Kenya, next week. Expected to be the most important environmental pact since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s environmental leaders will be meeting from 28 February – 2 March to draft a blueprint for a global plastics treaty that will address the issue of marine litter and plastic pollution in the environment.
Given the environmental challenges faced as a consequence of plastic pollution, South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) indicated that Government will give its support to the establishment of an Inter-Governmental Negotiating Committee (INC) under UNEA to negotiate an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.
Commenting on the upcoming UNEA 5.2 conference and South Africa’s position, Plastics SA Executive Director Anton Hanekom says they share the vision, passion and driving ambition to prevent leakage of plastic into the environment and achieve universal access to waste collection.
“We fully acknowledge and support the urgency to address the issue of plastic waste in the environment and marine plastic debris. However, we do not believe that this will be successfully achieved by regulating plastic products or production. Plastics can play a valuable and important role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provided that they are responsibly and sustainably produced, used, and recovered in a circular economy,” Hanekom says.
The Resolution proposes addressing plastic pollution through the following provisions:
Establishing as necessary targets, definitions, methodologies, formats and obligations
Addressing product design and use, including compounds, additives and harmful substances, as well as intentionally added microplastics;
Promoting national action plans to prevent, reduce and remediate plastic pollution – tailored to local and national circumstances and the characteristics of specific sectors
Increasing knowledge through awareness-raising and information exchange on best practices to prevent plastic pollution and promote behavioural change;
Monitoring and reporting on national and international progress on implementation of the agreement;
Providing scientific and socio-economic assessments and monitoring and reporting on plastic pollution in the environment;
Cooperating and coordinating with relevant regional and international conventions, instruments and organisations;
Specifying financial and technical arrangements as well as technology transfer assistance to support the implementation of the convention
Addressing implementation and compliance issues;
Promoting research and development into innovative solutions.
Although it is expected that the agreement will be based on the principles of equity and shared responsibilities, South Africa will be advocating that the special needs and circumstances of Africa be recognised and that the respective capabilities of each country must be analysed in light of national circumstances.
Explains Hanekom: “Each country’s local and regional context is different, as is the availability of funding and other resources to develop and implement effective waste management solutions. It is important to recognise that nations have unique and different socio-political climates that should be taken into consideration. In our opinion, enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach on all countries would be catastrophic and short-sighted. The global agreement should allow for flexibility and room for country-specific approaches. Only by creating inclusive platforms where governments, the industry, civil society, and academia can negotiate and collaborate, will we be able to identify, develop and replicate workable solutions that will ultimately benefit the environment”.
Role-players in the Global plastic industry have proposed a set of five principles aimed at eliminating plastic waste, accelerating a circular economy for plastics, and serving as the basis for a global agreement. These are:
Have all nations agree on eliminating plastic waste, while providing flexibility and support to help meet the needs of individual nations
Achieve widespread access to waste collection
Recognize the role plastics play in a lower carbon future
Support innovation in product design and recycling technology
“Plastics SA proposes that countries should be allowed domestic flexibility to develop plans for eliminating plastic waste leakage that are regionally appropriate, based on local circumstances and supported by enabling policies. South Africa needs new, additional and predictable financing, technology transfer and the development of increased capacity to implement our plans. We believe that a global agreement could be used as an opportunity to accelerate the progress that we have already made in this regard. By building a stronger than ever foundation for effective waste management, we can ensure that used plastics are kept in the economy (recovered and recycled) and out of the environment,” Hanekom concludes.
SA prepares to celebrate Clean-Up & Recycle SA week
Plastics SA – the umbrella body representing the entire plastics industry – is calling on South Africans to participate in the annual Clean-Up & Recycle SA week from 13-18 September 2021. This year’s week will once again culminate in National Recycling Day on Friday, 17 September 2021 and the International Coastal Clean-Up Day/Let’s Do It World Clean-up Day on Saturday, 18 September 2021.
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 Wastesand 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: TheHonolulu Strategy: Global Framework for Prevention and Management of MarineDebris 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.
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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:
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.)
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;
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;
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;
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.
Sasol becomes a signatory of Operation Clean Sweep
Sasol has become the first raw material supplier to the South African plastics industry to become a signatory of Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) – an international stewardship programme designed to prevent resin pellet, flake, and powder loss and help keep this material out of the marine environment. Sasol is committed to providing chemicals and energy in a responsible way and respecting the environment by continually improving performance to minimise and avoid adverse impacts.
Plastics|SA is the licensee and project coordinator for OCS in South Africa’s plastics industry. As a signatory of the “Joint declaration for solutions to the problem of marine litter” which took place during the 5th International Conference on Marine Debris, held in Honolulu in 2011, it joined the international plastics community’s commitment to address the issue of plastics in the marine environment.
Douw Steyn, Sustainability Director at Plastics|SA says spilled pellets, flakes and powder can make their way into local waterways and ultimately estuaries and the ocean. “This isn’t just an eyesore and a litter issue. Pellets, flakes and powder can be mistaken for food by birds or marine animals, and could harm them if ingested,” he explains.
As part of their plan of action to implement OCS in South Africa, Plastics|SA has developed a detailed toolkit and a manual that contains guidelines to help plastics industry operations managers reduce the accidental loss of pellets, flakes and powder from the manufacturing facility into the environment. To date, more than 9 local companies, as well as the PRO’s (Producer Responsibility Organisations) such as PETCO, Polyco, the Southern African Vinyls Association and Polystyrene Association of SA have taken the OCS pledge on behalf of their members and agreed to the following six commitments in order to establish / demonstrable environmentally responsible processes:
Improving worksite set-up to prevent and address spills
Creating and publishing internal procedures to achieve zero operations plastic material loss
Providing employee training and accountability for spill prevention, containment, clean-up and disposal
Auditing performance regularly
Complying with all applicable state and local regulations governing operations plastics waste containment and management
Encouraging value chain partners (contractors, transporters, distributors, etc.) to pursue the same goals.
Sasol as a responsible polymer producer aims to join other companies along the plastics value chain in ensuring that polymer pellets are manufactured, transported and stored responsibly until it is converted into the final product, says Bernard Klingenberg, Executive Director of Sasol.
“Through OCS Sasol will further minimise our environmental footprint by ensuring that our polymer is managed responsibly throughout the manufacturing life cycle stages to prevent any release into the environment.”
Bernard Klingenberg, Executive Director of Sasol
“We have conducted internal assessments at our South African production sites and implemented improvements which include reinforcing good housekeeping practices, employee awareness, and implementation of screens on drains. In addition, Sasol is in the process of engaging with supply chain partners to assist them where necessary in adopting these important practices”, says Klingenberg.
Leading up to the signing of the OCS Pledge Sasol undertook various activities towards becoming an OS member which include education and awareness sessions, production facility audits, and conducted self-assessments questionnaires along Sasol’s supply chain.
Plastics | SA is highly appreciative of these results and the commitment shown by Sasol to OCS to prevent resin pellet, flake, and powder loss and help keep this material out of the marine environment and welcomes Sasol as the first raw material supplier as a signatory of OCS in South Africa.