All eyes on global plastic treaty as plastic pollution reaches crisis levels

Large amounts of plastic pollution in the Liesbeek River flows towards the ocean. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Large amounts of plastic pollution in the Liesbeek River flows towards the ocean. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 7, 2022


Cape Town - As the volume of plastic pollution reached crisis levels, stakeholders in South Africa’s environmental space reflected on the first round of negotiations to establish an internationally legally-binding agreement to end the pollution.

This could result in countries banning and phasing out the most problematic plastic.

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) met in Punta del Este, Uruguay last week, when Representatives from more than 140 countries took part in the first of five sessions the INC will be hosting to establish a final and global plastics treaty by the end of 2024.

Earlier this year, Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said the country supported the INC’s mandate under the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), and would stress the need for new, additional and predictable finance for its implementation in Africa.

In the first round, representatives made clear the goals, scope, obligations, measures and the type of agreement. In the second meeting, to be held in Paris in May next year, a policy synthesis will be provided to inform the text of the legally-binding agreement.

Creecy previously said the country’s systems and processes were already effective in significantly reducing the amount of plastic waste, especially waste going into the ocean.

Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment spokesperson Albi Modise highlighted some of the country’s efforts already in place to reduce plastic pollution.

“South Africa has regulations to control plastic carrier bags and the plastic bag levy. There is also VC8087, administered by the National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications, that restrict the quality of plastic carrier bags that can be placed on the South African market.

“South Africa has also mandated Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic packaging and some single-use plastic items. Producers of these items contribute EPR fees towards the management of waste / end-of-life of their products,” he said.

Zaynab Sadan, WWF regional plastics policy co-ordinator for WWF in Africa, who was in Uruguay for the start of the negotiations, said the organisation was highly motivated by the overwhelming collective support for an ambitious instrument with binding, global control measures across the plastic life cycle and complementary national actions to end plastic pollution.

“Countries should not forget that the world is watching. While negotiations are to take place over the next two years, plastic pollution continues to harm people and nature. Countries must continue to ramp up their actions to address plastic pollution,” Sadan said.

EFF MP Nazier Paulsen said the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment was looking at mechanisms used by other African countries, such as Kenya, to ban single-use plastics.

He said one of the few things the committee agreed on was the need to eliminate the use of single-use plastics.

“We can’t wait for the UN to conclude with its task. Meanwhile the catastrophe of plastic pollution worsens and adds to the degradation of our oceans and land mass,” he said.

DA spokesperson for environment, forestry and fisheries, Dave Bryant, said: “Plastic pollution remains a huge concern in many parts of the country. It is essential that the ANC government takes legislative steps towards improving the management of plastic, with an aim of reducing the amount of plastic waste generated.”

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Cape Argus