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Impossible to recover all plastic pollution, experts say focus should be on reuse and refill models

While SANBWA supported the call for further development of refill and reuse systems, CEO Charlotte Metcalf said the link between ivory and plastic should be a reminder to South Africans of why the anti-plastic sentiment was misguided. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA

While SANBWA supported the call for further development of refill and reuse systems, CEO Charlotte Metcalf said the link between ivory and plastic should be a reminder to South Africans of why the anti-plastic sentiment was misguided. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA

Published Jan 21, 2022

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Cape Town - Greenpeace Africa’s call for a global treaty to include the whole life cycle of plastics and move away from unnecessary plastic packaging was partly echoed by the South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA).

SANBWA said replacing plastic with alternative packaging materials was not the answer to pollution and urged the public to focus on the full life cycle of packaging materials, while developing further reuse and refill packaging systems.

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This comes ahead of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in February, where national governments and multinationals would be presented the opportunity to take a substantial stance through a legally binding UN treaty on plastic pollution. More than 70 signatories have already signed on.

Greenpeace Africa mobilisation Officer Erastus Ooko said: “This treaty is an opportunity for Africa’s leadership to truly demonstrate the commitments they have made to addressing plastic pollution on the continent, and to show that they are truly on the side of the people”

“We need a treaty that will quickly move us away from unnecessary plastic packaging and support the development of refill and reuse systems on a global scale,” said Greenpeace USA oceans director’s John Hocevar.

While SANBWA supported the call for further development of refill and reuse systems, CEO Charlotte Metcalf said the link between ivory and plastic should be a reminder to South Africans of why the anti-plastic sentiment was misguided.

Metcalf said she was reminded of the link by WWF sustainable materials specialist Paula Chin who said plastic ’was invented to replace the use of elephant ivory for billiard balls in the 1800s, and averted an ecological disaster, while the plastic bag was intended to be reusable when it was invented in 1962’.

Chin commented on the Packaging Insights website to beware of plastic replacements and rather prioritise reuse.

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The materials specialist explained that while the war on single-use items was necessary, there were many misperceptions about the role of plastics, and asserted the public should shift their attention to wider concerns over the full life cycle of plastics.

Chin said replacing plastic with alternative packaging materials was not the answer to pollution and may even worsen industry’s environmental impact. She believes a systems-based approach focusing on reuse and refill models should be implemented, in which policymakers and businesses were held fully accountable.

Chin said plastic production was set to increase by 40% by 2030 and as plastic products became increasingly complex, it was impossible to recover it all.

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Related Topics:

environmentCape Town

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