It is assumed that a large portion of the litter comes from ships entering the Cape Town Harbour nearby. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA
It is assumed that a large portion of the litter comes from ships entering the Cape Town Harbour nearby. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA

Ships found to be major contributor to illegal plastic bottle dumping

By Kristin Engel Time of article published Jul 12, 2021

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Cape Town - Despite the ban on plastic dumping at sea and South Africa’s ocean conservation efforts, a recent study has revealed that a large number of ships dump plastic bottles on South African beaches and showed that some bottles drift across the Indian Ocean from countries in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia.

The study was conducted by the University of Cape Town’s FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and Nelson Mandela University and was published in the Environmental Pollution journal.

The researchers included Peter Ryan, Eleanor Weideman, Vonica Perold, Greg Hofmeyr and Maelle Connan.

Lead researcher Professor Ryan said they collected bottles and other single-use containers across 32 beaches along the South African coast to deduce their sources based on their age and country of manufacture.

Ryan said the study showed that sources of litter varied depending on one’s location around the coast.

“Close to urban centres like Cape Town, almost all bottles (and other plastic litter) comes from local sources – mainly washed into the sea down rivers and storm drains.

“However, as you move away from urban centres, the proportion of 'offshore' litter increases – this is because most land-based litter washes up quite close to where it enters the sea,” said Ryan.

The researcher said offshore litter could be divided into two sources; illegal dumping from ships (both foreign and South African), and long-distance drift, mainly from Southeast Asia.

Extinction Rebellion Cape Town spokesperson Michael Wolf said insufficient international legislation and a lack of enforcement allowed shipping and fishing corporations to get away with whatever they liked when no one was looking.

“Plastic producers need to be held accountable. They should be liable for the cost of the destruction they are causing to people and the environment. If this happens, one way plastic products will become unaffordable giving way to biodegradable alternatives,” said the spokesperson.

The study called on the International Maritime Organisation to tighten regulations to ensure that ships use port reception facilities for such waste, rather than dumping their rubbish at sea.

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