Renewed call to end plastic pollution
That is a call to action made by Plastics South Africa director Anton Hanekom who contributed a research paper on the subject in the SA Journal of Science published last week.
This week, Hanekom extended the call he had directed at industry players to everyone “at home”.
“We can all do our bit by starting to separate recyclable waste from organic waste at home. If we put these recyclables - plastic, paper, glass, cans - in a bag and, if not separately collected, then on top of the rubbish bin, it will assist the waste pickers to remove the recyclables from the landfill before it is covered by sand. This will assist in (maintaining) a clean and constant stream of waste going for recycling,” said Hanekom.
He says in his paper, we don’t have the luxury of waiting five years to stop plastics “leaking” into the environment due to the lack of waste management systems and littering.
Asked about the significance of the five years,Hanekom said there was a global industry drive to eradicate plastic pollution by 2025.
“The Global Alliance focus is on South East Asia, where most of the marine litter/waste is originating. Only in the last few months has the alliance opened funding for other parts of the world.
“Africa is the second-biggest contributor to marine litter, mainly from the rivers in North Africa. We see more plastics leaking into the environment due to lack of proper infrastructure and waste management systems. Worldwide, there is a drive to remove plastic products from polluting the environment by 2025. Hence, we need to start now to implement systems to prevent plastics leakage.”
He also urged consumers to “think differently about waste” and help by “putting it in a waste bin where it can be collected for recycling”.
However, even this can seem like an exercise in futility as refuse removal and recyclable collection services are often irregular and unreliable, even in municipalities such as eThekwini. The Covid-19 lockdown also disrupted services, with the “orange bag” collections only resuming on Monday after weeks of suspension.
Meanwhile, others involved in the fight against pollution say recycling is “not enough” as a solution.
Anti-plastic pollution measures “are only addressing the downstream impacts” without considering the air pollution that poor communities face as a result of the production of fossil fuels used in the production of plastics, said Niven Reddy, campaign research and technical manager for non-profit environmental organisation groundWork.
“Emphasis is on clean up and recycling, but that does not address the problem here. We cannot recycle our way out of this problem. We need to start taking drastic measures to completely phase out all single-use materials,” he said.
“The Alliance to End Plastic Waste gets a mention here (in the paper) as playing its part, but what we don’t realise is that this alliance is made up entirely of people who are profiting from the production of plastic and, as long as it affects their bottom line, no real action will be taken. In fact, while they have committed $1billion (R16.92 billion) to clean up, since 2010, those same companies have invested $180bn in new plastic production. The proposed solutions are more aligned with retaining a business-as-usual model and finding ways to ‘hide’ the problem.”
Among the recycling successes are that in 2018, 46.3% of plastic waste was collected for recycling, making South Africa “one of the best mechanical recyclers in the world”, more than 519 370 tons of plastic waste was collected for recycling, providing “direct employment” to more than 7 800 people and creating a further 58 500 “income-generating jobs”; and more than R2.3bn was injected into the informal sector through the purchasing of recyclable plastic waste.
Reddy commended these recycling efforts and urged for greater efforts at sorting dry and organic waste at the source. But, he said, the industry is producing “too much plastic”.
“With the Covid situation, waste pickers have been hard hit, being unable to safely work and recover materials for recycling. Most of the recycling figures that industries punt are through the work of waste pickers, yet, they are not being effectively protected during this pandemic.”The Independent on Saturday