Sometimes it feels like you're shouldering the burden of plastic pollution alone, but collectively consumers can bring about change. Picture: Raul de los Santos/Unsplash.
Sometimes it feels like you're shouldering the burden of plastic pollution alone, but collectively consumers can bring about change. Picture: Raul de los Santos/Unsplash.

Consumers can help push industry for change to end plastic waste

By Terry van der Walt Time of article published Nov 4, 2020

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As consumers we are a vital piece in the puzzle to solve the plastic pollution problem through making informed purchases, and getting behind initiatives to grow a circular economy for plastic.

And although as individuals it sometimes feels as though we’re losing the fight to end the scourge, huge advances have been made to reduce the amount of plastic that goes to landfills or gets discarded in the environment.

This is the optimistic view of Oliver Bonstein, from the South African Plastics Pact.

Bonstein is a member of the SA Plastics Pact Secretariat.

“As long as plastic is produced as a by-product of fossil fuels there will always be plastic in circulation, but this does not have to be detrimental to the environment.

“We have to take steps to reduce the wastage of plastic by eliminating problematic plastics through material substitution and other approaches, reducing plastic production, improving collection for recycling, and increasing recycled content in our plastic packaging. In this way we can move towards a circular economy for plastics,” he said.

The South African Plastics Pact is a collaborative platform which brings together members from across the plastics value chain, from packaging manufacturers to brand owners and retailers, as well as recycling companies.

Then there are supporting members to the SA Plastics Pact which help create the environment for members to reach targets, these include the Producer Responsibility Organisations, government departments, property management companies, informal recycling collectors and other industry bodies.

The SA Plastics Pact and all of its members have agreed to work towards a set of ambitious targets that will help reduce the environmental impact of plastic packaging and drive a circular economy for plastics in South Africa.

The targets are set for 2025 and are as follows:

1. Taking action on unnecessary and problematic packaging and plastic products through design, innovation or alternative delivery models.

2. 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.

3. 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled by 2025.

4. 30% average post-consumer recycled content across all plastic packaging.

“There is no silver bullet solution that will make the plastic waste problem go away, it will require multi-faceted approaches and collaborations from every level of the value chain, from producers through to consumers to reduce the creation of plastic waste.

“It is a complex and systemic problem, with solutions needed from the design of products and materials through to interventions when the consumer is finished using it and beyond. Some items need to be phased out, while basic waste removal services are yet to be provided to some communities. Our role is to increase actions being taken across the plastics value chain to reduce the environmental burden of plastic waste" he said.

Forty percent of households have no formal waste collection, while eight percent have separation at source services, and informal waste pickers are estimated to collect 80 – 90% of our recyclable materials.

Bonstein believes that consumers have a role to play through conscious consumer behaviour.

Here are eight things you can do to help:

1. Re-look at your consumption – avoid wasteful purchases and refuse unnecessary promotional products.

2. Reuse packaging safely where feasible

3. Read labels on products to find out whether the packaging can be recycled.

4. Make good choices by going for products that are in recyclable packaging or packaging that is made from recycled plastic.

5. Engage with the informal sector and allow access to materials, by having plastic waste in a separate bag.

6. Use existing recycling and waste management infrastructure correctly.

7. Use your voice by engaging with municipalities, retailers and manufacturers about their responsibilities in the value chain.

8. Ask for product packaging that enables you as a consumer to be part of the solution.

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