Independent Online

Friday, July 1, 2022

Like us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterView weather by locationView market indicators

LOOK: Invest in our planet by renewing the commitment to recycling

The waste generated in the world has been detrimental to our environment for quite some time now. Picture: Nareeta Martin/Unsplash

The waste generated in the world has been detrimental to our environment for quite some time now. Picture: Nareeta Martin/Unsplash

Published Jun 3, 2022


With World Environment Day fast approaching and journalists frantically trying to find new environmental stories to highlight this year’s theme of “Only One Earth,” an opinion piece, penned by Marcelo Piva, sustainability director at Tetra Pak, popped into my inbox.

Piva implored that “a viable world for us to live in today, and one that will sustain our children tomorrow, is a universal responsibility.”

Story continues below Advertisement

Piva is correct. Sustainability is no longer a buzzword people throw around to be relevant, it is now a need, a must.

Government has recognised that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is the preferred vehicle to reduce waste generation and increase diversion from landfills.

Experts believe that EPR will play a central role in South Africa’s waste management strategy in order to minimise the country's growing waste volumes. Allied to this is the circular economy, which is an essential part of sustainability today.

Piva said that “the commitment to recycling and sustainability cannot rest only at the manufacturing stage.”

Litter, waste separation at source, and collection, all factors influencing the shift towards a more sustainable Earth, bring a collective responsibility to society, across the value chain from material suppliers, manufacturers, packaging companies, and brand owners, right down to consumers. It is everyone's responsibility.

Story continues below Advertisement
Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

The waste generated in the world has been detrimental to our environment for quite some time now. Humans are generating too much litter and cannot deal with it sustainably.

Piva said he gave the example of Tetra Pak and the role it is playing in the manufacturing of sustainable packaging and investing in reliable recycling partners. Within a year and a half, the company invested over R6.64 million into the local waste management sector to help the local value chain secure proper solutions and stronger capabilities for carton package recycling.

Tetra Pak manufactures nearly every milk and juice carton we see in our grocery stores, which amounts to millions of cartons being discarded daily. But private companies like Tetra Pak cannot save the planet alone.

Story continues below Advertisement

Food is a critical but often overlooked element of the climate issue. The global food system accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while 8% of total emissions are caused by food waste.

The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exposed the weaknesses of the world’s food system, issues affecting global food supply and security, and the expected growth of the worldwide population of 9.1 billion by 2050 adds exponentially to the interconnected global challenges of climate change and sustainability.

Story continues below Advertisement

Food packaging plays a key role in keeping food safe, nutritious, tasty, and available for people everywhere – and thereby feeding the world – but it must do so sustainably, so that food availability does not come at the cost of the planet. Sustainable packaging is vital for a sustainable future for all.

Pavi believes that the key to this is maximising the use of renewable materials and sourcing them responsibly in a way that protects biodiversity and minimises the carbon impact of packaging manufacturing operations by, for instance, accelerating the change to renewable energy and by stepping up investment to develop low carbon processing and packaging solutions.

South Africa experienced a decline in collection and recycling rates in 2020, compared to pre-Covid-19 rates. Factors that adversely affected the recycling sector include ongoing load shedding, water shortages, and high labour costs, which forced many operations to scale down, or even close their doors permanently.

Numerous recyclers were unable to operate at full capacity for several months during the past two years due to lock down regulations.

Yet recycling as a concept and practice should be actively encouraged. There is no question that barriers exist and that this is a complex road to navigate across the recycling stakeholder base.

Collaboration across the value chain is of high importance in the industry as well as private-public sectors to join efforts in developing recycling solutions and implementing policies that support collection and recycling.

The devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal in April and late May point to a world in trouble where the reality of climate change can no longer be ignored. Climate change has become a climate crisis, and now, more than ever, it needs a broad-based collaborative mitigation approach to halt further destruction.

It is no longer enough to talk about what should be done to address the climate crisis. It is time to take firm action across all sectors of society — consumers, organisations, businesses and government institutions and businesses — for collaboration and commitment to building a framework for supporting a stable future and shaping it for sustainability.

Invest in our planet by committing to a forward-looking and ongoing assurance to place an even greater focus on sustainability and recycling. We have no other option.