Cape Town - South Africa produces more than 2.5 million tons of plastic annually.
The impact is detrimental to the environment, the economy, and human health.
This month, at the second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution in Paris, 175 nations, including South Africa, entered into a commitment to end plastic pollution, including that which occurs in the marine environment, by the end of next year.
Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy visited two recycling plants in Cape Town to gain insight into the issue.
The two projects – Waste Want, located in Kraaifontein, and the Centre for Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC SA RESIN8), in Blackheath – are involved in different aspects of the recycling value chain.
Waste Want employs 200 people and diverts 1 000 tons of plastic waste from landfills every month.
CRDC SA RESIN8 is a site where plastic is mixed and converted into a modifier for the construction industry.
The company currently processes 450kg of waste a day, and aims to reach 610 tons per month when it reaches full production.
Creecy’s office said that, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa, a little more than 2.5 million tons of plastic were produced annually in the country.
She added that poor waste management practices meant that as much as half of post-consumer plastic was not properly disposed of, and there was therefore a risk of it leaking into the environment.
“In South Africa, the negotiating process is already bringing about greater agreement and collaboration between all stakeholders as they work to identify achievable goals to ensure plastic waste and pollution are effectively addressed,” said Minister Creecy.
Creecy said poor landfill practices and sporadic household waste collection were leading to unacceptable levels of illegal dumping.
She added that the department’s recycling enterprise support programme had in the past six years supported 56 start-ups and emerging small, medium and micro enterprises and co-operatives operating within the waste sector, providing more than R300m in financial support, creating 1 558 jobs, and diverting over 200 000 tons of waste from landfills.
Anton Bredell, the Western Cape’s minister of local government, environmental affairs and development planning, said South Africa generated 2.4 million tons of plastic waste per year, which translated into approximately 41kg per person, of which only 14% was recycled.
“Not only is plastic manufacturing highly resource-intensive and dependent on fossil fuel extraction, but the plastics discarded persist in nature long thereafter,” he added.
“The impacts of plastic pollution on the marine environment are globally recognised, and as a coastal province the Western Cape is also not immune to its impact.”
Dave Bryant, an MP and the DA’s shadow minister of the environment, forestry and fisheries, said plastic pollution across South Africa was an epidemic.
“The impact of plastic pollution on wildlife – in particular, sea birds and fish – is devastating, and the ingestion of plastic products can lead to further risks to humans who eat the affected seafood,” said Bryant.