Panel discusses plastic pollution

From left, are Douw Steyn from Plastics SA, Chandru Wadhwani from Extrupet and Propet, Petco CEO Cheri Scholz and Dr Tony Ribbink, of the Sustainable Seas Trust.

Plastics are not bad; it’s plastic pollution that is the problem – this was a common message during a panel discussion over the state of plastic pollution in the country.

A panel, which included thought leaders from business and industry, government and academia, took part in this discussion at Kirstenbosch’s Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation on Thursday March 12, hosted by the International Ocean Institute in partnership with national PET plastic recycling body PETCO.

Dr Tony Ribbink, founding trustee of Sustainable Seas Trust and director of the African Marine Waste Network, believes the zero plastics to sea programme can work, but only if everyone collaborates.

“No single organisation can solve these problems. We need to work with key role-players, especially municipalities if we are to stem the tide,” he said.

Dr Ribbink said it was essential to focus on catchment areas, as well as education and capacity building. Among the issues that need to be dealt with, according to Dr Ribbink, are the perceptions around recyclable plastics, how the messages are communicated and issues around policies.

Alison Davidson, from the City of Cape Town’s solid waste department, said government needed to look at how it could supplement sustainable procurement as the state was the largest procurer of goods.

“We need to implement sustainable green procurement systems programme to promote a circular economy.”

Another common theme during the discussion, was the concept of designing for recycling. Douw Steyn, the sustainability director of Plastics SA, said 360 million tons of plastics were produced in 2018, with 1.5 million tons produced locally.

He said the design-for-recycle concept would help the country to move forward in a more sustainable way.

Mr Steyn said they were working on a guideline for the design of recyclable goods.

Dr Suzan Oelofse, principal researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, said there should be more clarity around recyclable products in the coming months, as well as more information available on products in line with the South African Plastics Pact (SAPP).

The SAPP seeks to eliminate unnecessary and problematic single-use plastic packaging; make sure all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable; and increase the collection and recycling of plastic packaging.

“Retailers will be rolling out this system, which will help one to define recyclable products and provide much clearer communication,” she said.

Lizelle Coombs, CEO of Angels Resource Centre, an organisation that offers business and life-skills training programmes, said they had created about 3 000 jobs through their recycling initiatives but they faced a problem when it came to industry.

“On one end, we have managed to create jobs, but industry is not prepared to collect or provide transport to take for recycling. We are faced with a situation of having all these items but not knowing what to do with them.”

Ms Coombs said the issue of recycling needed to be changed at an industry level and more education around the type of recyclables was needed.