In South Africa around 2.4 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated annually. Just 14% is recycled, and on average, every person leaks at least 1.4kg of plastic to the environment every year! According to the Breaking the Plastics Wave report the flow of plastic into the ocean is projected to nearly triple by 2040.
To try address these worrying statistics, a collaboration of SA retailers and brands joined together to form The Plastic Pact, and have managed to divert as many as 34.7 million problematic or unnecessary plastic items from landfills in a single year.
As many as 34.7 million problematic or unnecessary plastic items were diverted from landfills in a single year by an inspiring collaboration of leading local retailers and brands that belong to the innovative South African Plastics Pact. This, and other encouraging results, were announced in their recent annual report, showing strong progress in eliminating plastic waste.
Consumers can easily be part of this success story and make a significant difference, by recognising these plastics and eliminating their use, while actively supporting the SA Plastics Pact members who are leading the way.
According to the Breaking the Plastics Wave report: “The flow of plastic into the ocean is projected to nearly triple by 2040. Without considerable action to address plastic pollution, 50kgs of plastic will enter the ocean for every metre of shoreline.”
A significant contributor to the plastic waste problem
A significant contributor to the mountains of plastic waste seen in South Africa’s landfills or in the environment is what is called ‘problematic or unnecessary’ plastic packaging items. These are items which cannot be reused, recycled or composted, which contain or require hazardous chemicals in production, or which hinder or disrupt the recyclability of other items.
Because many of these items are small and can’t or won’t be collected for recycling, they are highly likely to end up as waste in the environment. Taking action in removing these items altogether forms target 1 of the SA Plastics Pact.
The SA Plastics Pact has identified and published a list of twelve problematic or unnecessary plastic items which they have begun to phase out.
12 problematic / unnecessary plastic items
1. PET and PVC shrink sleeves on PET beverage bottles
2. Thin (barrier) bags at tills
3. Oxo-degradable plastics
4. PVC bottles, pallet wrap and labels
5. Plastic stickers on fruit and vegetables
6. Thin filmed barrier bags for fruit and vegetables (50% reduction)
7. Plastic straws
8. Plastic stirrers
9. Single-use plastic picnic cutlery and plastic plates and bowls
10. Cotton buds with plastic stems
11. Plastic lollipop sticks
12. Plastic microbeads in cosmetics
Out of the 96.3 million problematic or unnecessary items sold or distributed by SA Plastics Pact members in 2021, the biggest problems were (and remain) PET/PVC shrink sleeves on PET bottles, which contributed 475 tonnes, as well as the thin lightweight barrier bags at tills.
PET/PVC shrink sleeves discolour and disrupt the recycling of rigid PET bottles, which otherwise has one of the highest recycling rates in the country whilst barrier bags represent one of the highest number of items reported, despite not being recycled and highly littered.
Encouraging progress achieved
The SA Plastics Pact has made encouraging progress in achieving this top priority, as detailed in its most recent annual report. One of the key highlights from the 2021/2022 Report is that a significant “34.7 million fewer problematic or unnecessary items were sold/distributed by members in 2021″.
This is the result of a variety of strategies implemented by members including, for example, the introduction of paper stems and sticks for earbuds and lollipop sticks; and the removal, altogether, of plastic straws, plastic stirrers and plastic stickers.
In addition, with regard to the top two problematic items, around 3.2 million PET/PVC shrink sleeves on PET beverage bottles were removed by the end of 2021; while 19.3 million barrier bags at tills were removed during 2022.
Consumers will recognise many of the brands and retailers who are driving this success and trailblazing the path towards a circular plastics economy.
The 43 SA Plastics Pact members includes well-loved retailers like Woolworths, SPAR, Clicks and Pick ‘n Pay as well as well-known brand owners like Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa, Pepisco and Tiger Brands, working with businesses, government, Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) and NGOs to tackle plastics waste and pollution at its source.
Blazing the way, they are making substantial contributions with, for example, Pick ‘n Pay entirely removing barrier bags at tills, which constitutes 21% of barrier bags in stores! Similarly, Clicks has reduced PET/PVC labels on PET bottles, selling just 0.13 tonnes in 2021 compared to 1.44 tonnes in 2020.
In addition, some members are currently looking at reuse-refill dispensing solutions to eliminate on-the-go packaging. Some examples include the Sonke Pilot Project with Unilever, involving refills for Sunlight Liquid and Unilever’s developing partnership with Triple Shine for refill in spaza shops; and a Pilot Project with V&A Waterfront to implement a “rent-a-reusable cup” deposit-return system for beverages at the Oranjezicht City Farm Market in Cape Town.
You can be part of the success story
As consumers, we have an important role to play in ensuring these ‘problematic and unnecessary’ items do not end up as litter or in a landfill. The first step is as simple and easy as familiarising ourselves with those plastics that have been identified by the Pact as problematic and unnecessary, and then reducing and eliminating our use of them.
How to spot problematic / unnecessary plastic items
– Cannot be reused, recycled or composted.
– Contain or require hazardous chemicals in production.
– Hinder or disrupt the recyclability of other items.