Is plastic the problem or is pollution?

The South African government is considering a total ban on single-use plastics in order to minimise the amount of waste causing damage to the environment and its animals. However, according to some industry experts, plastic is not actually the problem; littering is. 

Humans that litter their waste are directly responsible for environmental pollution – one of the biggest threats facing our lands and seas. Plastics SA has called for the government and South Africans to direct their attention towards the problem of pollution, rather than the plastic products

“To win the war on plastic pollution, every role-player in the plastics industry needs to confront some hard truths. This includes us as the producers of plastics, but it also includes government and consumers,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

According to Hanekom, plastic can actually be an environmentally-friendly product if recycled properly. It also uses less energy to manufacture and recycle than metal, paper and glass products. Hanekom argues that plastic manufacturing results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than the ‘eco-friendly’ alternatives. 

If the government and citizens can dispose of waste in the correct manner, it may be a more effective solution that a total ban on plastic products. But how easy will a litter-free society be to achieve? The education around litter and dumping waste will cost billions of rands, and the attitude towards littering may take a few generations to instill in all South African households.

Plastic industry willing to make changes

Plastic manufacturers in South Africa agree that something needs to be done. They have stated that they are willing to make the necessary changes to make plastic products more environmentally-friendly and more recyclable. 

“We will also prioritise new scalable technologies within the industry that not only make recycling and recovering plastics easier, but also enable the creation of value from all plastics once they have been used,” explains Hanekom. For this to succeed, the plastic companies will need to form strong partnerships with the government.

Hanekom states that the government needs to improve the infrastructure at recycling facilities in order to boost collection and recycling rates. “In doing so, it can create thousands of new jobs while safeguarding the 100 000 formal and informal jobs that the plastics industry currently provides,” he says.

Using plastic bag levies as intended

Hanekom argues that another way for the government to fund the upgrade of recycling facilities in South Africa is to use the levies from plastic bags at supermarkets. These levies were introduced in 2003.

“The nearly R2-billion that has been raised through the levy so far should never have been absorbed into the national fiscus. Instead, the levy should have been ring-fenced for its intended purpose: to develop better recycling facilities and incentivise sustainable consumer behaviour,” says Hanekom

“In the coming weeks and months, we, as the plastics industry, will embark on a sustained campaign to persuade government and citizens to join us in the war on plastic pollution. We support President Cyril Ramaphosa’s quest to clean up South Africa, but it can only happen if there is a recycling revolution in this country,” he exclaims.

If litter can be addressed adequately and the problem curbed across the nation, then pollution in the environment will be drastically reduced. No litter means no pollution. If plastic products are disposed of in a responsible manner, then they can be reused and recycled as intended.

“A rational conversation about plastic pollution recognises the positive attributes of plastic and focuses on how to manage plastic waste. To win this fight, we need to build strong collaborative and meaningful partnerships. Government, industry and the consumer needs to work together,” concludes Hanekom.


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