The first presenter at Safripol’s Sustainability Conference was the University of Cape Town’s Peter Ryan, who researched plastics in the marine environment and pointed out that most of the plastic waste in the oceans originates from ships that are dumping plastic rather than from land-based sources.
‘Although marine dumping of plastic has been banned since 1989, we found that it’s still ongoing and identified it as the major contributor to marine pollution.’
Peter explained that plastic bottles are a good tracer because the country of origin and the time of manufacturing are printed on the label or bottle. ‘We found that most of the plastic bottles on Inaccessible Island – a small, isolated Southern Atlantic Ocean island thousands of kilometres away from any continent – are predominantly from Asia.’
Craig Arnold, from the Global Alliance to End Plastic Waste, explained that the Alliance is steering away from policy and rather relying on facts, statistics, and clean-ups. ‘We need to establish where the plastic comes from so that we can fix the problem at the primary source.’
According to Andrew Venter of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership SA, most of the media headlines nowadays are stating that corporates are moving towards sustainable practices. ‘The most important question that arises from these headlines is: do they know what they’re doing?’
The Institute is, therefore, working with regional business, government and civil society leaders to help them shape and implement response strategies to the emerging impacts of climate change and a sustainable economy.
Plastix 911’s Annabé Pretorius and Extrupet’s Chandru Wadhwani explained how recycling in the country works and encouraged delegates to ask questions related to the topic. Both speakers stressed that consumers form an important part of the recycling process, and there’s a need for a better recycling environment and consumer education initiatives.
Adwoa Coleman from Dow discussed the three parts to a circular economy. The first focuses on plastic not ending up in the environment, the second part looks at delivering circular economy solutions, and the third relates to partnerships. ‘All of us in the value chain have an important role to play because nobody can do it alone.’
The Moss Group’s Nicky van Hille and Circular Vision’s Sally-Anne Käsner discussed whether South Africa is transitioning to a circular economy. ‘We recently surveyed consumers’ perceptions of single-use plastics and found that although nobody really knows exactly what it includes, it’s a highly emotive issue, with 70% of participants stating that single-use plastics are the largest pollutant in the world,’ explains Nicky.
According to Sally-Anne, consumers are shifting the blame to government or manufacturers. ‘Everybody in the value chain must take responsibility, and consumers need to know what role they play.’ She pointed out that consumers are often confused by marketing that suggests that a certain material is the ‘greener’ choice.
The day closed with a discussion about the responsibility of each member in the value chain. Nampak Rigid Plastics’ Clinton Farndell and Unilever’s Paul Coombe emphasised that there’s room for improvement. ‘It’s important for companies to pursue joint goals and the SA Plastics Pact provides companies with these targets,’ Clinton stated.
Paul explained that it’s important to know all the components specified for each pack enhance its recyclability. ‘Specifications should cover everyone involved in the design and converting processes, including resin suppliers. Manufacturers need to receive feedback on their packaging so that they can improve the environmental performance.’
After the conference, delegates could network and further discuss the topics raised during the day at a social event.