Our plastic perils
Over the past fifty years, the use of plastics worldwide has increased exponentially, due in part to its incredible versatility, strength, shape ability and flexibility of application. Plastic enhances convenience, comfort, safety, shelf life, hygiene, energy efficiency and oftentimes has lower carbon emissions than similar products made using other materials. This large-scale use of plastics also has inherent disadvantages. The use of fossil-based input materials and the energy footprint of the plastics manufacturing sector, has a significant impact on the environment;; improper disposal leads to the spread of litter and microplastics, polluting both land and aquatic ecosystems; and the failure to recycle plastic means a valuable raw material ( with its embodied energy) is lost.
Closing the loop
To reduce the negative environmental impacts of plastics and accelerate the transition from a linear plastic material flow to a closed loop or circular flow, the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-SA) and the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO) are spearheading the development of The South Africa Plastics Pact with support from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and technical support from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.
The SA Plastics Pact brings together all key stakeholders at national level to implement solutions towards a circular economy for plastics. The initiative will be led by a South African organisation, uniting businesses, governments and citizens behind a set of concrete, timebound, ambitious targets, relevant to the local South African context, which also compliment statutory requirements. It not only builds on the transition agendas for plastics and consumer goods as set out in the Waste Act, Waste Phakisa, Good Green Deeds, ‘The New Plastics Economy’ published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter, but it will also contribute concretely towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns), SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts) and SDG 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development).
The SA Plastics Pact has the potential to be part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Pact network, and will present a platform to exchange learnings with other initiatives and organisations from around the world, all working to implement a common vision for a plastics system that keeps plastics in the economy and out of the environment.
The development journey of the SA Plastics Pact
The SAPP has evolved since it was unveiled at the Design for Recycling event at Propak and the GreenCape and Sustainable Retailers Forum Circular Economy event in March this year. An intensive scoping and engagement phase has been initiated, driven by WWF, and there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from key stakeholders across the value chain including: national government, NGOs, retailers, brand owners, plastic industry bodies, Producer Responsibility Organisations and waste management companies interested in taking this collaborative initiative forward.
As part of the journey to shaping the SAPP, a meeting of parties and organizations who support taking this initiative further, was held on 14 June at the Spier Wine Estate, in Stellenbosch. This first meeting took the form of a facilitated roundtable discussion considering various aspects of the structure, design and implementation of the initiative.
Collaborating towards concrete and measurable goals
In a bold move, distinguishing itself from other initiatives, the prospective SA Plastics Pact signatories are supporting the undertaking, in a pre-competitive setting and in cooperation with players in the plastics value chain, to collaborate and lead the way in:
- addressing problematic single-use plastic products and packaging;
- increasing the recyclability in practice of plastic products and packaging;
- enhancing corporate social responsibility
- pooling resources for research and innovation and
- improving consistency in communications and messaging to customers and consumers.
To this end they have set concrete and measurable goals up to 2025. The national targets proposed after a 3 month consultation process with various stakeholders and adapted to the South African local context are as follows:
- Target 1-Define a list of problematic/unnecessary plastic packaging and items and agree to measures to address by 2021.
- Target 2 -100% of plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable or compostable* by 2025 (* applicable only in closed loop and controlled systems with sufficient infrastructure available or fit for purpose applications e.g. tea bags).
- Target 3 -70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled by 2025.
- Target 4 -30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging by 2025 (average across all product lines).
- Target 5 I is yet to be finalised but could include Number of jobs created in plastic waste sector and/or; Economic contribution of plastic waste sector to overall GDP and/or; 100% of plastic producers are members of Product Responsibility Organisations.
At this stage, The SA Plastics Pact is mainly focussed on fast-moving consumer goods, i.e. single-use plastic products and packaging, as well as plastics recyclate applications in complementary consumer goods industries (such as furniture, electronics, clothes and toys). The Steering Committee may make agreements at a later stage whether other applications, such as the construction and automotive industries, will be included.
The work streams to support the achievement of these targets are at the inception stage. Hhowever, momentum has already been gained in some instances with the WWF holding the OPRL guidance initiative. Other work streams that have been identified are guidelines on biodegradable and compostable materials (which ties in to Target 2 ) and the ongoing government and industry driven dialogue on waste collection and the informal waste sector (which impacts Target 3).
The holding body
The SA Plastics Pact will be held by an independent coordinating body or Secretariat whose role would include amongst others coordination of activities and reporting; monitoring and evaluation; drafting the roadmap and the proposed Plastics Pact activities supported by WRAP and WWF; coordinating work streams and activities to support members in achieving targets; stakeholder engagement, marketing and communications; and collaboration with other Plastic Pacts within the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Pact Network. There will be on-going engagement with the organisations that have expressed interest in the role of the Secretariat of The SA Plastics Pact. These proposals will be reviewed by a Steering Committee (comprising invited signatories that represent stakeholders from across the value chain), with the support of WWF. The role of the Steering Committee will be to provide input and guidance to Secretariat on the focus and strategic direction of the Pact; identify common barriers to the circular economy for plastics in South Africa and provide guidance on appropriate work streams and activities to overcome these barriers.
Recruitment and roll out
To jointly work towards the vision for a circular economy for plastics and the targets of The SA Plastics Pact, the WWF and CGCSA (The Secretariat of the SA Alliance of Plastic Waste Forum) are in discussions on the synergies between the Pact and the SA Alliance on Plastic Waste Forum.
In the coming weeks WWF plan to release a ‘Signatory Pack‘ which would include information on: organisational structure, fee structure, targets, marketing and scope. Potential Signatories will be encouraged to sign-up by by the end of August 2019 whereafter the Steering Committee will be formalised in September with a view to launching by October 2019.
For more information on The SA Plastics Pact, or to become a part of this pioneering initiative please contact:
Lorren de Kock-Circular Plastics Economy :: Policy & Futures Unit, WWF-SA ::
Tel: +27 (0)21 657 6656