The Plastics Problem

Plastics are fundamental to our everyday lives, they are incredibly versatile and low cost and enable the modern, convenient lifestyle to which we are accustomed. They are used in all sorts of beneficial ways like protecting the food we buy and preventing it from becoming waste before it reaches our tables.

Over the past 50 years, the use of plastics worldwide has increased 200 fold and has grown at a rate of 4% per annum since the year 2000. However for all the positive applications, benefits and uses of plastic, the negative impacts of irresponsible consumption and disposal of plastics are far reaching; for example:

  • Plastic is made of derivatives of fossil-based input materials – which are non-renewable
  • Plastic pollution impacts directly on our environment – through leakage of plastic litter into the environment polluting both land and aquatic ecosystems
  • Plastic contributes to climate change- with increased production and incineration of plastic waste contributing to the growing carbon dioxide emissions each year
  • Plastic also has severe human impacts on communities-with airborne pollutants entering the atmosphere from the open burning of plastic and from unregulated waste incineration and recycling, especially in regions with underdeveloped waste management capacity.

With the rapid rise in single-use plastic consumption and South Africa’s already failing waste management system we are unable to cope with our solid waste disposal. 40% of households have no formal waste collection, 7.8% of households have Separation at Source and informal waste pickers collect 80 – 90% of our recyclable materials.

Plastic production and consumption is one of the best examples of our wasteful linear, take-make-dispose, economy and urgently need to rethink the way we make, use, dispose of, reclaim and reuse plastics.

Finding Solutions

In line with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy vision, we will work together so plastic never becomes waste or pollution in South Africa.

We need to move away from a linear plastics economy, where we take, make and waste plastic, and towards a circular system where we keep plastic in the economy and out of the natural environment.

The SA Plastics Pact, is a platform that brings together key roleplayers from right across the plastics value chain to rethink and redesign the future of plastics. A particular focus is on packaging and the need to forge plastic supply chain commitments that tie in with global commitments, but which are tailored to the South African context.