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WWF South Africa joins the call this Earth Day on 22 April to end plastic pollution which is engulfing our oceans and affecting human health.
Plastics are now found throughout food webs in every known marine ecosystem. While it is tempting to brush over this problem as something that occurs out of sight, as consumers we need to recognise that over 80% of the plastic pollution in our oceans is generated on land by ordinary people like us.
Although plastics only account for about 10% of man-made waste, plastic production has grown 650% since 1975 reaching 270 million tons in 2010. Because plastics take hundreds to thousands of years to degrade, we are still living with every piece of plastic that has ever been made. This is why estimates are that by 2050 there will be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the ocean.
John Duncan, Senior Manager of WWF’s Marine Programme commented: “While certain plastics play a critical role in applications such as packaging for food preservation, our oceans are suffocating under this growing tide of plastic. If we want to chart a new course, we need to start asking ourselves which are the plastics we can live without and how we can better manage the ones we can’t.”
Single-use plastics, such as sweet wrappers, ear buds, plastic cutlery, coffee lids and straws, are particularly problematic as they are not recyclable and are highly prone to littering and being blown around in the wind. Plastic shopping bags are also a problem in South Africa as many are currently not recyclable due to the inclusion of calcium carbonate fillers.
WWF board chair Valli Moosa, who took a strong stance in the early 2000s as a former Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism by implementing a charge for plastic bags at point of sale, praised those who are taking action against single-use plastics.
He said: “While a number of local companies are starting to take a stand against some of the most problematic single-use plastics such as straws, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to see a far more holistic approach to tackling this challenge. I want to challenge retailers and producers to take the lead and make explicit commitments to limit their contribution to the problem of plastic pollution.”
“The challenge is that the use of plastic is a complex issue and many people don’t know what they can do about the problem or where to start. This is why WWF is developing a programme to help consumers identify the most problematic plastics and empower them to make the right choices.”