The South African Plastics Pact | WWF South Africa

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The South African Plastics Pact

© Unsplash Martijn-Baudoin

The qualities that make plastics fundamental to our lives — their malleability and resistance to degradation — also make them persist in our environment for centuries. We need to move away from today’s linear economy and tackle plastic waste and pollution at the source, fundamentally rethinking the way we design, use, and reuse plastics.

What is the issue?

The impacts of our current take-make-dispose economy are multifaceted and far reaching: plastic pollution kills wildlife, damages natural ecosystems, and contributes to climate change. Of all the plastic produced each year, an estimated eight million tonnes of it leak into the ocean. If we continue business as usual and without significant action, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean, by weight, by 20501.

In addition to the significant impact on the environment, the lack of a circular product design methodology leads to the loss of valuable material, given the insufficient collection models and after-use systems currently in place. Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. About 12% has been incinerated, while the rest — 79% — has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates the natural capital cost of plastic at US$8 billion per year, with fisheries, maritime trade and tourism adversely impacted by plastic pollution.

And the use of plastics worldwide keeps growing: 4% per annum in the past 20 years1. We urgently need to rethink the way we design, use, and reuse plastics.

1Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Rethinking the future of plastics (2016)

What are we doing?

WWF led on the development of a national initiative in 2019 – The South African Plastics Pact – which brings together key stakeholders in the plastics value chain – businesses, governments and NGOs – behind a common vision to address plastic waste and pollution issues. After launch, the implementing organisation chosen by the steering committee was GreenCape. GreenCape will be responsible for delivery of the SA Plastics Pact up until 2025.

How do we do this?

The South African Plastics Pact is the first African Plastics Pact to join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's global Plastics Pact network of national and regional initiatives that bring together businesses, governments and NGOs in a country or region behind the common vision of the New Plastics Economy. The Plastics Pact network is a unique platform to exchange learnings and best practices across the globe, to accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastic.

By working towards this vision in South Africa, local action taken by The South African Plastics Pact is aligned with the global ambitions of more than 400 signatories of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, who are united behind a common vision of a circular economy for plastic, in which it never becomes waste or pollution.

The South African Plastics Pact is a pre-competitive platform of industry-led innovation to rethink the way we design, use and reuse plastics, and to implement locally tailored solutions towards a circular economy for plastic. This initiative is a platform to rethink and redesign the future of plastics with a focus on packaging - moving towards a circular economy for plastics in South Africa.

Following the launch of the South African Plastics Pact in January 2020, WWF, with support from WRAP and GreenCape along with strategic input from the Steering Committee, will develop a roadmap to achieve the set of clear and time-bound group 2025 targets. The South African Plastics Pact, which is now managed by GreenCape, has already identified specific working groups and other activities required to overcome potential obstacles to achieving the targets in a South African context, and progress will be publicly reported upon each year.

Who do we work with?

The South African Plastics Pact has been developed in partnership with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO), and is supported by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Plastics Pact network. GreenCape is the implementing organisation from launch up until 2025.

What is the way forward?

There has been an overwhelmingly positive response from key stakeholders across the plastics value chain,  including plastic packaging manufacturers, brands, retailers, recyclers, waste management companies and other organisations, such as plastic industry bodies and producer responsibility organisations. Please contact GreenCape to join the growing number of founding signatories, which include some of the leading South African brands and retailers, to work together towards a circular economy for plastics in South Africa.

The question is not whether a world without plastic pollution is possible, but what we will do together to make it happen.