By 2050 there will be more waste than fish in the sea‚ says recycling MD

04 October 2017 - 10:26 By Shelley Seid
It is estimated that there are eight million tons of waste plastics in the sea‚ 40% of which was originally dumped on land.  File photo.
It is estimated that there are eight million tons of waste plastics in the sea‚ 40% of which was originally dumped on land. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

According to Chandru Wadhwani‚ joint MD of Extrupet‚ South Africa‚ the three environmental “r”s – “reduce‚ reuse‚ recycle” – are no longer enough.

Extrupet is the largest and most advanced recycler of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle materials on the African continent.

“Just because something is recyclable doesn’t mean it will be‚” he said in an address at the annual KwaZulu-Natal Recycling Forum Seminar.

“Consumers need to choose carefully what it is they purchase‚ and brands only pay attention if consumers are driving change.”

South Africa battles with 120 tons of solid waste per year. Of that half is packaging. It is estimated that there are eight million tons of waste plastics in the sea‚ 40% of which was originally dumped on land. “We are seeing headlines like: ‘By 2050 there will be more waste than fish in the sea.’ Even worse‚ in the last few weeks we are now drinking the stuff.”

Wadhwani was referring to research released in September by Orb Media‚ stating that high levels of microplastic contamination had been found in tap water in countries across the globe.

The reality is‚ he said‚ that some packaging is doomed to end up in landfill purely due to product design.

“At one plant alone we recycle three million PET bottles a day but not all plastic bags are recyclable. But it is in our hands. Brands will only pay attention if consumers drive it – products need to be designed for recycling.” He said one of the challenges around plastic was the low price of oil‚ which meant that making packaging is cheaper than recycling it.

“We can scoop it up and then what?” said Wadhwani. “Do we dump it into landfills? And then what? Do we dump it back into the ocean? This is not the circular economy we had in mind.”

In July China informed the World Trade Organisation that from the end of the year it would no longer accept other countries’ plastic‚ paper and textile waste. China imported 7.3 million tons of waste plastics last year.

“China’s ban is a game changer. Big industry now has to dump their waste in other places. We need to be alerted to the possibility of waste being dumped in Africa‚” said Wadhwani.

Currently there is draft legislation on a pricing strategy that includes product bans and taxes.

“It seems as if there is now recognition that it is not plastics that is the problem‚ it is consumer behaviour that needs to change. And soon we will pay in the form of taxes or extra cost on our products‚” he said.

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