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SA is world's 11th worst plastic polluter: study

The average South African generates 41kg of plastic waste every year

06 September 2021 - 15:27
Plastic bottles litter the beach in Milnerton, Cape Town. File photo.
Plastic bottles litter the beach in Milnerton, Cape Town. File photo.
Image: Peter Ryan

SA is wilting under an avalanche of plastic pollution: 79,000 tons a year, according to a new international study. 

This massive amount, much of it ending up in the ocean, makes SA the 11th worst plastic polluter in absolute terms, according to the report released on Monday, commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“There is also evidence of an increase in marine plastic debris from land-based sources within SA, suggesting this problem is likely to grow,” says the report, entitled: “Plastics: The cost to society, environment and the economy”, which analysed the extent of the global plastic crisis and profiled several of the worst polluters, including SA.

SA's pollution data is sobering: the average South African generates 41kg of plastic waste every year, significantly more than the global per capita average of 29kg per year, the report says.

Much of this escapes the waste management net due to a strained system. “In 2018, 35% of households did not receive weekly waste collection and 29% of household waste was not collected,” the report says.

The pollution avalanche also translates into a significant financial burden due to damage to key economic industries such as fishing and tourism. Studies show that many tourists avoid countries with heavily polluted environments.

Worldwide the lifetime cost to national governments of plastic produced in 2019 will be at least $3.7 trillion (R52.72 trillion), reaching about $7.1 trillion (R101.16 trillion) by 2040 at the current trajectory, according to the report.

The findings have prompted a call to action from the WWF, which is demanding urgent international collaboration in the form of a binding UN treaty to tackle the crisis.  

Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International, said: “This is the first time we have seen such a clear assessment of some of the unaccounted costs being imposed by plastic pollution on society and they are a burden that is too high to bear — both for people and the environment.

“Tragically, the plastic pollution crisis is showing no signs of slowing down.

“We need a UN treaty on plastic pollution that unites governments, companies and consumers around clear targets for reduction, collection, recycling and sustainable alternatives to stop plastic leakage into the environment by 2030.”

The WWF is calling on governments to start the negotiation of a legally binding global treaty on marine plastic pollution at the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly in February 2022.