Consumers hold the key to end plastic waste

As consumers we are a vital piece in the puzzle to solve the plastic pollution problem through making informed purchases, and getting behind initiatives to grow a circular economy for plastic..

And although as individuals it sometimes feels as though we’re losing the fight to end the scourge, huge advances have been made to reduce the amount of plastic that goes to landfills or gets discarded in the environment.

This is the optimistic view of Oliver Bonstein, from the South African Plastics Pact.

Bonstein is its Western Cape Industrial Symbiosis Programme Facilitator, Enterprise Development Support.

“As long as plastic is produced as a byproduct of fossil fuels there will always be plastic in circulation, but this does not have to be to the detriment of the environment.

“We have to take steps to reduce the wastage of plastic through single use applications, and moving towards a circular plastic flow,” he said.

The South African Plastics Pact is a collaborative platform which brings together members from across the plastics value chain, from packaging manufacturers to brand owners and retailers to recycling collectors and sorters, as well as recycling companies.

Then there are supporting members to the SA Plastics Pact which help create the environment for members to reach targets, and include the Product Responsibility Organisations, which includes municipalities, national government, informal recycling collectors and other industry bodies.

As with global climate change initiatives to reduce carbon emission, the Plastic Pact has targets, because without them there would be no way of measuring progress, and little to incentivise change throughout the plastic value chain.

The Plastics Pact has the following targets it is aiming for by 2025:

1. Taking action on unnecessary and problematic packaging and plastic products through design, innovation or alternative delivery models.

2. 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.

3. 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled by 2025.

4. 30% average post-consumer recycled content across all plastic packaging.

“There is no single silver bullet solution that will make the problem go away, it will require multi-faceted approaches and collaborations from every level of the value chain, from producers through to consumers to reduce the production of plastic waste.

“It is a complex and systemic problem, where there is no formal waste collection in so many communities, and a lack of awareness and education campaigns on plastic pollution. This needs to come from government, brand owners and retailers to educate consumers on what to do with their waste,” he said.

He said 40 percent of households have no formal waste collection, while eight percent have Separation at Source, and informal waste pickers collect 80 – 90% of our recyclable materials.

Bonstein believes that through conscious consumption, we can contribute to the organisation’s 2015 targets.

Here are eight things you can do to help:

1. Re-look at your consumption – avoid wasteful purchases and refuse unnecessary promotional products.

2. Reuse packaging safely where feasible

3. Read labels on products to find out whether the packaging can be recycled.

4. Make good choices by going for products that are in recyclable packaging or packaging that is made from recycled plastic.

5. Engage with the informal sector and allow access to materials, by having plastic waste in a separate bag.

6. Use existing recycling and waste management infrastructure correctly.

7. Use your voice by engaging with municipalities, retailers and manufacturers about their responsibilities in the value chain.

8. Ask for product packaging that enables you as a consumer to be part of the solution.