Over the past few years, numerous independent scientific studies been conducted to compare the environmental footprint of plastics versus other packaging materials. Time and again, these life cycle analyses have proven that plastics require less energy, reduce waste and have lower carbon emissions. Most recently, the CSIR released their findings that confirmed that reusable, plastic shopping bags are the best option for South Africa. After comparing 21 environmental and socio-economic indicators, including water use, land use, global warming, the impacts of pollution, impact on employment and the affordability for consumers, they confirmed that locally produced plastic shopping bags have the lowest environmental footprint compared to carrier bags made from alternative materials, or even biodegradable bags – provided that they are re-used.
Earlier, Danish researchers found that cotton bags need be re-used 7,100 times to have the same cumulative environmental impact as using classic plastic bags. For every seven trucks needed to deliver paper shopping bags, for example, only one truck is needed to deliver the same number of plastic shopping bags – thereby further helping to reduce the environmental footprint and the amount of waste generated.
Plastics don’t litter. People do!
It should therefore be abundantly clear that the real issue that needs to be addressed is not the use of plastics, but human behaviour. Every piece of carelessly discarded litter has the potential of ending up in the environment or polluting our oceans. Municipalities that fail to put an effective waste management systems in place, not only fail their citizens, but jeopardize the health of our planet as they are inviting a waste crisis.
Over the past 25 years our position has never changed:
Plastics don’t litter – people do!
Every piece of plastic has value and has the potential to be repurposed and recycled into something new. Whilst a battle rages on around the issue of litter in the environment, Plastics SA and its members will continue to make a tangible difference through various clean-up operations such as coordinating South Africa’s participation in the International Coastal Clean-Up, Operation Clean-Sweep, river catchment projects and ongoing education campaigns around the country.