Let’s make this a LITTER FREE July!

Each year during the month of July, people across the globe are encouraged to take part in “Plastic Free July” – an international movement that encourages people to stop using plastic in order to achieve clean streets, neighbourhoods, water sources and oceans.
While it might sound like a noble pursuit, the reality is that “zero plastic” doesn’t necessarily mean zero litter. According to Plastics SA – the umbrella body representing the entire plastics value chain in South Africa – the country’s waste is at a high risk of leaking into the environment, primarily due to the mismanagement of waste.

“Unmanaged pollution due to inadequate waste management infrastructure is the root cause of our litter crisis. 34 % of households in South Africa have no formal waste collection . It is therefore illogical and naive to think that we’ll have cleaner communities because the straw carelessly tossed out of the car window was made from paper instead of plastic. Whilst we wholeheartedly agree that we need to eliminate all unnecessary packaging (regardless of the material) and reuse where possible, it is important that we take an evidence based approach to ensure we do not replace existing, fit-for-purpose packaging with more harmful alternatives,” advocates Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics SA.

The true cost of plastics to the environment

There is no doubt that the use of plastics in modern society has increased incrementally during the last few decades. With ever-expanding applications, plastics deliver many benefits, such as plastic packaging which extends the shelf life, reduces food wastage and prevents contamination, plastic water pipes that provide clean drinking water and life-saving medical devices such as surgical equipment and drips.

As the use of plastic increases, so too, unfortunately, have the environmental impacts associated with its production and disposal. These environmental costs have prompted some to argue that plastics should be replaced with alternative materials which may present fewer environmental challenges.

“Although paper, steel, aluminium and glass could be viable in many consumer goods applications, studies which modelled the substitution of plastic with these materials have actually shown that in some cases, their environmental costs and impacts are up to four times higher than that of plastics,” Hanekom says.