#10things on how to minimise plastic pollution

Producers and consumers can take steps to reduce plastic use and waste, and increase recycling of it, emphasises Heather Sheard, technical coordinator at the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA).

Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. From the vast expanses of our oceans to the remotest corners of our planet, plastic waste has infiltrated every ecosystem, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

“Plastic is cheap, easy to shape and versatile across many applications, like food safety and medical use,” says Heather Sheard, technical coordinator at the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA). Unfortunately, there seems to be few good substitutes for this cost-effective material that has slowly become one of the world’s biggest environmental headaches. Yet, producers and consumers can take steps to reduce plastic use and waste, and increase recycling of it, emphasises Sheard:

1. Waste management: Plastic pollution is plastic waste in the wrong place, and therefore proper waste management is a vital cog in the drive to #BeatPlasticPollution.

2. Focus on low-hanging fruit: Ideally, our initial focus needs to be on quick wins from reducing or eliminating single-use and short-life plastics, such as wrapping materials like cellophane, disposable cutlery and straws, cooldrink bottles, disposable containers and other such products. Reusable or long-life products like baby bottles or plastic-bodied electronic appliances still need to be addressed, even if not as urgently.

3. Better design: Frequent shoppers may have noticed that some products, like deodorants, have begun appearing in containers much smaller than their previous size while holding the same volume of content. Across the entire population of users, this can result in tons less plastic being used every month. And all it takes is a more rational and efficient design.

4. Substitute materials: Many fast food outlets have long converted from polystyrene trays or burger boxes to cardboard substitutes that are more attractive and often made of biodegradable materials.

5. Emerging innovation: This is another area where companies across industries need to go back to the drawing board and innovate on how emerging materials can be used as substitutes, not just in packaging but for all plastic use cases.

6. Make it easy for consumers: Many consumers discard plastics along with their normal refuse simply because alternative channels of disposal have not been provided to them. South Africa needs to imitate other countries that provide separate bins for paper, glass, plastic and other recyclables and make collection of these as easy as possible for households.

7. Reusable channels: Recycling can be costly but schemes like trade-in discounts on appliances promise return business for retailers and enable manufacturers to reuse channels already existing for product returns, saving them the cost of establishing separate collection points. Trade-ins may not suit all product types but similar programmes could make recycling and disposal more natural and convenient for consumers.

8. Create incentives: Empty glass milk bottles were once exchanged for new full ones and soda bottles could be returned to any retailer for a deposit. Those days might be gone but, with some imagination, similar incentives could be devised to encourage consumers to dispose of certain plastic products responsibly.

9. Support EPR: Recent legislation and emerging regulations around Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) puts the onus on manufacturers to manage the entire waste life cycle of their products from concept to end-of-life. Consumers need to support this initiative when considering what products to buy and from whom to purchase them. If there’s no EPR, reconsider your investment.

10. Consumer pressure: South Africans can push producers to reduce plastic by demanding they are transparent about EPR and fully committed to it – or take their business elsewhere.


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