Environmental advocacy organisations Greenpeace Africa, groundWork and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have expressed deep concerns that the South African government did not participate in a Ministerial meeting on a proposed global plastics treaty held this month.
This shows, the organisations say, an unwillingness by government to provide leadership and a willingness to tackle plastic pollution on a global platform.
Greenpeace says that, as the world moves away from linear to circular economy models, South Africa still seems to be pinning hopes of its economic revival on a section of the plastics industry.
“South Africa can no longer rely on apartheid-era economic models. After decades of burning coal, South Africa is home to the world’s richest mineral deposits and yet we are officially the most unemployed nation in the world,” says Greenpeace pan-African plastic project leader Angelo Louw.
He adds that this is a clear indicator that the fossil fuels industry, and plastic as an extension, is not going to save the economy.
Break Free From Plastic African coordinator and groundWork campaigns researcher Niven Reddy says research shows that waste reuse, repair and refill sectors create 200 times more employment opportunities than current disposal systems.
“If our government is really serious about addressing both the plastic and unemployment crises, then we need it to take bolder steps away from single-use plastic and incentivise the move to refill and reuse,” he says.
Greenpeace states that the South African government has until February 2022 to reconsider its stance, when deliberations on the negotiating mandate for a new global treaty for addressing plastic pollution will commence at the United Nations Environment Assembly.
Meanwhile, to date, over 10 000 people have added their names to a national petition by Greenpeace Africa, urging the government to put people before profits by supporting the global effort to curb plastic pollution.
This is in addition to over two-million signatories and a number of companies, as well as financial institutions, having called for a global treaty under the WWF’s global call for a new global agreement to address plastic pollution.
WWF South Africa senior political analyst Prabhat Upadhyaya says the impact of plastic pollution on the environment and wildlife is “catastrophic” and requires a global response.
“At the moment, no one treaty addresses the value chain of plastic across its lifecycle: how plastic is produced, essentially from fossils, and then how it’s consumed and how it's disposed of.”
He says South Africa needs to take a coherent approach for meeting environmental and developmental objectives simultaneously, and that it should not be an either-or conversation anymore.
Going forward, the environmental groups state they are open and willing to engage with the South African government to present a rationale for supporting the growing movement for a new global agreement to address plastic pollution.