Plastic Pollution will be in the spotlight on July 25th and 26th in Port Elizabeth. During these two days the Sustainable Seas Trust, Plastics SA and other partners will launch the African Marine Waste Network.
The need for the network was recognized some years back by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and a number of government departments, universities, research institutions, NGOs and concerned citizens, but a decision to launch the network was only made in 2015 with a view to building on the back of the South African Hope Spot Network, launched by Sustainable Seas Trust and Dr Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue.
Dr Earle is also one of the Patrons of SST. Appropriately the Network will be launched in Port Elizabeth as Algoa Bay is one of South Africa’s six Hope Spots. Although the launch will take place in South Africa, the African Marine Waste Network will be the first to address marine waste at a Pan-African level. The SST has emphasised the enormous contribution of Plastics South Africa to this initiative.
Two days have been dedicated to the launch in order to set aside time for national and international experts to participate in a planning workshop, for public lectures and the first meeting of the Network’s Advisory Panel as well as to provide an opportunity for celebrations to mark the official launch.
Pollution of all kinds, a major global problem; it causes 40% of premature human deaths globally, costs US$ 13.8 trillion annually and is influencing climate on the planet. An exceedingly important part of the pollution problem, marine waste, is the focus of the Network. Debris and solid waste enter the sea in ever increasing amounts every moment of every day. About 270kgs of plastic enters our seas every second; that is a little over 15 tons every minute; 900 tons every hour.
Plastic washed into rivers and estuaries and then carried to the sea, beaches and rocky-shores is the major contributor to this form of pollution. The remainder comes from ships and boats. By 2045 the flow of plastic into the sea will be 600kgs per second; 36 tons per minute or 2160 tons and hour, if present trends continue. This situation poses a serious threat to humans, to animals and plants and to ecosystems.
Estimates suggest that there are 150million tons of plastic in the sea at the moment. If present trends continue, there will be more than 700 million tons in the ocean by 2050, outstripping the total weight of fish in the sea.
The exact amount of debris entering the sea from South Africa or any other African country is not known. What is known, however, is that the rapid development of Africa, coupled with poverty, has seen waste accumulation outpace management. International organizations now fear that Africa may soon become as badly polluted as South East Asia, which has the foulest record on the planet. The Network urgently needs to find out how serious the African problems are, where they are and how to address them.
In his message to the 5th International Marine Debris Conference, Achim Steiner, in his capacity as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, emphasised that the threat of marine pollution can only be tackled effectively by means of a trans-national initiative actively supported by the private sector.
The African Marine Waste Network is an African cross-boundary initiative supported by the private sector which aims to make a contribution to solving a global crisis.
The organisers of the launch expressed the hope that all South Africans will join this initiative to help Africa to play its role in ensuring that the children of our planet have a better tomorrow.
Speaking at the conclusion of the second African Marine Debris Summit (AMDS) that took place at the SANBI Research Centre in Kirstenbosch, Cape Town recently, Sustainability Manager at Plastics|SA and convener of the event, John Kieser, said that he was greatly encouraged by the outcomes of the discussions.
The aim of this year’s summit, hosted by Plastics|SA in conjunction with UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme,) the Department of Environmental Affairs and SANBI (SA National Biodiversity Institute,) was to facilitate the formation of a Southern African Network on Marine Debris with the long-term goal of establishing an African network that ties into the global management of marine debris.
“We acknowledge that plastics are the biggest challenge in reducing the accumulation of marine debris along shorelines, floating on the sea surface and lying on the ocean floor. However, we are committed to turning the tide on marine debris through forming partnerships with the marine fraternity’s programme on quantifying and understanding the drivers of marine litter through support for coastal clean-ups and various research initiatives.”
The event was officially opened by the Honourable Rejoice Mabudafhasi, Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture and previously Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, who said that she greatly supported the Summit as this was where innovative solutions can be identified and promoted so that, over time, we could see less marine debris entering our scenic and much loved coastal areas.
“Marine debris such as plastic items, fishing gear, food packages, glass, metals, medical waste and cigarette filters are an international concern, not only because it washes up on beaches and shorelines worldwide and looks unsightly, but also because debris can be transferred from one country to another via ocean currents. International cooperation is therefore necessary to create public awareness, while developing ways to decrease the amount of debris in oceans around the globe,” Mabudafhasi said.
Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics|SA agreed with this sentiment and highlighted the importance of supporting platforms where different countries, industries and experts can share lessons learned, strategies and best practices to reduce and prevent the impact of marine debris. The exchange of innovative ideas on topics such as plastics recycling initiatives and communications strategies contribute to scaling up successful approaches to reducing marine debris.
“As delegates and experts who are interested in the topic, you are meeting once again to continue to exchange ideas and seek appropriate solutions to the problem… in line with the theme for this year’s World Oceans Day which reads, “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet: Enabling Sustainable Ocean Economy Development.” Our efforts to rid our marine environment of marine debris will contribute towards the health of our oceans and our people who rely on it,” Mabudafhasi encouraged the audience.
“The 2nd African Marine Debris Summit once again highlighted that most of the litter that reaches our marine environment originates from our actions on land. Plastics|SA is a committed and key partner in efforts aimed at understanding the issues around marine debris within the South African context. The summit forms part of this growing partnership and it enables us to share and learn from our fellow African coastal countries.
In conjunction with Packaging SA we support the aims of the PPIWMP to increase packaging recycling rates and promote the importance of discarding packaging waste in an environmentally responsible way. In conjunction with the Plastics Industry Global Action Team on Marine Debris actions, Plastics|SA remains committed to turning the tide on marine debris.”