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.”
The world has a well-documented problem with trash – and we’re rapidly running out of places to put it. But despite the fact that more and more of us are aware of the issues, our addiction to convenience and disposable living has us churning out garbage faster than ever.
We take a brief look at the problem and at what’s being done to solve it, both in South Africa and in other places around the globe.
How Big Is the Problem?
There’s no doubt that the problem is big – and getting bigger. A recent World Bank report stated that the total amount of municipal solid waste – the type produced in densely populated urban areas – is growing even faster than urbanisation is occurring. According to the report, it is likely to almost double by 2025, going from 1.3 billion tons per year to 2.2 billion.
By 2100, scientists predict that it will have tripled – and may keep rising after that. And this doesn’t just mean overflowing landfills or incinerators churning out toxic chemicals: a study published earlier this year revealed that eight million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year (the equivalent of five plastic bags for every foot of coastline around the globe).
Even nations with a sophisticated trash collection system, such as the United States, are guilty of bombarding the ocean with serious amounts of plastic – with disastrous consequences for delicate marine ecosystems. What’s more, with the plethora of current concerns about climate change, the subject is rarely given any media attention, and researchers must often fight to have their voices heard.
What’s the Solution?
South Africa faces considerable challenges when it comes to tackling the waste management problem – not least the fact that only 60% of its residents enjoy the luxury of curbside waste disposal. Thanks to valuable support from the South African Climate Innovation Centre, however, pioneering firms like Holystic Approach and Eco-Match are making it easier for effective recycling to take place – at both a consumer and an industrial level.
Elsewhere, local groups of business entrepreneurs like the Hout Bay Recycling Co-op – who sort, weigh and sell reusable materials – have carved out useful roles for themselves within the government’s push for a greener economy. As well as helping to make the country greener, the Co-op scheme has enabled many of its members to lift themselves out of poverty and create better lives for their families.
South Africa isn’t the only part of the world taking action. Alinta Energy just blogged about the new electric refuse vehicles (ERVs) improving life in the City of Chicago – not only are they super quiet, they also have impressive green credentials, with each truck offsetting around 21 tons of carbon dioxide each year. And on the waters, the innovative Ocean Cleanup Project is working on the first large-scale method to clear the world’s seas and oceans of harmful plastic.
But while these major schemes and innovations are essential for changing things on a global level, let’s not forget that our personal contributions are highly important too. Why not start today – rethinkrecycling.com has some great ways to reduce your personal waste and become more trash-aware.
CAPE TOWN – Some experts are calling on the City of Cape Town to rethink the way it is disposing of human waste.It follows the recent furore surrounding three marine outfall pipes, which pump millions of litres of raw sewage directly into the ocean.
City officials claim the method, which was first implemented in 1901, is both a safe and cost-effective way of dealing with effluent. They quote various studies which show ‘insignificant’ environmental impacts.
The municipality is currently applying for permits via the Environmental Affairs Department to keep using its outfall pipes in Green Point, Camps Bay and Hout Bay. Officials cite financial pressure as one of the major reasons it would prefer to continue pumping untreated effluent out to sea.
While the City cautions that alternative treatment technologies may likely cost ‘tens of millions of rand’, the local authority admits no feasibility reports have been commissioned to explore other options.
Mayoral committee member for utility services Councillor Ernest Sonnenberg says the way forward is clear.
“Ultimately, given the budget constraints the City is faced with and the minimal environmental impact of these outfalls, the argument to allocate precious resources for their upgrade is not strong enough.”EWN requested the City for more details, including statements detailing the current costs involved.
The City made two sediment surveys conducted by the CSIR in 2006 and 2011 available to EWN. The papers conclude the effect on the environment is minimal, based on its analysis of contamination in sediment. The most recent comprehensive impact study was done in 1990.Some experts are concerned the available information is outdated and they are lobbying for the method to be re-evaluated.
Researcher Glen Ashton believes pumping raw sewage into the ocean is no longer justifiable, partly due to growing volumes. According to the City 30 million litres of sewage are discharged through the Green Point pipeline daily. The current volumes at Hout Bay and Camps Bay are 5.5 million litres and 2.2 million litres respectively.
“There’s been a significant increase in human pressure on the environment and the other thing that’s changed obviously is the body of knowledge. We know a lot more about the impacts.”
Ashton says in addition to looming water shortages, new scientific knowledge regarding harmful compounds needs to be taken into account.
“The amount of sewage going through those pipes is enormously more than it used to be and I don’t think one can just carry on operating under the existing paradigm, considering the fact that things have changed so much,” says Professor Leslie Petrik from the University of the Western Cape’s Chemistry Department.
She warns although unsavoury, the sewage itself is the least of our worries since the chemical components commonly flushed down with human waste pose greater long-term health risks which may affect the food chain from the bottom up.
These include caffeine, oestrogen from birth-control pills, and aspirin as well as compounds found in personal hygiene products. Most of these do not make the list of chemicals commonly tested for in impact studies. She warns there are some 87,000 compounds that still need to be studied for their potential dangers.
“We’ve… developed all these new compounds since the original permits were granted. And we have no idea what amount of these compounds are being released into the ocean and what their ultimate effect is going to be,” Petrik explains.
The City counters screening to remove solids, coupled with the length and depth of the outfall pipes, lead to sufficient dispersion and dilution. Petrik is not convinced and cautions we’re probably inflicting damage we do not yet understand.
“What is going out into the ocean is essentially a mixture of your sewage waste, as well as every chemical that you use in the household, or for medicinal purposes, or for cleaning purposes… these other compounds are far more dangerous than the actual sewage, because the sewage will still probably decompose over time, but many of these compounds are very persistent and they accumulate within the environment and once they’re released you can’t recall them back.”
About 120 coastal outfall pipes are operating in South Africa, but anEWN investigation has revealed the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) does not know how much waste water flows from them.The most recent estimate dates back to 2008, when some 786 million litres of polluted water was being discharged into South Africa’s oceans daily.
The DEA, which recently took over responsibility for marine outfall pipes, says it is trying to establish the most recent discharge figures while reviewing existing licences.The City of Cape Town’s public participation process ends on 10 July 2015.
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From Florida to the Costa del Sol, costly sea defences are accelerating beach erosion and will ultimately fail to protect coastal towns and cities from rising tides, say experts
The world’s beaches are being washed away as coastal developments increase in size and engineers build ever higher sea walls to defend against fierce winter storms and rising sea levels, according to two of the worlds’ leading marine geologists.
The warning comes as violent Atlantic and Pacific storms this week sent massive 50ft waves crashing over sea defences, washed away beaches and destroyed concrete walls in Europe, north America and the Philippines.
“Most natural sand beaches are disappearing, due partly to rising sea levels and increased storm action, but also to massive erosion caused by the human development of the shore,” said Andrew Cooper, professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster.
“The widespread damage on western Europe’s storm-battered shores, the devastation caused by hurricane Sandy along the northeastern US seaboard, the deaths brought on by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines all exemplify the total inadequacy of [coastal] infrastructure and the vulnerability of cities built on the edge of coastlines”, said Orrin Pilkey, professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Pilkey and Cooper say in a new book, The Last Beach, that sea walls, which are widely believed by many local authorities to protect developments from erosion and sea level rise, in fact lead to the destruction of beaches and sea defences and require constant rebuilding at increasing cost.
Dunes and wide beaches protect buildings from storms far better than sea walls, say the authors. “The beach is a wonderful, free natural defence against the forces of the ocean. Beaches absorb the power of the ocean waves reducing them to a gentle swash that laps on the shoreline. Storms do not destroy beaches. They change their shape and location, moving sand around to maximise the absorption of wave energy and then recover in the days, months and years to follow,” said Pilkey .
Beaches in nature are almost indestructible, but seawall construction disrupts the natural movement of sand and waves, hindering the process of sand deposition along the shorelines, said Cooper.
“The wall itself is the problem. If you build a sea wall to protect the shore, the inevitable consequence is that the beach will disappear. The wall cannot absorb the energy of the sea. All beaches with defences … are in danger. When you build the sea wall, that is the end of the beach,” he said.
“Beaches have become long, narrow engineering projects sustained only by constant maintenance and ongoing expenditures. Ugly seawalls have removed beaches altogether. Trying to hold the shoreline in position makes a flexible response to sea level rise more difficult,” said Pilkey.
Many of the world’s most famous beaches are now ecologically dead and dependent for their survival on being replenished with sand or gravel, they say. “The death knell has already sounded for large stretches of beaches along densely developed shorelines like those in Florida, Spain’s Costa del Sol, Australia’s Gold Coast and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro,” says Pilkey.
But Jonathan Simm, technical director for flood management at HR Wallingford defended engineers. “We are but servants. There are some very difficult social and political decisions that have to be made about which frontages should be defended. Engineers get struck in the middle between different… political and technical arguments.
“The reality is that major urban conurbations are going to want to sustain their existing defences. But a lot of beaches are under stress so the engineering is going to become much more expensive.”
Sea level rise, which is expected to raise levels significantly over the next 100 years, will affect beaches in different ways, said Pilkey. “Although the sea has only risen a foot (0.3 meters) over the last 100 years or so, that amount can have a real impact on shoreline retreat on very gently sloping coasts. In theory, a one-foot sea-level rise should push the shoreline back 2,000 feet.”
As beaches disappear, countries are turning to increasingly expensive sand replenishment programmes which dump thousands of tonnes of dredged sand on existing, eroded beaches.
But these artificial beaches usually erode at least twice as fast as natural beaches and can only ever be a temporary solution, said Cooper. “As time goes on and as the sea level rises, the interval of re-replenishment will get shorter because the beach becomes less stable. Beach replenishment is only a plaster that must be applied again and again at great cost. It doesn’t remove the problem, it treats the symptoms. Eventually and inevitably beach replenishment will stop either as sand or money runs out”.
It also smothers all life on the beach. “The near shore food chain that originates with the tiny organisms living between grains of sands and surviving on occasional influxes of seaweed is now gone. The whole ecosystem is out of whack. Habitats for turtle and bird nesting are being destroyed,” said Cooper.
“We have a mentality to just rebuild everything after a storm. The simplest solution would be to move the infrastructure back. The problem is the obsession with building and defending property right next to the beach and to hold the beach in place. This process just destroys the beach.”
Source: The Guardian