Swift collective action by members of the South African plastics industry and local environmental officials prevented what could have been an environmental disaster earlier this week, after gale-force winds blew 23 containers of ink cartridges off a cargo vessel, the Seroya Lima, anchored off Port Elizabeth’s Bluewater Bay.
The containers were dislodged and fell into the sea. Fortunately none of the containers contained any toxic or dangerous materials, but the polystyrene packaging that surrounded and protected several thousand bottles of ink cartridges for printers, washed out along the beaches from Cannon Rocks to the mouth of the Sundays River.
The Polystyrene Council heard about the strewn polystyrene and enlisted the help of the Sustainability Section of Plastics|SA, the mouthpiece of the local plastics industry, to coordinate the various role-players and local authorities involved in the clean-up operation.
Global Declaration against Marine Litter
“As a signatory of the Global Declaration against Marine Litter, signed by plastics bodies around the world, Plastics|SA also coordinates the International Coastal Clean-Up Day and therefore have the necessary networks and infrastructure in place to enlist the help of local authorities. As a member of Plastics|SA and its Sustainability Council, the Polystyrene Council takes the threat of marine litter very seriously, and realized the importance of swift action to prevent marine animals from ingesting any of the material,” says Adri Spangenberg, a Director of the Polystyrene Council.
All stakeholders in the area were informed and local authorities and SANPARKS quickly deployed salvage teams to assist the Working for The Coast members who were retrieving the material. Communities in the area also helped to collect the spilled material, which has considerable recycling value. Local recyclers in the area were contacted and agreed to collect and buy the polystyrene.
Demand for polystyrene waste outweighs supply
“The demand for clean polystyrene currently outweighs the supply. Recyclers are eager to get hold of the waste material, which they recycle into a variety of different products, ranging from picture frames, clothes hangers and stationery, right through to use in building and construction. Apart from providing a financial injection to the Algoa Bay community, the recycling of polystyrene in the area also creates much needed formal and informal employment opportunities,” Adri explained.
Commenting on the speed and success of the clean-up operation, says John Kieser, Sustainability Manger of Plastics|SA: “We realized the importance of developing a proactive plan for dealing with potential environmental disasters involving plastics, after Hong Kong and New Zealand experienced a plastic pellets spillages along their coastlines in 2012 and 2013. Fortunately, we had the necessary networks in place and everybody knew exactly what needed to be done to minimize the impact on the environment. Whilst it was an unfortunate incident, it was a shining example of how collective efforts between business, government and communities should work to protect the environment”.
Plastics|SA, the Polystyrene Council and local environmental organization will continue to monitor the situation.