Plastic waste is a massive problem in South Africa. In cities, towns and even the rural areas, plastic rubbish litters our streets, our beaches, our veld and our waterways. But who’s problem is it?
“The problem with plastic waste is so big that the government cannot handle it alone,” says Devin Galtrey, Group Packaging Manager for the SPAR Group.
“It’s my problem. It’s your problem. The only way we are going to make a meaningful change is by everyone taking responsibility for that the way we use plastic and how we dispose of it.”
Plastic waste is not only an issue in South Africa. All over the world, stakeholders are working together to develop innovative methods to confront the plastic scourge.
Changing the way we see plastics
They have been brought together in an initiative born out of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Plastics Pact Network. A globally aligned response to plastic waste, this Network connects national and regional initiatives around the world to implement solutions towards a circular plastics economy.
Heeding the international call, in August 2019 South Africa became the first country in Africa to join this global network and the SA Plastics Pact was formed. This collaborative initiative has brought together key stakeholders from the entire plastics value chain. From businesses to government, Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) and NGOs, members of the Pact are committed to creating a circular economy for plastics, capturing their value to ensure that plastics never become waste.
Since the Pact was formed, Devin says the work that has been done has been nothing short of game-changing. One of the founder members, the SPAR Group sits on the SA Plastics Pact steering committee and is joined by all of the major retailers in South Africa.
A shared journey
“The last two years has been pioneering and a total revelation,” says Devin.
“For the first time ever, South Africa’s retailers are sitting together and developing solutions. We are all on a shared journey so we are collaborating to deliver change that will meet the Pact’s ambitious targets.”
All of the SA Plastic Pact members have committed to four aspirational targets:
- define a list of problematic/unnecessary plastic packaging and items and agree to measures to address these by 2021
- 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable or compostable by 2025
- 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled by 2025
- 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging by 2025
“These are huge targets that require a massive shift and we’ll only be able to deliver if we fundamentally rethink the way we design, use and reuse plastic,” Devin explains.
“To achieve this, we need new technologies, new business models and the mobilisation of the entire value chain.”
Concerted action needed for sustainability
Devin says that working as a collective, the Pact has given retailers the opportunity to take concerted action to create sustainable products at scale.
“Small changes add up and in the world of retail, this translates as the decisions around what we put on the shelves. We are all talking a common language and we’re asking what are the most mindful choices that we can make with everyone in mind, that deliver socio-economic development and environmental impact but that are also commercially viable,” Devin adds.
The Pact members are therefore working to eliminate problematic plastics, reducing the total amount of packaging on supermarket shelves, stimulating innovation and new business models that will help build a stronger recycling system in South Africa.
The SA Plastics Pact is focused on driving a circular economy for plastic, delivering change by tackling plastic waste and pollution at its root. It is more ambitious and more comprehensive than any other current or previous initiative because it has bold, clear, time-bound circular economy targets for 2025 against which the members report on progress every year, ensuring that this collaboration will drive significant change by 2025.