International Coastal Clean-Up Day
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According to the World Bank, South Africa produces 54 425 tonnes of municipal solid waste daily and this is the 15th highest rate in the world. However, on a per capita basis, the amount produced per household every day equates to two (2) kilograms, putting South Africa at number 38 globally. It is becoming generally well known that an overwhelming majority of marine pollution, roughly 80%, comes from activities carried out on land.
Marine litter, including plastic litter, has become a matter of increasing global and national concern as a source of marine pollution. The fact that the international community has selected “Preventing plastic pollution…” as the theme for World Oceans Day 2018, is of no coincidence. Globally, plastic production has reached new highs, with over 320 million tons now being produced annually. It has been estimated that between 4–12 million tons of plastic are added to the oceans each year. Assuming no improvements to waste management on land, it is expected that the cumulative input of plastic litter into our oceans will increase to 250 million tons by 2025. This is a staggering statistic considering that the international community has adopted Sustainability Goal14, under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which in fact seeks to significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, including marine debris by 2025. We believe that of all the sources of marine pollution, marine litter is our next big challenge, and it is a complex challenge that require will drastic efforts, on a range of levels.
South Africa is not immune to global commentaries on the scale and extent of the marine litter and plastics pollution problem. According to research published in 2015, South Africa is ranked 11th in a list of top 20 countries for mismanaged waste. According to the study, over 50% of South Africa’s waste is mismanaged, and could therefore potentially become marine litter. The study estimated that between 90 000 and 250 000 tons of litter enters into our surrounding oceans each year. The World Bank reported that South African generate approximately 2kg of waste per household per day and We know that marine litter is not only generated directly along our coast through littering and illegal dumping, but a fair proportion of it in fact comes from areas further inland from the coast, such as in informal settlements located along or near rivers and waterways, which eventually become pathways for litter into the marine environment. This observation has been very well established in the KZN where several heavy rainfall events led to waste and litter being flushed into the marine environment via the Umgeni and Umlazi Rivers.
The Department has noted with interest the increase in the amount of research on marine litter and micro-plastics in South Africa, and we would indeed like to encourage further such research. Aside from the ongoing marine litter research that is conducted by the University of Cape Town (by Prof. Peter Ryan and supported by Plastics SA), we have noted the increasing focus on micro-plastics as an area of study, such as by Rhodes University (Dr. Holly Nel), the University of Kwazulu-Natal (by Naidoo et. al), which for the first time assessed micro-plastic levels in five estuaries along the Durban coastline, and lastly research done by the North West University (by Verster et. al), which for the first time approached the issue from a freshwater perspective by focussing on the Vaal and Orange Rivers. Recently, a Master of Laws dissertation was also published at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the form of a critical study of plastic marine debris and pollution laws in international and South African law.
At an international level, South Africa has shown commitment to addressing the marine litter and micro-plastics challenge through several forums. In July 2017, the G20 group of countries, of which South Africa is a member, adopted an Action Plan on Marine Litter, which focuses on the following main actions:
- Promote the socio-economic benefits of establishing policies to prevent marine litter.
- Promote waste prevention and resource efficiency.
- Promote sustainable waste management.
- Promote effective waste water treatment and storm water management.
- Raise awareness, promote education & research.
- Support removal and remediation action.
- Strengthen the engagement of stakeholders.
In December 2017, at the margins of the 3rd United Nations Environment Assembly South Africa endorsed the UN’s Clean Seas Campaign, which exists as a platform for governments to engage the general public, civil society and the private sector to find solutions to the plastic litter challenge. The Campaign also seeks to dramatically reduce the production and consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastic.
South Africa is participating in the Western Indian Ocean Strategic Action Programme (WIO-SAP) on land-based sources of marine pollution, under the Nairobi Convention for the protection, management and development of the Marine and Coastal and Environment of the Western Indian Ocean Region. The WIO-SAP supports the implementation of a Regional Protocol on Land-based Sources and Activities, adopted under the Convention. Under this initiative, South Africa has flagged marine litter as a priority source category of marine pollution to be addressed. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has also recently announced the commencement of a new initiative called the “Marine Plastics and Coastal Communities (MARPLASTICCS) project”, to be implemented within the region under the ambit of the Nairobi Convention.
In response to the above, the DEA is fully committed to, and has prioritised, efforts to deal with the marine litter and plastic litter challenge. The DEA has a number of programmes addressing the challenge involving multiple government departments and is leading consultations with industry stakeholders. The Department has implemented its Working for the Coast Programme as an Extended Public Works Project aimed at creating jobs through the clearing of litter from beaches nationally. During the 2016-2018 project cycle, the project has employed over 2400 people, of which 1320 comprises of women and 1560 comprises of youth. Whilst this initiative has been in place for several years, it directly contributes to calls under the G20 Action Plan to support litter removal and remediation action. This initiative further promotes the socio-economic benefits of litter collection.
The Department has also conducted a Plastic Material Flows and End of Life Management Study in collaboration with industry, the South African Bureau of Standards, the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, National Treasury and also the Department of Health. The study assessed the current status with regard to the production and management of plastics and identified barriers to improving the diversion of plastics from landfill sites, and to significantly improve recycling rates within the country. Currently less than 25% of plastics is recycled in the country, and this rate can be improved.
Additionally, the Department, together with the Departments of Trade and Industry and Treasury are preparing to conduct a review of the impact and effectiveness of the implementation of plastic bag policies. The study will assess the gaps in terms of current implementation of the plastic bag levy, identify possible areas of improvement and new options, including a possible ban on single use plastic bags.
Moreover, the Department is very much aware of international research and discussions around the impacts of micro-plastics in the marine environment. Nationally, consultations have started with the Cosmetics and Fragrance Association of South Africa (CFASA) to consider and implement a voluntary phase out of the use of micro beads in cosmetic products. The Department will continue to engage CFASA to commit to specific timelines for the phase out.
More significantly, the Department seeks to contribute to the UN Clean Seas Campaign by implementing a “Source to Sea Initiative” aimed at tackling land-based litter in hot spot communities located near rivers and waterways. It will be an ambitious and new strategy geared to investigate and combat pollution, in particular plastic pollution, at source in river catchments and waterways, before it reaches the coast and marine environment. This bold new initiative will scale up litter collection, promote community involvement in waste sorting at source and recycling in cooperation with the private sector. This initiative will seek to respond directly to the UNEA Resolutions on marine litter and micro-plastics, by tackling waste and litter at source.
The overall purpose of the pilot project is to identify activities, interventions, resources and networks that will assist in reducing marine litter during a 12 month period.
During this pilot project it is hoped that the following outcomes be achieved:
- Synergies, alliances and a collaboration of efforts in dealing with mismanaged waste within a defined scope, as a start are establish;
- A methodology or a collection of interventions that may be implemented for replication / further up scaling/ roll out in other areas in South Africa is established;
- Awareness on waste management in areas upstream from coastal areas is raised so that land-based sources of marine litter are reduced and recorded over a 12 month period;
- Activities, interventions, resources and networks that will assist in reducing marine litter on coastlines beyond the implementation of this action plan are identified;
- Commitment in addressing marine litter from sources on land is achieved;
- The implementation of waste management practices, advocacy, education and job creation across all levels of government gains momentum and priority.
- Utilise the lessons learned from the pilot project to improve implementation in the further roll out of the programme nationally
The Objectives of the pilot project are to:
- Deploy resources to recover litter from the identified priority rivers for a period of 12 months after the launch of the pilot project.
- Increase educational activities and awareness raising campaigns around litter prevention from land based sources (from entering the rivers) for a period of 6 months
- Obtain commitment from stakeholders and municipality to initiate waste collection, sorting, recovery, recycling and collection of materials in areas poorly serviced or unserviced/underserviced.
- Monitor and evaluate the types and quantities of litter entering the rivers during a 12 month period.
- Host quarterly authority meetings to monitor the implementation of the pilot project and commitments made to achieve the objectives of this pilot project.
The road map to the launch and the implementation of the source to sea pilot project in South Africa
The Department is committed to achieving the launch of the source to sea initiative and the initiation and implementation of a pilot project by 31 March 2019 (annual target) with further implementation until September 2019. The launch of the project will coincide with the launch of National Marine Week in October 2018.