SA’s oceans are getting a clean sweep. This is according to Plastics SA who launched its Operation Clean Sweep campaign on World Oceans Day‚ at uShaka Marine World in Durban on Thursday.
The goal of the campaign is to contain the loss of plastic pellets‚ flakes and powder used by the plastics industry.
Plastics SA’s director of sustainability Douw Steyn said it is about time the plastics industry takes a look at itself and the role it plays in contaminating the oceans and threatening marine life.
"We, as the plastic industry, make the pellets and flakes used in the manufacturing of plastic bags‚ bottles, and so on. The pellets are smaller than a sunflower seed but create huge damage to the ocean," Steyn said.
"When these micro-plastics spill onto the floor during manufacturing, they are swept down a drain‚ into a sewer and from there into rivers and ultimately the sea. Plastic bags are easy to spot and pick up; plastic pellets are not. They are ingested by turtles‚ birds and marine life and cause a great deal of damage."
Judy Mann Lang‚ CEO of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research‚ said that research suggests there is more than 250,000 tonnes of plastic in the seas and that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish. "But we need to maintain hope‚" she said‚ "which is why we are celebrating World Oceans Day globally — 600 events will take place today to celebrate the world’s oceans."
Mark Liptrot‚ sustainability manager at packaging company Constantia Afripack, said the effect of plastics on our oceans is a growing problem. "Micro-plastics repel water and attract chemical pollutants, such as pesticides and toxins. These poisons are ingested by small marine life which, in turn, is eaten by bigger marine animals. We haven’t begun to understand the extent of this problem."
Steyn said Plastics SA hopes that all those involved in plastic manufacturing will take a voluntary pledge to partner in Operation Clean Sweep. "We are talking about 20-plus raw material suppliers, such as Sasol; 1,800 companies making plastic products; and about 230 recycling companies. Together, the industry employs more than 60 000 people. This is a global campaign and it’s time for our members to come on board."
Plastics SA has spent the last two years creating South African-specific training material for use on the shop floor. "It has to be practical‚ it must be measurable. At the next global plastics alliance meeting in December, in Indonesia, we will have to give feedback on our progress."
Plastics SA will publicise the campaign through its allied plastic associations‚ its magazine and regular, provincial tours.
Steyn is optimistic: "I believe the industry has a responsibility to clean up and if we are committed we can ensure a cleaner environment. Plastic just doesn’t belong in the oceans."