Plastics SA says companies need to take accountability for ocean contamination

May31, 2017.
May31, 2017. "Fran" a 6 year old Hawksbill turtle at Ushaka Marine World in Durban has only 3 flippers. She was found was weak, malnourished and unable to swim after loosing a flipper from a fishing line contriction but has been nursed back to health by Aquarist Leanna Botha Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

It’s a clean sweep for the oceans of South Africa.

That’s according to Plastics SA who launched an 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.

Plastic SA represents industry stakeholders in South Africa. Its director of sustainability‚ Douw Steyn‚ said that it was about time the industry took a look at itself and the role it has played 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.

“When these microplastics 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 estimates that there is more than 250 thousand 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 Afripak said that the extended effect of plastics on the ocean was a growing problem. “Microplastics repel water and attract chemical pollutants like 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 that they hoped that all those involved in plastic manufacturing would take a voluntary pledge to partner in Operation Clean Sweep. “We are talking about 20 plus raw material suppliers like SASOL‚ 1800 companies making plastic products and around 230 recycling companies. Together the industry employs over 60 000 people.

“This is a global campaign and it’s time for our members to come onboard.”

SA Plastics 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.”

SA Plastics 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.”