Protecting the environment

By Niko Allie

Plastic is all around us and many people seldom give it a second thought. It has become part of our lives whether as containers, bottles, disposable bags, straws, toys and a multitude of other things. 

At first glance plastic might seem harmless, yet it is one of the single most harmful things to our planet and the environment. Plastics can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose and they are often just thrown out with the trash, ending up in landfills or rivers and streams, and eventually the oceans. 

Yearly thousands upon hundred thousands of tonnes of plastic eventually end up in the ocean worldwide as plastic pollution. Speaking on the occasion of World Environment Day on 05 June 2023 the Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy said: “Urgent action is required to combat plastic pollution and its detrimental impacts on human health, the economy and the environment.”

She also highlighted that according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in South Africa, a little over 2,5 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually. Poor waste management practices mean that as much as half of post-consumer plastic is not properly disposed of and risks leaking into the environment, she added.

It is a sad fact that much of the litter, waste and trash we see in our streets and in our neighbourhoods has simply been dumped or discarded by individuals. Waste is the one thing we could stop in an instant if we all simply did the right thing. 

As a country our relationship with waste needs to change as our actions today are impacting our communities and our homes. The actions we take today will also endure for generations to come, given the nature of waste, most especially plastic.

Many people probably groan inwardly when they hear the buzzword of going green.  However, going green is as simple as making a few small lifestyle changes.  Every action we take today will ensure that we create a sustainable future for our children and ourselves.

The one change we can make almost overnight is to address litter and illegal dumping. When driving keep a waste bag in your car to store any things you consume, and discard it in a bin when you are done. The same goes for if you are walking, hold onto the waste of what you have consumed until you see a bin. 

If you need to remove waste from your home find the nearest designated waste dumping site near you.  We can no longer carry on as usual; our actions have turned our neighbourhoods and communities into waste dumps.

We can and must do better and that change can begin today. If we continue to do nothing or hope that others will lead the way we face a dystopian future where mountains of toxic waste are a reality.

This is already happening and the City of Johannesburg, which collects tonnes of solid waste every day and is fast running out of landfill space. This has put immense pressure on Johannesburg to keep up with the amount of solid waste generated.

This reality will soon be repeated in all cities and towns as our populations continue to expand, along with the waste we generate.  One way we can cut down on the waste we create is to recycle and getting into the recycling habit is not that hard. With a bit of effort all of us can sort our waste to ensure that material such as plastic, glass and paper can be easily recycled and reused.

Government has invested a lot of time in effort in managing waste and our Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes for paper and packaging have helped to divert waste from landfill sites. Last year over one and a half million tonnes of paper and packing was diverted from landfill through recycling, recovery, and treatment.

Government has also supported 56 start-ups and emerging SMMEs and cooperatives operating within the waste sector in the past six years, creating 1 558 jobs and diverting over 200 000 tonnes of waste from landfills.

These efforts are beginning to bear fruit but so much more can still be done, and the biggest change can come from households and individuals.