South Africans who are serious about being part of the solution when it comes to the country’s plastic pollution must ‘think local’ and not adopt technologies embraced by developed nations in the northern hemisphere.
This is the advice of South African National Bottled Water Association CEO, Charlotte Metcalf, on World Environment Day on 5 June and World Oceans Day on 8 June 2023.
“PET, the recyclable and food-grade plastic most often used for beverage bottles, is often criticised as the cause of the plastic waste that pollutes South Africa’s rivers, seas, beaches and urban, suburban and rural environments,” she said.
“As a result, there are various alternatives being touted to consumers, manufacturers, retailers, hoteliers and restauranteurs, including biodegradable and compostable plastics, cardboard or paper bottles or cartons, cans, and glass recycling or refilling.
“But the solution is not as simple as replacing PET with one of these alternatives, no matter what the people who sell them say. Forgetting for a moment that people litter, not inanimate objects which have been made to be recycled, it is important to remember this is South Africa, and we need to seriously consider how these alternatives perform in a South African context.
“South Africa’s recycling ecosystem, in general, is not set up to handle the packaging alternatives to plastic currently making waves overseas,” Metcalf stressed.
“To recycle or process biodegradable and compostable plastics, and cardboard or paper bottles and cartons, would require considerable investment in new equipment and infrastructure. If this investment is not made and these alternatives are used, they will simply go to landfill.
“Why waste packaging material to degrade into microplastics and generate carbon dioxide – the very things we are trying to avoid in the first place?” she asked. “According to PETCO, 62% of all PET plastic placed on the South African market in 2019 (pre-Covid) was recycled.
“Given this high recycling rate and the fact that our recycling streams can’t deal with the alternatives, PET remains the best solution to South Africa’s plastic pollution … it’s just up to us, ordinary men and women and children, to put it in the recycling bin instead of discarding it.”
SANBWA’s fact sheet – which you can download here – highlights the pros and cons when it comes to beverage packaging alternatives in South Africa.
SANBWA is a voluntary association of bottlers. It was formed in 1997 (in the absence of legislation) in response to the need for the natural bottled water industry to set standards with which to regulate its industry.
SANBWA’s members brands include Aqua Monte, aQuellé, Bené, Bonaqua, Nestlé Pure Life, Dargle Water, Designer Water, Aquabella, Fontein, La Vie De Luc, Thirsti and Valpré.