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BID TO STOP PLASTICS’ IMPORTS

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MANZINI – Stakeholders want government to ban single-use plastic imports.

During their workshop held at The George Hotel in Manzini on Wednesday, they said only bio-degradable plastics should be allowed in the country. They said the border gates should make it a point to block those plastics that would pollute the country’s environment. More than 80 per cent of the single-use plastics are reportedly coming from South Africa. The country spends over E900 million in importations of plastic products. It must be said that the objectives of the workshop hosted by Women Unlimited and funded by UNDP sought to achieve the following-  
*   To introduce and provide an overview of the Eswatini Zero Plastic Contamination Initiative and obtain stakeholder buy-in.
*   To initiate an inclusive consultative process on sustainable plastic waste management solutions and gathering of evidence on best practices.
*   Launch a platform for stakeholder mapping and networking for plastic waste management initiatives.

A South African based company styled New Biodegradable Co. (NBC LLC) was invited to make a presentation, wherein it said that it has game-changing technologies for the biodegradable plastic sector. Degradable plastics are designed to breakdown over specific timeframes either biologically or mechanically. Caritus Maselesele, the Business Development Executive for NBC LLC, stated that only nine per cent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Making reference to the study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), he said about 12 per cent has been incinerated, while the rest – 79 per cent has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment. He said a technology called terra-plas naturally accelerated the biodegradation process of plastic and rubber products in landfills, marine and soil environments.

development

The business development executive explained to the participants that the New Biodegradable Co. (NBC LLC) is an exclusive distributor of the company and distributed the economical and organic additive terra-plas, pointing to the fact though that it was costly. Manqoba Zwane, an expert in waste management, said they should look into the plastic from a broader perspective. He said it was common that people considered only the food chain plastic as a threat to the environment. Zwane rhetorically asked: “What could happen if we eliminate all the plastics?” He said it was unfair to talk about the ban of plastics when others were actually importing it. He explained that plastics were a combination of polymers and additives. Zwane further explained that additives were chemical substances that were added to the plastic to give it the properties desired for commercial or industrial use.

The expert mentioned that they included materials such as plasticisers and flame retardants. He pointed to the fact that some of these substances disturbed the hormone balance in animals and humans. Another area of concern is the effect of nanoplastics, Zwane said. He said these particles were so small that they could easily penetrate the body - depending on the size it may penetrate organ tissue (whether in the brain or in the gut) and cells. He said the poisonous particles could cause local inflammation and all kinds of physiological effects, some of which were yet to be researched thoroughly. The expert in waste management also referred to the UN’s millennium goals on pollution. He said the sixth goal determined that the quality of freshwater should be improved.

He said nations agreed that the pollution of inland bodies of water should be reduced; with much more water needed to be purified in order to increase the amount available for safe consumption. He noted that the effective collection and processing of waste, although seen as a basic and indispensable service, was missing in many cities and other residential communities.

population

This, he said, caused many problems, especially in areas of dense population. He pointed out that mass production and consumption of plastic, especially single-use packaging plastic, were major contributors to plastic pollution in the sea and on land. He mentioned that such pollution had a negative influence on the functioning of ecosystems as it endangered animal lives as well as the food supply of large groups of people. Zwane said the burning of all the plastic as a form of waste-management contributed to toxic air pollution. He suggested that the best way to promote the UN millennium goals, mainly SDG 12, was through an absolute reduction in plastics.  He went on to say that the stimulation and improved effectiveness of recycling were not sufficient and did not present a realistic solution to the plastic challenge at this point in time.

He suggested that preventing plastic in the environment; avoiding health risks and absolute reduction of plastic should be considered as a step in the right direction. He said almost all plastic was made from fossil fuels, especially oil and shale gas. As a result, he explained that the production of plastic used a lot of energy, and altogether, this accounted for approximately 10 per cent of the global annual usage of fossil fuels - half for the production of plastic and other half for fuel.

reduction

He predicted that this figure would rise to 20 per cent in 2050 if people continued with the unlimited use of plastic. He said the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions which would prevent an average temperature increase of two degrees was an extremely urgent environmental goal. Zwane pointed out that the production and use of plastic had a smaller carbon footprint than alternatives such as paper and metal. “But a choice for plastic driven by that consideration does not take the end-of-life damage that plastic causes to the environment into account,” he said. He also said that the 14th sustainability goal was aimed at avoiding and strongly reducing the pollution in the sea, especially from waste that originated from land.

Given the rough estimate that 80 per cent of marine waste came directly from land and the fact that people were dealing with billions of kilos of waste per year, Zwane said it was obviously of great importance to achieve a reduction in the amount of plastic that ended up in the sea. The country’s waste management expert said he was sure that huge benefits could be reaped if effective waste collection systems were to be put in place everywhere while, at the same time, the use of plastics was reduced.

He said cleaning up plastic from beaches and capturing the plastic at sea was important, but overall these efforts were of little help if the flow of plastic was not reduced at the same time.
He said ecosystems in the sea and on land were threatened by (micro) plastics and chemical additives used. He said plastic could suffocate, lead to animals not being able to consume enough food, make animals easier prey for other animals, make coral reefs sick, and much more.  “Significant reduction in plastics and microplastics will quickly lead to the recovery of ecosystems and biodiversity,” he said.Vimbai Kapurura, the founder and Executive Director of Women Unlimited, said plastic pollution was an increasingly severe environmental crisis in the region, Eswatini and world at large.

recognition

She said people were being exposed to chemicals from plastic multiple times per day.“There is growing recognition that the problem must be addressed, with the recent announcement that retailers, manufacturing and department stores in Eswatini should stop providing single-use plastic bags to customers starting in 2021, the reality is that a single ban is not enough. We all need to take action,” said Kapurura. She alluded to the fact that ridding the earth of plastic waste and ending people’s dependence on it could never be an easy task. However, she said it was possible to accomplish the task. “We made plastic, we only have one planet, instead, let’s work together towards a healthier future,” she said.

She noted plastics were piling up on landfills, resultantly entering the food chain. Kapurura stated that microplastics have been found in human blood, raising risks of cancer and development orders. “We are poisoning ourselves and the planet,” she said. She urged stakeholders to work together to clean the environment. On another note, the manufacturers of plastics are opposed to the ban of the plastics. They are also of the view that there is no evidence that the technology would accelerate the decomposition of the plastics.  Last year, the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs introduced the Control of Plastic Bag Regulations of 2021.The legislation received resistance from some of the members of Parliament who included Manzini South MP Macford Sibandze.

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