The world is at war with plastic pollution. South Africa has officially made the top 20 of the world’s worst plastic polluters – we are ranked at number 11, worse than India, and the entire United States.
The reason is that South Africans on average, use approximately two kilograms of plastic per day, which amounts to a whopping 42 million tons of plastic waste generated each year. The problem is that only 21 % of this is recycled - the remaining 79 % of plastic waste is either disposed to landfill, or ends up in our oceans. In South Africa, the equivalent of one dump truck of plastic is emptied into the ocean every minute! In fact, it is predicted that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight, than fish!
Contrary to popular belief, plastic is not biodegradable, which means that every single piece of plastic ever made still exists on Earth today. Instead, the harsh rays of the sun and mechanical motion of ocean waves break down bigger pieces of plastic into very small fragments called microplastics. These microplastics are ingested by marine organisms, and ultimately make their way up the food chain to us humans. If seafood is your treat of choice, it is estimated that by eating fish, molluscs and shellfish, we are ingesting about 11 000 pieces of microplastics a year. Scientists haven’t yet discovered whether these microplastics are affecting our health, however there is no doubt that the chemicals used in the production of plastics have been linked to diseases such as asthma, breast cancer, and reproductive issues.
The impact of plastic pollution on marine life is devastating. It has impacted at least 267 species worldwide including 86 % of all sea turtle species, 44 % of all seabird species, and 43 % of all marine mammal species. Impacts include fatalities as a result of ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning and entanglement. The endangered African Penguin now has to add plastic bag entanglement to its list of threats.
What can we possibly do in the face of such adversity? Small changes in our behavior and the choices we make can make all the difference. Saying “no” to single use plastics, reusing plastics wherever possible and recycling as much as we can will help to make a dent in this ever-growing mountain of plastic waste. It is our responsibility to ensure that we do all we can to protect our environment for our children’s children. In the words of Sir David Attenborough, “never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about it”. Change starts with us, and it needs to start now.
Office printing can be a huge financial cost to businesses as well as being an environmental cost. Read more on The Environmental Costs of Office Printing.
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