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Environmental organisations demand halt to unnecessary plastic production

A group of nongovernmental organisations IS calling for the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment to introduce stricter regulations for companies that manufacture and sell plastic products. 

“The plastic industry continues to capitalise on ‘false solutions’ to the plastic pollution crisis and promote recycling as the sole solution, we know that this is not enough,” the coalition said in a statement. 

“We call on the department to apply meaningful measures that stop unnecessary plastic production at the source, long before it enters our lives.”

Plastic pollution is known to be one the most serious environmental and social issues facing the world.

According to Greenpeace Africa’s Angelo Louw: “Plastic is a threat to our health. Research repeatedly shows the health of the environment is closely linked to human health. In the context of the current pandemic, it has never been more important to put in place measures to prevent further threats to our safety.” 

A recent study that paints a clear picture of the dangers of plastic pollution has been released by the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 

The study, Constraining the Atmospheric Limb of the Plastic Cycle, has found that plastic recycles through oceans, roads and agricultural land to become plastic dust, which can be churned into the atmosphere and spread across continents.

“We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world. This plastic is not new from this year. It’s from what we’ve already dumped into the environment over several decades,” according to the lead author of the study, Janice Brahney.

The study also shows that atmospheric microplastics are primarily derived from secondary re-emission sources.

The study entailed “in situ observations of microplastic deposition combined with an atmospheric transport model and optimal estimation techniques to test hypotheses of the most likely sources of atmospheric plastic”. 

“Results suggest that atmospheric microplastics in the western United States are primarily derived from secondary re-emission sources including roads (84%), the ocean (11%), and agricultural soil dust (5%),” the study found. 

A recent report by the United Nations describes how plastic can be a danger to human health. And the report says those living in squalor and poverty are the most likely to suffer the brunt of plastic pollution.

For the Brahney study, researchers collected atmospheric microplastic data between December 2017 and January 2019 from western America, where 84% of microscopic shards came from road dust, a result of cars and trucks agitating the plastic. 

The study found that when large clusters of  plastic merged into pods of plastic islands on the oceans, oceanic action grinds them into micron-size particles that are carried into the atmosphere by wind. 

“It’s amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places,” Brahney said. 

“Using our best estimate of plastic sources and modelled transport pathways, most continents are net importers of microplastics from the marine environment,” she said. 

“This underscores the cumulative role of legacy pollution in the atmospheric burden of plastic.”

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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