/ 17 April 2024

South Africans agree with global consensus that single-use plastics should be banned

Hennops River Pollution 0257 Dv
Plastic and other pollution along the Hennops River. Photo by Delwyn Verasamy

An average of 85% of people who were polled across 32 countries, including South Africa, believe that a soon-to-be finalised global plastic pollution treaty should outlaw single-use plastics.

These are the findings from a survey by market-research company Ipsos of more than 24 000 people, which was commissioned by WWF and the Plastic Free Foundation

From 23 April to 29 April, United Nations member states will meet in Ottawa, Canada, to hammer out the details of the new international agreement in the penultimate plastic pollution treaty negotiations. The aim is to conclude negotiations on a final treaty text by the end of this year.

According to WWF South Africa, local participants in the survey were aligned with the global averages when looking at the overall importance of the issue and had significantly stronger feelings when considering the implementation of specific bans. 

“They were also significantly more likely than the global average to agree with introducing consequences and accountability for governments and plastic producers and more likely to support ensuring all participating countries have access to funding, technology and other resources to comply with the rules.”

The survey noted how one of the “major fault lines” among countries negotiating the new treaty is whether or not it should include global rules that are binding and applicable to all parties to the treaty, instead of just voluntary national measures. 

“Our latest research shows robust and consistent support for such rules. This is broadly consistent with previous surveys undertaken as part of this three-year global research initiative and with other national polling,” it said.

The results revealed, among others, that nine in 10 South African participants believe it is important that global rules require global plastic production to be reduced.

Similarly, more than nine in 10 South African survey participants believe it is important that global rules require a ban on chemicals used in plastic that are hazardous to human health, wildlife and the environment, while more than four in 10 local survey participants believe this is essential. 

Nearly nine in 10 South African survey participants believe it is important that global rules require a ban on unnecessary single-use plastic products most likely to become plastic pollution. 

More than nine in 10 South African survey participants believe it is important that global rules require manufacturers and retailers to provide reuse and refill systems.  

The survey noted that the samples in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and Uganda were “more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent” than the general population. “The survey results for these countries should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more ‘connected’ segment of these populations.” 

WWF South Africa said that with more than 430 million tonnes of virgin plastic produced each year – 60% of which is single-use – and only 9% of that plastic recycled worldwide, a global ban on single-use plastics, “deemed unnecessary, avoidable, and harmful, is one of several in a suite of urgent measures the public wants to see in the treaty”. Single-use plastics account for more than 70% of ocean plastic pollution.

Other highly favoured bans include those on harmful chemicals used in plastic (which 90% supported) and plastic products that cannot be easily and safely recycled in the countries where they are used (87%). In addition, the results reveal a widespread understanding that bans alone are not enough to end the plastic pollution crisis, it said.

Citizens polled worldwide also strongly support redesigning the plastics system to ensure remaining plastics can be safely reused and recycled. “In particular, measures such as mandating manufacturers to invest in and provide reuse and refill systems polled 87% support while 72% support ensuring all countries have access to funding, technology and resources to enable a just transition.” 

These measures provide a “clear pathway” for reducing global plastic production, an outcome 87% of those polled worldwide in this study, as well as 82% of people polled in a recent study by Greenpeace International, “would like to see the global plastic pollution treaty achieve”.

The Greenpeace survey, too, demonstrated that there was 80% support for protecting biodiversity and the climate by cutting plastics production. “As many as nine out of 10 people (90%) support a transition away from single-use plastic packaging to reusable and refillable packaging, while 75% support a ban on single-use plastic. Likewise, 80% of people are concerned about the impacts of plastic on the health of their loved ones and 84% of parents are concerned about these impacts on the health of their children.”

Last week, Barbara Creecy, the minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment, said  South Africa remains resolute in supporting global efforts to end plastic pollution.

“Plastic pollution affects the terrestrial and aquatic including marine environments. South Africa boasts a coastline that covers over 3 000 kilometres, and it is in the interest of environmental sustainability that South Africa is actively engaged in the INC [Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution] process,” she said. 

Creecy recognised the threat plastic pollution poses to human health, ecosystem functioning, and the marine environment and said it keeps the South African members of the INC hard at work.

“Given the versatility of the plastic product, the lifecycle approach requires a multi-stakeholder focus, and thus the government is considering views of interested and affected parties in the negotiations of this internationally legally binding instrument on curbing plastics pollution.”