The cost of plastic pollution is enormous and growing, affecting not only human health and the environment but also numerous economic sectors that rely on marine and coastal environments to generate income. From fishing to agriculture, tourism to real-estate; the economic impact of plastic pollution is widespread.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that
95% or US$80–120 billion
of packaging material value is lost annually
Marine ecosystem services provide benefits to society estimated at approximately
per year (Costanza et al., 2014 in Beaumont et al., 2019).
The economic cost of marine plastics is only starting to be understood. Beaumont et al (2019:193) postulates a 1–5% reduction in marine ecosystem service delivery as a result of marine plastic pollution equating to an annual loss of
While much of the plastic pollution is currently recyclable, without a market to make the collection of this material financially viable, this plastic will remain lost. By establishing economic incentives and developing enterprises around the plastics value chain, it is hoped that this will create markets and harness the potential of plastics.
By focusing on the opportunities offered by the circular economy, SST’s Economic Incentives and Enterprise Department brings the economic aspects of the issue of plastic pollution to the work of SST, bridging the gap between research and economics and ultimately contributing to the SST mandate of Zero Plastics to the Seas of Africa.
What is the Circular Economy?
What do we mean by a linear or circular economy?
A linear economic system involves take-make-waste. The circular economy aims to design waste out of the equation, through reuse, redesign, recycling, repurpose, and remanufacturing resources, thus closing the loop to reduce or eradicate waste from the system. It also aims to ensure products are redesigned with circularity in mind so that they can be easily recycled, reused or will have a longer lifespan.
Why should the Circular Economy be advanced?
The world is seeing an upward trend in resource extraction and greenhouse gas emissions. According to The Circularity Gap Report 2020 only 8.6% of the global economy is circular and the gap is widening (PACE, 2020). The cost of being stuck in a linear growth model is increasing global environmental damage, producing excessive waste and damaging carbon intensive energy. The world is now 1°C warmer than in pre-industrial times. In order to meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s limit on global warming of 1.5°C a low-carbon and circular model is needed. A path to climate resilience lies in embracing circularity.
Africa is vulnerable to economic and climate change risks, the circular economy offers an opportunity to reduce risks. Urban planning in Africa with growing populations, needs to consider the design of resource-efficient, sustainable cities that can better manage waste. This opens up opportunities for better health, cleaner environments and a vibrant, urban economy.
What UN Sustainable Development Goals do we aim to achieve?
SST’s Economic Incentives and Enterprise Department’s work aligns with the following UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
SST’s Goals and Focus Areas
Place the circular economy at the heart of economic development within Africa.
The five focus areas of the department are :
SST undertakes research on consumer and household perceptions of recycling, waste and other elements of the circular economy. This is to better understand the industry and its drivers; assisting in policy recommendations and education programmes. Research on value chains identifies areas of opportunity for SMMEs, municipalities and donors. SST empowers community members to take up its Citizen Science Programme and generate scientific data within their own communities on waste. SST is also involved in research on the recycling value chain and the Circular Economy.
SST actively supports research on various recycling business models through impact research. We are currently undertaking research on the investment of PolyCo’s Packa-Ching mobile buy-back centre’s investment in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM). The research aims to assess impacts on perceptions and litter loads of the programme, with the aim of advising of its suitability to be expanded into Africa.
Current projects include:
- Perceptions to Waste and Litter in Central,
- Household perception survey on waste and litter in New Brighton and Zwide, NMBM
- Packa-Ching impact research in Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay
- An Overview of the NMBM Recycling Value Chain
SST undertakes dialogues on waste in order to assist in identifying solutions in communities. Recycling and circular economy content and resources are developed to capacitate and empower community members to establish recycling collection points or their own enterprises.
Current projects include:
- The Motherwell Community and Enviro Hub programme
- Adult education programmes
- Community development and skills capacitation programme undertaken in conjunction with The Human Settlements Action Group (HAG).
SST works with and supports small scale recyclers. Areas of support include skills training, networking, social media support and capacity development. Research and networking on business models for recycling and circular economy are also undertaken.
SST aims to communicate opportunities within the Circular Economy and sustainable development via awareness campaigns on social media platforms, developing helpful guides and resources for the public, as well as facilitating targeted training sessions. Adult education programmes developed include recycling awareness, waste streams, plastic in responsible tourism and the circular economy.
Examples of some of our awareness projects:
- Plastics and Sustainable Tourism
- Training on waste categorisation and pathways of litter to the ocean for street cleaning contract staff in Central, NMBM
SST works with municipalities to empower them to tackle the ever-changing world of recycling and circular economy. SST assists in capacitation and support to municipal officials and councillors.
Current partnerships include:
- Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA)
- South African Local Government Association (SALGA)
Beaumont, N.J., Aanesen, M., Austen, M.C., Börger, T., Clark, J.R., Cole, M., Hooper, T., Lindeque, P.K., Pascoe, C., Wyles, K.J., 2019. Global ecological, social and economic impacts of marine plastic. Marine Pollution Bulletin 142, 189–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.03.022
Costanza, R., de Groot, R., Sutton, P., van der Ploeg, S., Anderson, S.J., Kubiszewski, I., Farber, S., Turner, R.K., 2014. Changes in the global value of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change 26, 152–158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.04.002
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017. The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking The Future Of Plastics & Catalysing Action. Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), 2020. The Circularity Gap Report 2020. The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE).