South Africa

South Africa

Sustainable Seas Trust

Litter Items Collected

weight of items


Percentage of litter that is plastic

Number of Surveys conducted

Litter Monitoring Statistics as of June 2019

Our plastic challenge

The situation:

South Africa is home to more than 55.6 million people5 which on average, use between 30kg to 50kg of plastic per person per year11. Generating more than 1000 tonnes of plastic waste per day2, the country is home to three of the 50 largest dumpsites in the world3. In 2011, it was reported that 90% of 59 million tonnes of waste generated by South Africa ended up in landfills with only 10% of it being recycled6.

Illegal dumpsites are common throughout the country and it is a typical to see large amounts of litter blowing through even the cleanest and wealthiest neighbourhoods on a windy day. Plastic litter is so prolific in South Africa that plastic bags are locally referred to as the new “national flower” of the country7. Unfortunately, the amount of waste generated in South Africa is only expected to increase as the population and economy continues to grow2.

The why:

There are numerous challenges associated with waste management in South Africa. These include issues such as increased waste loads from a growing population, a limited understanding of the main waste flows, outdated waste management facilities, inadequate waste collection services, and insufficient recycling facilities4. Consequently, more than half of all solid waste in South Africa is regarded as mismanaged6.8.

According to the Department of Environmental Affairs National Waste Management Strategy (2011), only 61% of South African households have access to domestic waste collection services, and this access is greatly skewed in favour of more affluent and urban communities4. Inadequately serviced areas are therefore left heavily polluted, harbouring unpleasant and unhealthy living conditions4. Waste mismanagement is thus a major issue in South Africa with the country being ranked 11th globally in terms of mismanagement of plastic waste1.6.

The impact:

Waste management in South Africa is still highly dependent on landfilling6. This, in combination with the magnitude of mismanaged plastic waste in the country means that a large portion of it is destined to end up in the ocean. It is estimated that as much as 250 000 tonnes of plastic enter the seas of South Africa as marine litter every year, making South Africa one of the top ocean polluters globally1.

The presence of plastic waste in the marine environment is of great concern due to its persistence and impact on the ocean, wildlife and potentially, humans1.9. Marine litter has been known to affect a wide variety of marine animals such as sea birds, cetaceans, whales and turtles, which are often at risk of entanglement or may ingest marine litter2.8.10.

The need for litter monitoring:

Due to the factors mentioned above, there is a critical need to measure and monitor the amount of litter entering the ocean and washing up on beaches in South Africa. A large-scale, long-term study has showed that the amount of marine litter is increasing on South African beaches12, but fine-scale studies are required to identify litter hotspots and problem items, inform litter reduction methods, and monitor the effectiveness of these interventions.

The Sustainable Seas Trust has committed to conduct such a fine-scale marine litter monitoring project in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth.

  1. Jambeck JR, Geyer R, Wilcox C, Siegler TR, Perryman M, Andrady A, Narayan R & Law KL. 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347:768-771.
  2. Jambeck J, Hardesty BD, Brooks AL, Friend T, Teleki K, Fabres J, Beaudion Y, Bamba A, Francis J, Ribbink AJ, Baleta T, Bouwman H, Knox J & Wilcox C. 2018. Challenges and emerging solutions to the land-based plastic waste issue in Africa. Marine Policy. 96: 256-63.
  3. Waste Atlas Partnership. 2014. Waste Atlas: The World’s 50 Biggest Dumpsites, 2014 Report.
  4. DEA. 2011. National Waste Management Strategy. Department of Environmental Affairs, Republic of South Africa.
  5. Community Survey 2016, Statistical release P0301 / Statistics South Africa. Pretoria: Statistics South Africa, 2016
  7. Ritch et al 2009 Plastic_bag_politics_modifying_consumer
  8. Peter Ryan. 2018. Environment, African Birdlife. 2018 What a waste, pp32-40
  9. R. C. Thompson, C. J. Moore, F. S. vom Saal, S. H. Swan, Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London Ser. B Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends.364, 2153–2166 (2009)
  10. The impact of debris on marine life Marine Pollution Bulletin Author links open overlay panel. S. C. Gall R. C. Thompson, Volume 92, Issues 1–2, 15 March 2015, Pages 170-179
  11. WWF report, 2018 – still trying to find it – was mentioned in a news bulletin
  12. Ryan PG & Moloney CL. 1990. Plastic and other artefacts on South African beaches: temporal trends in abundance and composition. South African Journal of Science 86: 450-452.

Our Team

Team profile

Toshka Barnardo

Toshka is the litter monitoring Project Coordinator at the Sustainable Seas Trust (SST) and for the WIOMSA Marine Litter Monitoring Programme. As part of the partnership between WIOMSA and the SST, Toshka co-authored and edited the African Marine Litter Monitoring Manual.

Lorien Pichegru

Lorien is a Senior Researcher at the Sustainable Seas Trust. She is involved with data collection and data analysis for the litter monitoring project at SST. She is also a co-author on the Marine Litter Monitoring Manual currently in development at SST.

Tanna van Niekerk

Tanna is a Research Assistant at the Sustainable Seas Trust. She is currently leading the macro-litter beach surveys at SST and is also involved in other litter monitoring efforts at SST.

Courtenay Webster

Courtenay is the Online Content Coordinator at the Sustainable Seas Trust. She is involved in producing the quarterly newsletters for the monitoring project, sharing the project with the public as well as developing the project on the AMWN website.


The team is located at 222 Main Rd, Walmer, Port Elizabeth, 6065

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