Marine litter ‘fastest growing threat to health of world’s oceans’

Richard McLennan has rallied clean-up support from the beverage giant. Picture: Northglen News.

Richard McLennan has rallied clean-up support from the beverage giant. Picture: Northglen News.

UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh not only lent his efforts to the largest beach clean-up in Mumbai, he is also calling on local community members to help clean KwaZulu-Natal’s Blue Lagoon Beach today in the north of Durban.

The devastating effect of litter on marine life has been demonstrated in a recently uploaded YouTube video of the largest beach clean-up in history, which took place in Mumbai, India.

In the United Nations Environmental Programme video, filmed on August 6 and 7, a mass of plastic and other waste products are seen being washed up onto Versova Beach in Mumbai. It was an act of active citizenship that started the clean-up movement, as a 33-year-old lawyer, Afroz Shah, called on community members to help clean up. On Week 43, United Nations Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh joined the movement. More than 2 million kilograms of litter had already been cleared from the beach when the video was uploaded to YouTube on August 9.

Pugh states that despite visiting beaches all over the world, he had never seen litter on this scale before. The video states, “Marine litter is one of the fastest growing threats to health of world’s oceans.”

South African beaches are not exempt from marine litter, and community members in the north of Durban have demonstrated their commitment to cleaning up Blue Lagoon Beach and garner community support on their Facebook page, #CleanBlueLagoon. The most recent clean up held at Blue Lagoon Beach was held on August 20, and even Pugh added his voice by encouraging people to help the clean-up and congratulated them on their efforts afterwards.

Dale Johnson of the clean-up posted on the #CleanBlueLagoon Facebook page that 20 big white PET bags were filled and a whopping 275 general rubbish bags were filled.

At the end of July, an emergency clean-up was held at the Blue Lagoon Beach after a lot of litter was washed onto the beach during the heavy rains which were experienced by most of the country. However, it wasn’t just community members who joined in.

After noticing that one of the most identifiable sources of litter were plastic bottles, community member Richard McLennan went one step further and posted a photo of the litter on the Coca-Cola South Africa Facebook page and appealed for the company to join the clean-up. McLennan clarified that he did not blame Coca-Cola for the litter but asked them to assist in cleaning up the KZN beach.

Plastic washed up on a KwaZulu-Natal beach following heavy rainfall at the end of July. Picture: Richard McLennan's post to Coca-Cola on Facebook.

Plastic washed up on a KwaZulu-Natal beach following heavy rainfall at the end of July. Picture: Richard McLennan’s post to Coca-Cola on Facebook.

A screenshot of Richard McLennan's plea for Coca-Cola South Africa to help clean the litter. Picture: Facebook.

A screenshot of Richard McLennan’s plea for Coca-Cola South Africa to help clean the litter. Picture: Facebook.

Coca-Cola South Africa responded to the the plea on Facebook, confirming they would take part. A beach clean-up is not foreign to Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa, which has participated in the International Coastal Cleanup project for 22 years.

A screenshot of Coca-Cola's response to Richard McLennan's plea on Facebook. Picture: Facebook.

A screenshot of Coca-Cola’s response to Richard McLennan’s plea on Facebook. Picture: Facebook.

Camilla Osborne, internal and digital communications manager for Coca-Cola South Africa, explained that answering McLennan’s Facebook post was in-line with the post-consumer waste recovery initiatives and targets of the Coca-Cola Company and local bottling partners.

“Specifically, in response to the South African government introducing the New National Waste Management Act in 2009, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa, as part of the Coca-Cola system, is committed to the Extended Producer Responsibility principle as introduced by the Act,” said Osborne.

She said more than 1 000 bags of waste were removed from Blue Lagoon during the July 30 clean-up.

The cooperation of Coca-Cola in the Blue Lagoon clean-up on July 30 demonstrates that business can play a key role in addressing environmental and social problems, which is a stance taken by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Senior manager of the Policy and Futures Unit Tatjana von Bormann and senior manager of the Marine Programme John Duncan for WWF South Africa explained that where the independent conservation organisation had worked with willing businesses they had seen a definite change in addressing negative impacts in immediate operations and addressing things such as waste in the post-consumer phase. They believe business should tackle issues of environmental responsibility proactively, and said end-of-life responsibility for a product is a key principle too few businesses were willing to acknowledge.

The marine litter comprised of product packaging in the post-consumer-use phase of products and Von Bormann and Duncan explained there was no enabling policy environment to compel sufficient responsibility in this phase. Further, such policies needed to be enforced so a willingness by companies to take action was required. In South Africa, there are some extended producer responsibility schemes, but they believed that there needs to be a focus on waste reduction as well as recycling.

Von Bormann and Duncan said they were still trying to understand the scale of marine pollution that impacts South Africa and explained that social and environmental issues were complex, for example packaging and plastic waste was a significant cause of pollution, but with different impacts to food waste, and therefore it was difficult to draw comparisons. They further explained that packaging plays a vital role in protecting food products from damage and extending shelf-life quality, which would reduce potential food waste, and, life cycle analyses indicate that the biggest environmental footprint is associated with the product itself. However, they said, “…These studies are not currently able to quantify the full cumulative pollution impacts of the packaging, which is a growing concern in our oceans.”

They said WWF was looking to work with retailers and consumers to raise awareness around long-term marine pollution problems associated with packaging.

In the case of Coca-Cola, making packaging as sustainable as possible is important to the company, Osborne said, and she said the company worked with partners in the private sector, government and civil society to achieve this objective, as well as working towards the goal of zero waste to landfills in South Africa. “Currently, 93% of all waste at Coca-Cola distribution centers and manufacturing plants is not going to landfills in South Africa,” said Osborne. She explained that this was achieved through numerous initiatives such as recycling, lightweighting bottles, innovating with sustainable packaging and community initiatives.

In terms of how other businesses have incorporated sound environmental principles that enhance biodiversity, Von Bormann and Duncan said: “In the Farming for the Future supplier code, 10% of the farm indicators relate to biodiversity. Similarly in our work in the Cape Floral Kingdom, wine producers have committed to considerable biodiversity conservation.”



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