In July 2019, Japan and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) signed an agreement to work together to combat plastic pollution in South Africa. The agreement was signed at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria. Unido and the CSIR will work together to implement the agreement.
“The project is funded by the government of Japan,” says Unido representative in Southern Africa, Khaled El Mekwad. “Unido attaches great importance to this project,” he adds. El Mekwad also said that the shift from single-use plastics was not something that could be avoided.
Plastic pollution and alternative plastic materials to be examined
The joint research programme, paid for by a Japanese grant of $1.8-million (~R27-million), will examine plastic waste, as well as alternative materials to conventional plastics. El Mekwad also said that the CSIR was a long-standing strategic partner of Unido, with this project paving the way to public-private partnerships in South Africa.
Other countries in Southern Africa and beyond could potentially adopt this project model. El Mekwad mentioned that the Unido office in Pakistan had already expressed interest in the project. Japan agreed to become a funder following a bilateral meeting between Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa before the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan in June 2019.
At the G20 summit, it was also announced by Prime Minister Abe that Japan would be supportive of waste management efforts by developing countries. This includes capacity building and infrastructure development.
“We are very proud to support South Africa in introducing alternative materials to plastic, and it’s through Japanese technology,” says ambassador Norio Maruyama. This new, cutting-edge technology produced biodegradable plastics. South Africa’s capacity for plastic recycling would also be strengthened by the agreement.
“With this project involving Japanese technology, we can show how innovation can be a solution,” says Maruyama. “Innovation can be the solution of a lot of issues, particularly those impacting the environment,” he adds.
Plastic waste: a growing problem in Africa
Khungeka Njobe, CSIR executive for business excellence and innovation, addressed guests at the function. In her speech, she said that the CSIR had a strong focus on sustainable development. She said that solid waste had social, economic and environmental impacts. Plastic waste is regarded as a growing problem in Africa, through the use of single-use plastics and inadequate recycling efforts.
“We’re treating waste in a way that loses value for us,” says Njobe. The phasing out of single-use plastics, improved waste processing measures and better recycling efforts are required. “We’ve also invested in developing biodegradable plastics,” Njobe explains. As an alternative to conventional, petroleum-based plastics, the CSIR had already developed bioplastics. “The CSIR looks forward to partnering with government as well as industry to address the issue of plastics,” Njobe adds.
Plastics made the modern world, says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom. However, plastics must be disposed of correctly and efficiently. Hanekom also highlights that the South African plastics industry supports initiatives to reduce plastic waste.
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