African Marine Waste Network project officially launched in PE


The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on Monday hosted the launch for the new African Marine Waste Network project at South Campus in Port Elizabeth. The project is part of a United Nations drive to address marine waste at a Pan-African level.

A number of pupils from several local schools also attended the event as our world’s future leaders.

In their presentations, all the experts and dignitaries pledged support to government’s Operation Phakisa, which aims to unlock the economic potential of South Africa’s Oceans and the potential to contribute billions in the future.

According to the Sustainable Seas Trust, which launched the network, Africa may soon become as badly polluted as South East Asia, which has the foulest record on the planet.

National and international experts participated in a two-day planning workshop and listened to public lectures as part of the launch celebrations.

Among the experts and dignitaries of the launch were Eastern Cape MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Sakhumzi Somyo; NMMU Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Leitch; Cllr Rory Riordan, who represented the Nelson Mandela Bay Executive Mayor, Danny Jordaan; Andre Share representing the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and head of Operation for Phakisa; Executive Director at Plastics SA, Anton Hanekom; CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, Kevin Hustler; CEO of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, Mandlakazi Skefile, and keynote speaker Kristian Teleki from the Prince of Wales Foundation.

In his speech, Prof Leitch said that the NMMU was becoming the “go-to” destination for all marine and maritime-related research and skills development and that the university is now establishing a dedicated Ocean Sciences Campus – the first in South Africa.

“One of the flagship projects for our University after establishing the medical School is to establish our University as the hub, in Africa for marine and maritime, from the research and the educational perspective,” he described.

Cllr Riordan explained to delegates why the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality is supporting the launch saying the Bay, with its two harbours that are unique to Africa, a huge coastline, means it can exploit maritime agriculture while creating a Waterfront with many opportunities for tourism.

Other speakers also touched on the goal to reduce the amount of waste, especially plastic, that is dumped into the oceans so as to guarantee a sustainable and healthy environment for future generations.

“This initiative and the launch of the African Marine Waste Network is extremely relevant, because this is about action, it’s about how we can collectively and collaboratively and inclusively address the issues around pollution and waste management,” said Andre Share.

Representing the plastic industry, Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics SA, which intends to accomplish their aspiration of zero plastics to landfill by 2030 and had helped initiate the African Marine Waste Network, said; “Plastics, when they reach the end of life, are still too valuable to throw away. It can still be used to create a similar product like bottle to bottle type of recycling. New products can be developed.”

He added that; “In 2011, we became the first association in Africa to sign the Global Marine Debris Declaration. Currently more than 65 associations worldwide from 34 countries have signed the declaration. It’s a public commitment from the World Plastics Industry to deal with marine debris.”

Plastics SA will again host an international coastal clean-up on 16 and 17 September this year to incorporate with recycling day and the International Coastal Clean-up Day.

In his keynote speech, Teleki, who had just come to South Africa from Japan, said; “Plastic doesn’t go away, so I reach my dilemma, and my dilemma is that this fantastic material that has changes our lives, and very much for the better. My question is, ‘Is plastic fantastic?’ and maybe, not so.”

He said that "some of these materials actually break down, they break down into smaller bits of plastic called micro-plastic”.

Teleki went on to describe the many different types of pollution affecting our oceans, how much of the products float and becomes ingested by marine life, and how much marine life is directly suffering and dying because of plastic.

He mentioned that we are making more plastic each year, and this material can take more than an entire lifespan to decay and decompose.

“You use a plastic fork for a short amount of time, it’s around for two to four hundred years. Why would you use something once and then throw it away?” he asked.

“If we continue on this trajectory, we’re looking at one ton of plastic to three tons of fish in the ocean by 2025, and by 2050 more plastic than finned fish in the ocean.”

Though the amount of debris entering the sea from South Africa or any other African country is not known, there is grave concern that the rapid development of the continent, coupled with poverty, will see waste accumulation outpace management.

Teleki said that he hoped that this African Marine Waste Network would help fill in the gaps about marine waste disposal management in African countries, and how much waste is generated in each country.

“I paint a very bleak picture here about the problem of plastics, we have one hand fantastic and on the other we have a serious number of policies affecting us all. But let’s move to my end point, the circular economy and its solutions,” he said.

Teleki also spoke about how more plastics need to be returned for recycling and not thrown away for a circular economy to function, instead of it being thrown away as waste. The more unwanted products are returned for recycling the better the circular economy will work and in turn save money as well as the environment.

“We take it; we make it, when we use it we return it, so actually there is value in taking these into our lives and using them. But we can’t do it unless they’re materials that we can use back and forth again,” he said.

He showed some videos of innovations utilised in other nations for recycling and reusing materials in a different way than they were originally designed, and hoped to inspire the members watching to come up with their own creative innovations as well.

MEC Somyo then spoke about the need for something to be done about the plastic in our waters, and that the Eastern Cape government was in full support of the project.

“South Africa, in the development of ocean economies has begun to emphasise the protected areas, and marine exploration,” he described.

“So from our side, we really support this endeavour, we really pride ourselves to have it held here in Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay, in South Africa.”

He stated that no nation can accomplish this alone, and that nations must join together to help with the plastic dilemma.