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Recycling In South Africa: Why Plastic Pollution Education Is Needed

Less than 10% of waste is recycled in South Africa. While parts of the country have been making strides in raising awareness of the alarming levels of pollution and the urgent need for increased levels of recycling, a large amount of recyclable waste is still ending up in our rivers and oceans, on our beaches and in rapidly filling landfills. We have a long way to go and while recycling and beach clean efforts are not the ultimate solution, they’re an important part of dealing with the reality of waste. Our planet cannot wait for us to drag our feet, and the time for heightened awareness through interaction and education around plastic pollution and recycling is now. Here is how we can implement this more.

How schools can get involved

Schools are the best places to share information on recycling with the youth. It’s also important to start creating an awareness of environmental issues in children from an early age, so they grow up with a culture and understanding of sustainability. Local and international trends show that the elderly are more conscious about recycling, while millennials are least likely to recycle, which is another reason why the youth need to be targeted. Primary schools and high schools can include competitions, essays, art projects, and special talks by environmentalists, scientists and organisations to help facilitate education about plastic pollution, marine life and citizen science. They can also include recycling bins on school grounds and teach pupils how to separate their waste. This seems basic but with more support from the department of education, a set of large recycling bins is very possible and could make a huge impact as kids are bound to bring their household waste to school for processing, especially with incentivised programs in place.

How companies can contribute

At a corporate level, companies have the responsibility of making more conscious decisions, often as early as the design and architecture phase where possible. Green accredited design coupled with waste and energy infrastructure plays a significant role in managing carbon emissions and contributes to far healthier work environments. Office recycle bins, incentivised programs and a paperless culture with digitised presentations are examples of positive contributions to reducing waste and higher levels of consciousness. Well-designed posters throughout the building also alerts clients and visitors to the company culture, while sustainability strategy and talks on a regular basis keeps the staff engaged in the green practices of the company. Corporate social responsibility cannot just be a donation or purchase of carbon credits, it has to be a culture practiced across all departments as a norm.

How communities can make a difference

Libraries and municipalities play a crucial role in educating the public about plastic pollution on a community level. Fun and interactive events, municipal meetings and public activations make recycling accessible to far more people. One of the biggest excuses for people not recycling is a lack of resources such as bins. Individuals who are able to easily recycle and who have exposure to public resources and information are far more likely to spread the word to friends and family. Encouraging a habit of green living in the average home is where significant strides could be made. Modern manufacturing methods have meant that most plastics are now recyclable, so there is no reason they should be ending up in landfills. Widespread education campaigns facilitated by local municipalities are needed to create a sense of urgency around recycling and inform local communities about why it is so important for our environment and naturally, for them.

Get involved in local beach clean ups

#SeaTheBiggerPicture is a Cape Town based non-profit organisation that has plastic pollution education and ocean pollution awareness at its core. If you would like to play a more hands-on role in reducing plastic pollution, join our beach cleanup events or visit us online for information on the plastic pollution crisis and what we’re doing about it. There are many other organisations running beach clean programs all around South Africa too, get in touch and be part of the solution wherever you may be – it could be as simple as arranging a clean up in your neighbourhood or sharing others efforts on social media. We all play a role so let’s get out there!


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