Did you know that South Africa was ranked the 11th largest contributor to marine debris? (2O15, Jambeck et al.)
Every year, the amount of unsightly plastic littering our beaches increases at a rate that far exceeds the population growth over that same amount of time (Ryan, 2019). According to local scientist, Prof Peter Ryan, 94% of all litter found on our beaches is plastic. And of that, 77% is plastic packaging (Ryan & Moloney, 2016), such as on-the-go or take-away offerings from within the food and beverage industry. Think polystyrene, individual sweet wrappers, and straws (The Beach Co-Op, 2O19).
All this plastic packaging is really no surprise, considering that 52% of all South Africa's raw plastic material is used for packaging with an intended lifespan of less than 3 years (WWF, 2021. Plastic Facts and Futures). And the scary thing is that growth in plastic manufacture is set to increase by another 40% by 2030, if we don’t do anything about it. While beach clean-ups and recycling initiatives do much to divert post-consumer waste from oceans and landfill, we also urgently need to think of ways to REDUCE or even better, ELIMINATE the need for plastic in the first place.
While all kinds of packaging are to blame, there is also no doubt that the Food and Beverages industry contributes significantly to the trash we find on our beaches. Yet, neither the industry nor government is doing enough to curb the excessive growth in plastic waste.
In response to this, Ocean Pledge, a local registered NPC, has developed a restaurant programme designed to intercept plastic waste within the food and beverage industries. Rather than making waste the sole responsibility of the consumer (which is how the plastic industry likes to look at it), the programme looks to intercept plastic upstream by changing the default of restaurants, and through that, putting pressure on local suppliers along the way.
The programme asks restaurants to comply with 5 basic and easy to attain criteria which addresses the kinds of problematic plastics that cannot be recycled and often end up on our beaches and in our waterways. Once the restaurants get on board, they are added to our interactive google map so that they are easy to locate by conscious consumers. The idea is to create an ever-growing network of ocean-defending restaurants with an equally growing fan base of consumers who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is by choosing to spend their hard-earned cash in eateries that support the planet.
Until now, we have found that restaurants are very keen to engage with our programme. We already have 10 pilot restaurants on our side. So many people want to do the right things, but often don’t know what is right. There is quite a lot of greenwashing out there. like the so-called ‘biodegradable’ or plastic-look-alike straws that a lot of restaurants are investing in. The problem with ‘bio-straws’ is that we don’t have temperature-controlled industrial composters to degrade them. So, they just end up in landfill like all the rest. Or even worse, they end up on our beaches and in our oceans where they create an equal amount of havoc as regular plastic as it is too cold an environment for them to degrade. There is a great need for education, which is why our programme is heavily rooted in consumer and staff education and is targeted at empowering individuals and restaurants in making more sustainable choices.
However, in comes Covid. Restaurants are struggling to keep their doors open. In fact, as many as 30% have had to close. Times are tough. Sadly, what this means is that rather than focussing on sustainability concerns (which is getting us into all sorts of troubles in the first place), the necessary emphasis has shifted to staff retention and just trying to keep afloat.
What this has meant for us is that we are now on a mission to prove that implementing a plastic-free programme will not only help the planet by diverting large volumes of waste from landfill, but it will also help save restaurants on their bottom line. In an exciting study conducted by the Product Stewardship Institute in the US, implementing a plastic-free programme across four restaurants, demonstrated a per average annual diversion of 37 000kg of plastic from landfill, and a staggering R57 000 annual saving in overall expenditure. Ultimately if we can prove that in South Africa too, it means that regardless of Covid, we are able to set the benchmark for change among consumers and restaurants, which will in turn put pressure on suppliers and manufacturers, resulting in a transformation of the ecosystem at large. Big dreams, but you can help us!
So, what can you do?
Be conscious of the efforts that restaurants are taking to be part of the change
Choose to support restaurants/ eateries like Plushi, invested in doing the right thing
Help change consumer norms and mindsets by using social media platforms to highlight the sustainable efforts of eateries (and other brands)
Make some noise: Don’t be afraid to speak to the managers/owners and tell them what you expect from them. You are their greatest stakeholder!
Follow Ocean Pledge and watch this space…
If you know of any restaurants that would like to join our programme or help us in our Research endeavours, please send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org