Photograph — Quartz

In support of a transition from the use of conventional plastics to sustainable alternatives, Japan will be providing $1.8 million to fund a United Nations project in South Africa. The initiative is in line with the G20’s Blue Ocean Vision which aims to reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050. 

The funding from the Asian country follows a meeting between Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe and the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, during the G20 Osaka summit in June. As revealed by Japan’s Ambassador to South Africa, Norio Maruyama, the signing ceremony marked the ‘concrete achievement’ of what was discussed at the summit last month. 

“The DTI welcomes the support by the Japanese government and the partnership between UNIDO and the CSIR since biodegradable plastics are just being introduced locally,” Deputy Minister of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Nomalungelo Gina, said while referring to the key objectives of South Africa’s National Development Plan.

Marine pollution is considered a new environmental challenge, on top of global warming. About eight million tons of non-biodegradable plastic waste is estimated to be released into the sea around the world a year. Consequently, biodegradable plastics have gained attention as one approach to deal with the problem of plastic pollution.

However, when bringing new materials such as bioplastics onto the market, particular attention needs to be paid to certain factors. It is important to ensure that the overall environmental impact is not increased and that new types of waste are not created which cannot be recycled, thereby increasing the amount of waste or hindering efforts to increase circularity. 

With large amounts of sugar cane bagasse and other biomass feedstocks suitable for bioplastics, there are ongoing efforts to develop a local bioplastic industry in South Africa involving the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The UN agency will be working with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to develop a roadmap to strengthen the capacity of local industry to manufacture alternative materials and build up capacities for plastic recycling. 

More so, the project will help to assess all possible scenario and choose the appropriate material for South African contexts and will suggest necessary steps needed to set up an enabling environment. Such an initiative will be “a model of good practice which can be disseminated to other countries in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region,” UNIDO Representative, Khaled El Mekwad, stated.

He further said that the experience acquired by South Africa could be “extended to neighbouring countries where the triangular cooperation model with UNIDO and Japan may be replicated and adapted to the local development set-up.” 

Prior to the funding agreement and the June G20 summit, the Japanese government had plans to launch a public-private initiative to standardize plastic materials that can be degraded by marine microbes, with the aim of promoting such biodegradable materials. Hence, the funding of the South African project. Among other benefits, an emerging bioplastics industry has the potential to create new jobs in South Africa.

“We hope that from this partnership there is agreement that there will be a lot of innovation but also a lot of practical applications of the innovations to new industries and new forms of economic activity,” Economic Advisor to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Trudi Makhaya said while welcoming the initiative. 


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