What is plastic neutral?


What is plastic neutral?

Plastic is currently the major headline… and it is long overdue.  Our planet needs our help, yet plastic use and its abuse is one of the problems that we can solve quickly if countries and companies work together to make the right decisions and force change quickly.  At Wedgewood Crafted Confectionery we have always been proud of the work we have done in supporting conservation and the people in our community – so we had a huge wake-up call when we realised that we currently put 20 tons of plastic into the South African market each year… we have been part of the problem! How can we have this happen, when it is contrary to our ethos and values.  We decided to make it personal and do something about plastic.

A combined effort 

Experts close to the problem are talking about a combined effort to resolve the problem that includes:

  • Asking consumers to remove plastic from their lives
  • Lobbying government for stricter regulations, plastic tax, improved waste service levels and education
  • Incentives to collect waste plastic by creating a value for it
  • Putting pressure on manufacturers to take responsibility – to look for alternatives, use the right grade of recyclable material and using recycled material where possible.
  • Fund and support scientific innovation looking for ecologically friendly alternatives to plastic

 Where do we start?

After looking at the facts we knew that we could not tackle the whole problem, so we decided to focus on one area that we knew we could make an immediate difference.

  • Non-recyclable plastic is one of the largest contributors to litter and landfills.
  • Currently there are no environmentally sustainable alternatives for many plastic applications, which means certain manufacturers have no option but to continue to use them until science catches up and finds an environmentally sustainable solution.
  • If waste plastic was worth something it will be picked up.
  • This waste plastic needs to find its way into value added products so it does not make its way back to landfill.
  • Manufacturers need to take responsibility for the plastic they send out into the world.

 The plastic neutral concept

Manufacturers take responsibility for the waste plastic they generate through what is called an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) fee.  This fee is levied on each KG of plastic a company brings in and is used ultimately to help generate a value for waste plastic.  Wedgewood currently pays R3 per kilogram of plastic brought into our facility to Wildlands trust who converts an equivalent amount of plastic into up-cycled products of value that can be sold on the open market.  The quantity of plastic used by Wedgewood and the quantity upcycled by Wildlands is audited annually by independents auditors to ensure everything is above board and transparent.

This EPR fee is then used by Wildlands Conservation Trust to incentivise the collection of waste plastic (if waste plastic was worth R2 per kg – litter would fast become a thing of the past) and to supplement the additional costs of manufacturing the plastic into competitively priced products.

The project 

Wildlands, in partnership with USE-IT (Durban based waste innovation no-profit) have set up a pilot Waste Innovation Centre in Howick where they are researching ways to add value to non-recyclable plastics.  This includes a pyrolysis plant that is turning plastic into fuel and their latest innovation “the Green Brick”, a machine that is heating and blending non-recyclable plastic and glass and moulding the mixture into bricks and blocks that are 3 times harder than cement bricks.  To help make this project work financially, Wedgewood has become the first company to become Plastic Neutral in South Africa by paying Wildlands R3 for every KG of plastic it brings into the factory.  This is called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and is used to finance one KG of non-recyclable plastic to be upcycled while offsetting the producer’s plastic usage. It also helps ensure that the bricks can be sold at a competitive price commercially.

The BIG Plan

We are hoping that more producers will be encouraged to follow us in becoming Plastic Neutral.  If producers take responsibility for the plastic they send out into the world this project will soon role out to strategic areas where litter is a major concern and unemployment is high.  If every producer was encouraged (or forced by legislation) to pay an EPR fee for every KG of plastic they send out – 100’s of micro business will blossom, 1000’s of jobs will be created and plastic litter will soon be a thing of the past.

Share the good news, join the movement and help us make this be the beginnings of an exciting success story.

Alvina Zondi waste entrepreneur

Alvina Zondi is a waste-preneur from Sweetwaters. This inspirational woman collects waste in her community and barters it with the WILDTRUST for livelihood support items or cash.

The Green Brick is a uniquely South African innovation that upcycles a mix of sand, glass and previously unrecyclable multi-layer post-consumer waste.

Ngenzeni Dlamini is one of around 317 Waste-preneurs in the WILDTRUST network changing the face of her community by collecting waste in and around her homestead daily.

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