This requires a shift away from the current linear (‘take, make, waste’) model which sees the bulk of plastics finding its way into non-compliant landfills and open dumps with resultant leakage into the natural environment. A circular economy endeavours to keep materials within the economic system for as long as possible, reducing the need for continued resource extraction and trying to cope with the ever-increasing volumes of waste.
Three core requirements to represent the circular plastics economy scenario in the macro-economic model from 2019 to 2050 were as follows:
This new report comes against the backdrop of a decision at the most recent United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi to work towards a legally binding international agreement on how to manage plastics across its life cycle from resin production to end of life.
The report argues that this proposed treaty is an opportunity to “harmonise, coordinate and provide regulatory measures to address plastic pollution holistically and comprehensively”. It further suggests that African governments should actively participate in negotiations towards such a treaty to offer perspectives and priorities from the African context.
The research looks at the economic benefits of the transition to a circular plastics economy by taking into account not only the market and indirect costs or externalities of the linear plastics economy, but also the net material savings, mitigation of price volatility and sectoral shifts that would result in job creation and improved livelihoods in the selected African countries.
In terms of the country scenarios, the report found that only for the packaging sector (or value chain):
The report says that a shift towards a circular plastics economy will lead to an overall increase in the demand for both skilled and unskilled labour, which suggests that there is strong potential for an inclusive circular plastics transition. The results also show that a significant number of informal waste sector workers and waste sector dependants stand to benefit from a transition to a circular plastics economy.
While employment is expected to decline in primary plastics sectors over the transition period, these sector-specific employment losses will be absorbed by growth in the secondary plastics and services sectors. This has implications for the need to design and ensure an inclusive plastics transition, even with more vulnerable groups downstream in the secondary plastics and services sector benefitting.
The term just transition still needs to be contextualised in the plastics space in South Africa. The question to ask is where does social vulnerability lie in these value chains? Livelihood vulnerability in the plastics sector is very different to the energy sector and might therefore need to be approached differently.
Download the full report here.