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  • Writer's pictureCamilo Ramada

“The time for change is now”

WWF promotes a Circular Economy for plastics.

Foto: Ruan Wolfaardt, WWF South Africa

When Zaynab Sadan studied chemical engineering, she learned about the alchemy of chemicals and to use fossil fuels to create plastics. But she struggled to find the link to her other passion: the conservation of nature. At the World Wide Fund for Nature – WWF, she has found the way to combine these two.

“Science and technology are not the problem. As humanity, we have always found technological solutions for any challenge. We should rather use science and technology to benefit people and nature.”

With offices in more than 100 countries, WWF is the global voice that speaks out – and takes action – for nature and the environment.

In South Africa, WWF focuses on areas as diverse as safeguarding our rhinos, promoting research into sustainable climate and energy solutions, to protecting the fynbos, ocean stewardship and sustainable agriculture.

As a Project Officer for WWF's Circular Plastics Economy programme, Zaynab works on reducing the amount of plastic that leaks into the environment. Together with government, businesses and other organisations, she assists producers and consumers to make more sustainable choices.

“We look at the latest research and we engage with government on policy issues. We work closely with businesses and cities who are keen to take action against plastic pollution. We support their move towards the circular economy through reducing the production of problematic plastics, promoting reuse models through product redesign or refill schemes, and using recycled materials.”

Most recently, WWF has conducted a series of interviews with industry players, from retailers to recyclers, informal waste collectors to plastic converters, to understand what the barriers and opportunities are for increased plastic recycling in South Africa.

The bigger picture

Zaynab stresses the need for an integrated approach. “We need a systems view halt the environmental devastation of human-caused plastic pollution. We must look at this challenge from many different angles: people, society, technology, the economy. Most importantly, we must put nature back into the equation.

At WWF, we work with a variety of stakeholders along the plastic value chain. We start by looking at the various plastic materials used to produce goods. There are so many types of plastic. How can we reduce our consumption? How can we design products in a way that makes them less harmful to the environment?”

Photo: Andrea Weiss, WWF South Africa

‘‘My engineering background is of great help in the stakeholder discussions about product redesign and innovative business models."

"We must change the way we design, consume and recycle. We also need to look at the way we dispose of our waste – as consumers and at a city level: how and where does it leak into nature?

Cities is where people live. Cities is where people consume. From cities, large amounts of waste leak into nature. But cities also offer great opportunities for change.”

One of the plastic leakage hotspots in cities are single-use nappies and other absorbent hygienic products (AHPs). These pollute freshwater bodies and the environment in huge volumes. WWF is looking into partnerships with academia and other organisations to find solutions to this challenge.

People and planet

In the quest for a Circular Economy, WWF also has a keen eye for the human and social implications. Says Zaynab: ‘‘We must also consider the more vulnerable stakeholders in the waste and recycling sector. In South Africa, the informal waste collectors are an important example. As WWF we engage actively with them in our quest for sustainable cities.

Photo: Fiona Piller, WWF South Africa

In the consultations for the new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation for plastic packaging and other waste streams, WWF has been vocal about the need to include informal waste collectors in the strategies for the recycling industry.

Zaynab is not overwhelmed by the big challenges ahead: “The only way to reach a #ZeroWaste world is to work with various disciplines to tackle these complex issues on a systems level. The Circular Economy must be inclusive and equitable.

Yes, these are big challenges. But the time for change is finally now!”

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Mar 23, 2023

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