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“Waste is a human problem. There is no waste in nature.”

With these words Dr Sylvia Earle gave the keynote address at the inaugural African Marine Waste Conference last week in Port Elizabeth. The conference brought together about 200 diverse delegates from around the world, including scientists, educators, government and policy makers, and members of industry.

The world-renowned oceanographer and explorer emphasised we are now living in an age where we can build on the knowledge of past generations, and that we have the ability to gather new information and pass it on to future generations. “Hundreds of thousands of species will either live or die depending on what we do, or fail to do,” she said.

Africa is now the second most polluted continent. The African Marine Waste Conference sought to unify stakeholders and provide a platform to collectively innovate solutions to Africa’s marine waste issues. Global and local experts came together to share resources and knowledge to empower Africa in this endeavour.

Africa is relatively data poor regarding waste management. This obstacle must be overcome as, in order to effectively implement waste management programs, baseline data on the waste situation in Africa must be obtained. Dr Jenna Jambeck presented her much cited paper, “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean”, followed by a Mozambican case study by Flora and Fauna International. Chris Wilcox and Denise Hardesty presented their wealth of experience in conducting beach clean ups and concurrent data collection along the coast of Australia and argued a similar project could be undertaken along the African coastline with reasonable effort. Ocean Conservancy presented their valuable experience over 30 years of conducting ocean clean ups. Parallel sessions showcased some of the latest research in microplastics, ocean warming and acidification, and the effects of plastics on seabirds.

Many organisations acknowledge that collaboration is key in the war against marine pollution. Representatives from GRID-Arendal and Prince of Wales Foundation spoke on how to create conditions for this collaboration. Similarly, increased education and awareness programs are vital to local and global success. Peter Murphy from NOAA gave a keynote entitled “Education – The Future of Waste Management” and several parallel sessions covered topics including the role of citizen science, capacity building and science communication by representatives from countries as varied as Tunisia, Mauritius, Estonia and America. Members of government and policy makers are also important stakeholders, instrumental in combating marine debris. Representatives of the Abidjan and Nairobi Conventions, Abou Bamba and Julius Francis respectively, were present to inform delegates of the legal frameworks the Abidjan Convention has implemented and the cooperation, coordination and collaborative actions the Nairobi Convention facilitates.

The third day of the conference was devoted to industry, including tourism. Plastics SA, Packaging SA and Use-It all gave presentations showcasing developments to lessen the environmental impact of packaging and plastics. Heated debates were stirred up in panel discussions with PETCO and POLYCO and at parallel sessions with Rethink the Bag among others. It has become increasingly clear that waste is an economic opportunity. Africa should implement principles of the circular economy as a solution to Africa’s waste problem while at the same time enabling job creation through the monetisation of waste.

Young entrepreneur and co-founder of Destination Green recycling program, Zwelibanzi Mnguni, received a standing ovation for his company’s work in local communities. Parallel sessions featured new innovations in plastics and packaging design, engineering and recycling plants, and topics including corporate responsibility and the role of the consumer.

The final day of the conference was devoted to workshops, at which delegates contributed to two of the main products of the conference being 1) Strategy on Marine Waste: Guide to Action for Africa; and 2) The African Marine Waste Network. This valuable feedback will be written into the Strategy document and used to further guide and design the Network.

The conference focussed on innovating solutions to Africa’s and the world’s waste crisis, and many presenters from around the world showcased inspiring evidence of growing successes in this endeavour. Deputy Minister of environment to Indonesia, Dr. Safri Burhanuddin, presented Indonesia’s new plan of action on marine plastic debris. Currently, Indonesia is the second highest contributor to marine waste in the world, but their new action plan aims to turn this around by achieving a 70% reducing in marine debris by 2025. This was warmly welcomed and applauded by delegates and provides a motivating example to other nations. Another example is the enthusiastic Sam Ngaruiya, director of Regeneration Environmental Services Ltd in Kenya. Ngaruiya’s recycling project creates building materials using recycled plastics. He is also part of next year’s “FlipiFlop Expedition” to raise awareness – an epic sail from Lamu, Kenya to Cape Town, South Africa in a 60ft traditional sailing boat made entirely from repurposed plastic waste.

In the words of Sylvia Earle, “There is plenty of reason for hope. This is the best time ever for change.”

Biodegradable bags: a solution to Africa’s waste …

Published: 08-11-2017

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Published: 11-10-2017

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PACKA-CHING set to pack a punch in the world of in…

Published: 04-10-2017

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AMWN on Wits Science Inside Radio Show

Published: 13-09-2017

Dr Holly Nel and Tatjana Baleta of the African Marine Waste Network were interviewed by Wits “Science Inside” radio show in light of the recent plastic bag ban in Kenya. The show ... Read more

Sylvia Earle, SST patron, features on cover of TIM…

Published: 29-08-2017

Dr Sylvia Earle is name that for many needs no contextualising. An oceanographer, explorer, author and conservationist, she is known the world over as an icon of the ocean and am... Read more

Mobile Apps and Marine Debris

Published: 29-08-2017

 Mobile Apps for combating Marine Debris Mobile applications have the power to turn your phone into a handy pocket-sized tool for fighting marine debris. Data on types and ... Read more

Boaz sets sail for Port Elizabeth

Published: 26-06-2017

And they’re off! The yacht Boaz set sail from Gordon’s Bay, Cape Town this Monday morning at 5:30am on high tide in good conditions. The yacht is due to arrive in P.E. on the 8th... Read more

Gabon announces creation of largest marine reserve…

Published: 15-06-2017

An eel slithers through coral patches off an oil platform in Gabon. Photograph by Enric Sala, National Geographic Creative   Last Monday Gabon lead the way for Africa and... Read more

Cellphone apps and GIS: A response to data deficie…

Published: 15-06-2017

Plastic is a revolutionary material. Nowadays it’s found nearly everywhere; from the containers keeping our food fresh, to the clothes we wear, to everyday home and office suppli... Read more

PETCO launches the Communications Hub for AMWN

Published: 07-06-2017

  SST is proud to announce that PETCO is generously sponsoring the PETCO Communications Hub of the African Marine Waste Network (AMWN), which has just been  launched.&... Read more

New Partnership with DPaPP

Published: 23-05-2017

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Do One Thing (DOT) Challenge

Published: 15-02-2017

Braam Malherbe together with rowing partner Wayne Robertson, set off on their epic 6700km unassisted rowing expedition to Rio de Janeiro, launching the DOT (Do One Thing) Challen... Read more

Buli G Ngomane

Published: 31-01-2017

TV Presenter on SABC 3's "The Power Within", Buli G has a prime-time radio presenting career in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng under her belt and is currently the Communications Exec... Read more

My Waste

Published: 13-01-2017

So you've decided to "go green." You've replaced your regular light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs and purchased recycling bins. You've even organised ... Read more

2017 Conference - New Speakers Announced!

Published: 08-12-2016

Sustainable Seas Trust and the African Marine Waste Network are excited to announce that Sylvia Earle, Jenna Jambeck, Kristian Teleki, Nancy Wallace, Hayley McLellan, Willemijn P... Read more

Unseen Danger: The Truth About Microplastics

Published: 25-11-2016

Images of plastic debris choking estuarine systems or spreading insidiously across the surface of the sea are commonly used to represent the issue of marine pollution - and for goo... Read more

Silence of the Sharks

Published: 08-06-2016

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Concerned ocean

Published: 08-06-2016

Concerned ocean users voice their support for the Silence of the Sharks underwater protest Endorsed by UGU South Coast Tourism, the biggest underwater protest ever held in South A... Read more