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Deputy Minister, Ms Barbara Thomson’s speech at the announcement of the Sustainable Packaging Commitment: Unilever South Africa

Maydon Wharf, Durban, 05 June 2018


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start off by welcoming everybody present today and thanking Unilever for creating this opportunity to engage you on the work government is doing together with our social partners such as business, in protecting the environment for a sustainable future for all South Africans now and in the future. The protection of the environment is everyone’s business and we all need to work together to ensure that we reduce the negative impacts we have on our environment. This is particularly true in a world obsessed with greater and greater consumption and little understanding of how our actions and patterns of consumption progressively degrade and damage the environment.

World Environment Day 2018: “Lets beat plastic pollution”.

World Environment Day, which is celebrated every year on 5 June provides us with the opportunity to come together and create much needed awareness of the damaging ecological footprint caused by our way of life. The theme of World Environment Day 2018 is focused on the pressing concern of plastic pollution.

International studies have revealed that we have manufactured enough plastic since the Second World War to cover the entire Earth entirely in cling film.  The versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant, strong, and relatively inexpensive nature of plastic are the attractive qualities that lead to an insatiable appetite and over-consumption of plastic goods.

The studies show that no part of the planet is free of the scourge of plastic waste. Everywhere is polluted with the remains of water containers, supermarket bags, polystyrene lumps, compact discs, cigarette filter tips, nylons and other plastics. Some are in the form of microscopic grains, others in lumps and their impact is highly damaging especially for our marine ecosystems where it is predicted that by 2050, nearly all seabirds will have plastic in their stomachs. Already, 9 out of 10 of the birds have some of the substance in their digestive tracts according to the scientific studies.

In a South African study of debris sampled along the South African coast, plastic items were found to be by far the most abundant, comprising 99% of coastal litter. Closer to home in Durban harbor, mangrove swamps used to be buzzing with life as multitudes of colourful crabs and other creatures scurried about on the muddy forest floor. However, when marine scientists visited the Durban harbor around the middle of 2017, they were astonished to find not a single crab in a section of mangroves near the Bluff Yacht Club. The reason? The biologically rich environment has been smothered by a thick layer of plastic and other litter.

Furthermore, recent studies by biology students at UKZN has found that several species of juvenile fish off the Durban  coastline were growing more slowly and dying more frequently from eating micro-plastics.

The crucial point about the findings of all of these studies is that if we do not do something urgently, the mountain of plastic waste will continue to grow resulting in a permanent contamination of marine ecosystems and our natural environment.

World Environment Day 2018 should therefore become a turning point in applying our minds to protecting our natural environment. Young people especially must take the lead in safeguarding their own future by adopting lifestyles that deviate adequately from the consumerist and wasteful patterns that we currently witness.

A socio-economically empowered youth for a sustainable future.

A socio-economically empowered youth and a sustainable future are two sides of the same coin.  As the future custodians of our precious environment, we need to empower our youth with the necessary understanding and skills to deal with effectively with the challenges facing our environment. So as we celebrate Youth Month, we need to take stock of the strides we have made in addressing issues facing the youth and intensify youth empowerment programmes such as the Youth Employment Service (YES).

The Youth Employment Service initiative, launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa three months ago, aims to prepare young people for work through training and matching programmes. It is a business-led initiative in partnership with government, labour and civil society and will offer one million young South Africans paid work experience over the next three years. Unemployed young people will be placed in paid internships, apprenticeships, mentorship and entrepreneurship across the country. Young people will be exposed to the working environment which will increase their chances of finding employment.  It prioritises and targets young women, unemployed youth, out of school youth and youth in rural areas. The initiative will change the lives of young people and is a vital part of the skills revolution in our country and our economy.

I would like to encourage our young people to register for the Youth Employment Services by visiting the website
It will be amiss for me not to mention that 2018 is also the year that we celebrate the centenary of the life of former President Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu.  Both Albertina Sisulu and Madiba dedicated their lives to ensuring a better and more united South Africa.  The 100 year anniversary of the lives of these two remarkable people is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to their principles by building the nation we envisioned at the start of our democracy, a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic country build on the principle of environmental sustainability.

In this regard I wish to commend our host, Unilever for their commitment to make sustainability an integral part of how they conduct their business and their belief that as a business they have a responsibility to our consumers and to the communities in which they have a presence. We appreciate their commitment to balance their vision to grow their business with the need for a smaller environmental footprint and greater positive social impact.

We furthermore applaud their pledge to inspire other corporates to play an active role in the waste agenda and in driving a circular economy. We fully agree with them that Government, Industry and all interested stakeholders need to work in partnership to support the development and scaling up of collection and reprocessing infrastructure which is so critical in the transition towards a circular economy. They are really walking the talk as we have seen through today with the unveiling of their new Biomass Boiler that uses sustainable fuel that will considerably reduce their electricity consumption and CO₂ emissions.

Let me conclude by thanking you for taking these wonderful initiatives and express the hope that this engagement will further cement the excellent relationship that exists between government and its social partners as we continue to build the society envisaged by the youth of 1976, Nelson Mandela, Ma Sisulu and many other who have sacrificed so much to bring us to this exciting moment in our young democracy.

Thank you. 


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