Did you know that South Africans use about 8 billion plastic shopping bags every year! Research shows that these bags are used for just 20 minutes before being thrown away and at the moment, most plastic shopping bags are not recyclable.
Once in the sea, plastics travel to even the most remote corners of the planet. The latest United Nations Environmental Programme report on single-use plastic explains that high concentrations of plastic materials, particularly plastic bags, have been found blocking the airways and stomachs of hundreds of species. Plastic bags are often ingested by turtles and dolphins which mistake them for food. There is evidence that the toxic chemicals added during the manufacture of plastic transfer to animal tissue, eventually entering the human food chain. It is therefore our responsibility to try and reduce and eliminate single-use plastic – as consumers, retailers, restaurant owners, the tourism industry, manufactures and designers.
The commitment of 31 celebrities to pledge comes at a time when a few of South Africa’s major retailers have recently committed to reducing and eliminating single-use plastic from their stores. Some of our large shopping brands and malls are encouraging customers to change their behaviour, however no retailers have started to enforce the use of reusable bags or created incentives for customers to bring their own. All South Africa’s major retailers now offer reusable alternatives.
“Recent surveys conducted by the Rethink The Bag with a specific retailer has shown that 86% of shoppers would continue to frequent their local store if shopping bags were discontinued. The evidence is clear that we can rethink the bag and look at alternatives to single-use plastic shopping bags,” said Hayley McLellen environmental campaigner for Rethink The Bag.
Plastic shopping bags are one of the most commonly found items on our South African beaches and forms part of the Dirty Dozen methodology used by The Beach Co-op to record marine debris. This methodology was developed by University of Cape Town’s Professor Peter Ryan who has conducted beach surveys along the South African coastline for 20 years. Recording our marine debris helps us better manage our waste and understand which single-use plastics we can avoid. “Plastic pollution is an avoidable problem that we can all help to solve – start a clean-up in your neighbourhood or support organisations that organise them, support recycling initiatives, and pressure retailers to reduce excessive plastic packaging,” said Aaniyah Omardien from The Beach Co-op.
“The feedback we’ve had about our upcoming campaign has been phenomenal. We’re seeing a growing awareness about the state of the planet, and more and more people want to be involved in solutions,” said Jackie May founder and editor of Twyg.
The campaign was launched at the Two Oceans Aquarium on Tuesday night, 26 June, at an event sponsored by StasherSA, new plastic-free storage bags that will hit stores in September this year. Read more about the event here.
Photo credits: Top two: Adrian de Kock and bottom two: Filipa Domingues