RETHINK THE BAG – South Africa
by Hayley McLellan, Campaign Co-Ordinator
The Two Oceans Aquarium,
Plastic is designed to last. Think about it, every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists in some form or another – either burnt into the atmosphere, sitting in landfill, floating in the ocean currents or rivers, or blemishing landscapes. With this in mind why do we use single use plastic items and then instantly throw them away when there realistically is no “away” on planet earth….?
The ever-present plastic shopping bag is wreaking devastation on our planet and our association with it sadly seems to reflect our ‘state of mindlessness’ as a species. It appears to be a modern day convenience yet is, truthfully, a needless item. We take this bag entirely for granted and, moreover, disregard the bigger picture of its overall impact. Why do we continue manufacturing, using and disposing of these bags when they are quite obviously detrimental to so much of life on earth?
South Africans use about 8 billion plastic shopping bags every year, enough to wrap around the planet 50 times. 96% of these bags end up in landfills where they can last up to 1000 years and most of the balance is lost to the environment where they have devastating effects on all of life. We need to tackle the litter problem in our country and refusing the plastic shopping bag is an easy way to get this process rolling. Banning the plastic bag in South Africa could be a powerful education tool for becoming more aware of our excessive plastic consumption in general.
The animals I have worked with over the past 25 years have taught me an enormous amount about the natural world. At the same time I have observed that people are intrinsically good at heart and we do want to be the change we wish to see in the world. Sometimes we just need someone to show us the way through their passion for what resonates most strongly with them.
I have not used a plastic shopping bag for over 6 years now and I’m doing just fine. If I can do it, anyone can! My choice to refuse the single use plastic shopping bag served as a powerful catalyst to creating even greater environmental alertness within me. If adopted by millions, this personal empowerment choice could just be enough for us to make the difference we owe our only life support system, Mother Earth. Many small actions make for big changes!
I work for an incredible marine organization in Cape Town, The Two Oceans Aquarium, and since the launch of the campaign in March 2011 our workplace has been plastic bag free. This may sound astonishing, it’s also true. Staff is not permitted to bring a plastic shopping bag into the building and everyone embraced this with relative ease. Even the local V&A Waterfront retailers have come to know our ruling and refrain from even offering uniformed staff plastic bags anymore! It’s brilliant how good news can spread, isn’t it?
The campaign is slowly but surely being embraced by many other entities too. One that is definitely worth mentioning is the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria. Rethink the Bag was adopted as their official 2013-2015 conservation program and is currently being rolled out to all members in the animal care field throughout Africa, with some excellent participation reported.
There are alternatives to plastic shopping bags everywhere, in the form of reusable bags. Do be aware not to replace one problem with another though. Do your best to gather a small collection of quality, locally sourced, community supported bags which you must then train yourself to remember to take to the stores on every visit. Changing hard wired behavior is certainly not easy, but it’s also not a good enough excuse to continue the harm we do to our world. Think of all the incredible achievements humans have managed in all of time, refusing plastic shopping bags must surely be easy compared.
The objective of the Rethink the Bag campaign is to ban the plastic bag in South Africa.
Can you give up plastic bags in your life, and can South Africa take a stand and Ban the Bag? You can make this happen by signing the petition on www.rethinkthebag.org Visit Rethink The Bag-South Africa on Facebook and @rethinkthebag on Twitter for more information.