“For the good of the environment, I pledge to no longer purchase or accept any single use plastic shopping bags.”
Hayley McLellan speaking at TedXSeapoint
PLASTIC AIN’T MY BAG!
“RETHINK THE BAG”
A very personal view point from Hayley McLellan
For the record I would like to state, rather obviously of course, that plastic has many extraordinary and important uses in our modern day world, so from a practical standpoint I do support responsible production, consumerism, and disposal of this material. The bag I refer to is the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag once, and even still today, rather flippantly labeled our “national flower”.
While acknowledging that the cause of litter and its knock-on-effects in South Africa will not entirely be resolved by eliminating the availability of the plastic shopping bag alone, I strongly feel that this type of forceful legislation will go an exceedingly long way to solving many critical environmental concerns. It must also be declared that the bag is really not the problem here, but rather the behaviour of us humans.
As an individual I passionately advocate saying NO to plastic bags at every opportunity, and encourage every other citizen to consider the same action.
Now you may ask Why on Earth? Well read on.
In 2004 Vali Moosa, our then Minister of Environmental Affairs, showed excellent initiative by imposing a charge/tax/levy to the consumer on the plastic grocery bag that we see in all shopping outlets. Fantastic idea for the time Mr Moosa! South Africa takes action! Even if it meant the average person in the street was the one being made to pay up, at least there was healthy intention there.
Do you recall the general feeling around this new law? Most everyone was outraged!! If my memory serves me accurately we all had an approximate 30 second conniption and then we swiftly recovered and went on with our daily lives, simply incorporating yet another cost into our daily budgets, but for what gain we should all be asking?
The obvious problem for me is that human conduct did not shift one iota, and this is what would have had a valuable effect on some of the issues at hand.
Logically it seems this act had three, or more, intended outcomes:
- to undertake to clean up our environment as the number of plastic bags drifting around was becoming unmanageable as well as embarrassing to South Africa as a country of otherwise magnificent natural beauty.
- to create consumer awareness as to our mindless use and abuse of this item.
- to create Buyisa e-Bag whose job it was (oh, and still is!!) to generate recycling and educational programs that will support all communities (rich and poor) to take responsibility for our use and disposal of these plastic bags as well as other plastic items.
So did we achieve any of the above? To some degree, most certainly. In other aspects most certainly not.. (the following statistics were taken from the Carte Blanche report March 2011)
- Pre bag levy South African consumers were using approximately 10 billion plastic shopping bags each year. This figure is now down to 4 billion per year. (to date I have not managed to find any statement to support this figure)
- Buyisa e-Bag has built 7 of the planned 30 centres
- 13% of all levies collected goes to Buyisa e-Bag – R156 million since 2004
Buyisa e-Bag made at least some effort into fulfilling their duties and we can only trust that, with enough consumer pressure on them, they will effectively manage their systems and ultimately achieve all that it takes to honour the financial support they are receiving each and every day of profitable support of the bag by end users. (It is relevant to note here that retailers make no money from the sale of these bags and that the large majority of the funds go directly to Buyisa e-Bag for above mentioned purposes.) Of interest, the Plastic Federation of SA recently concluded its fifth survey into the recycling of plastics in South Africa for the period 2009-2010 and had this to report:
“According to the results of this survey, there is a growing demand for recycled plastic as it is a product that has proven itself to be versatile, economic and reliable. The challenge for the future lies in educating the South African public about the importance of the recycling of their plastic waste and developing new markets and recycling methods.”
Although our culture around and attitude towards recycling in this country is improving, it is useful to note that:
“in 2009/2010 (only) 19 % of the recycled plastic was High Density Polyethylene (PE-HD), used in milk bottles, fruit juice bottles, drums, tubs, closures, crates and plastic shopping bags” (Plastic Federation Recycling Survey Results April 2011). (Bold is authors own)
From this we can deduce that probably a very small percentage was made up of the bag. The fact that 96% of all plastic bags apparently end up in landfill goes a long way to supporting this theory.
Paper or plastic?
Neither actually. It has been well documented that the varied resources required to manufacture paper bags are possibly equally as taxing on the environment as those needed for plastic. But that is not my focus for this campaign. It is also wise to continuously remind ourselves that plastic bags are made from fast dwindling natural resources namely petroleum, coal and natural gasses. The time for alternative thinking is long overdue.
I remain eternally optimistic each time I am in a store and see other shoppers committedly and consciously using their re-useable canvass bags!
So! It is of absolutely no significance whatsoever if I am prepared to so boldly state my position on this topic, fraught with scandalous debate, without some sort of a wrapping up of what can be done about it…
What would I like to see happen? Ultimately? Why…Ban the Bag of course! Wow, What the bleep is she thinking?
It’s really not so bizarre a suggestion…
Here is a list of others who have achieved/taken decisive measures towards this:
Bangladesh (Mar ‘02)
Taiwan (Jan ‘03 )
Bhutan (June ‘05)
San Francisco (Mar ‘07)
China (Jan ‘08 )
Delhi (Jan ‘09)
Mumbai (Jan ‘10 )
Maldives-Baa Atoll (‘09)
Philippines (Jan ‘11)
Italy (Jan ‘11 )
United Arab Emirates (‘12/13)
I wonder…can South Africa take a stand and ban the single use plastic bag? Will you make a conscious choice on behalf of the planet the next time a plastic bag crosses your path?
There ARE alternatives…
Re-useable bags (if treated well can be used literally hundreds of times over, be sure to care for them as regular items of laundry and keep them clean in the best interests of your health)
Baskets (a wonderful way to return to ways of old…)
Make yourselves aware of the impact of the plastic bag on the environment (this will probably be quite enough to convince you of the need to re-think…)
Spread the word, be passionate!
Look for campaigns such as rethinkthebag.org to support. Stand up for what is important to you.
I am so proud to say that I work for an environmental organisation who have shown their commitment to “Rethink the Bag”. In April 2011 our Director appealed and all staff of the Two Oceans Aquarium have pledged to no longer bring any plastic bags into the building. We have created donation/collection points for spare re-useable bags and all staff may help themselves to these bags for work or personal use at any time. With this simple project we aim to both reduce the presence of plastic bags in the building as well as create awareness of the many issues surrounding this item. As a marine institute it is our duty, and in our best interests, to promote this way of thinking.
I state the obvious in saying that we have only one planet and that there is no ‘away’ when we throw…
Who knows? Perhaps one day we will be rocketing our refuse to ‘Trash Planet X’ but for now we really need to be more creative in our ways of disposal.
I can honestly say that I have not taken a plastic bag from a retail store for about the past 5 years and, wow, I’m doing just fine J
If that is 1 per week then I have only saved about 240 bags in all that time, but now multiply that by a conservative 29,400,000 SA adult shoppers (Wikipedia 2003 census) and see what you get!
On a lighter note: Those in my circle affectionately, I trust!, call me the “bag lady”. Yes, I do feel very deeply around this topic because it has created untold harm to our environment. For me the plastic shopping bag is my fall guy…and the ideal symbol for our conscious need to rethink our ways in this beautiful and fragile world. What’s more, deep in my heart I know there are many of you out there who feel as passionately about this issue as I do and are willing and longing to take a stand. I have met a few of you and you have been inspiring, Thank You!!
In closing: There are so many truly worthy causes to support and it can be overwhelming as to which one to pick, well how about this fundamental one? A small change in your behaviour has the power to make a MASSIVE difference to your world. After all, when do you give up on something you care about?