Addicted to Plastic Shopping Bags
What would you do without them? Hayley McLellan decided to stop using plastic shopping bags 12 years ago, and her immediate friends and family thought she was crazy. Instead of giving up, she stuck to her plan and now heads a crusade for all of South Africa to give up single use plastics. Shopping bags, straws, bottles, cups and balloons. Once you make the change, and refuse to ever again accept these items, life doesn’t end. We need nutritious food, warmth, water, shelter and love – but we do not need single-use plastics.
Makana Plastics Action Group [MPAG] was delighted that McLellan accepted our invitation to come to Makana, and SPAR EC region generously paid for her trip from the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town where she works.
In two days McLellan gave 9 presentations to around 2000 learners at 6 local schools, Ntsika, Graeme, VG, SACS/DSG, Kingswood and Nombulelo. She also gave evening presentations at SAIAB and NELM, and was still vibrant as she presented to over 1,000 RU students during ‘O’ week. Her energy and engagement with the pupils and students was full of humour as she got her very serious message across about the damage that plastics are causing in the wider environment, and particularly in the oceans. 8 million tons of plastics are washed into the sea every year and South Africa is the 11th worst offender. She asked the students to picture 8 million 1 ton bakkies unloading plastic into the sea.
The trouble with plastic is that it doesn’t break down and biodegrade, it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. These ‘microplastics’ enter the bottom of the food chain and end up being eaten by larger animals, so we eat them too every time we eat seafood. Hayley joked about the man asking for a plastic bag while shopping for fish who was answered by the shop assistant ‘the bag is inside the fish.’
Animals, such as the donkeys and cows roaming our city, but also fish and birds cannot tell that plastic is not food. McLellan’s presentations included hard-hitting footage such as a plastic straw wedged inside a turtle’s nostril, a dead whale whose stomach contained hundreds of plastic items, and starving albatross chicks because the parents were feeding them plastic as if it were food. While we sleep, work, relax – every minute of every day – animals are ingesting and dying because of the plastics we use.
It has become the norm to see bushes, fences and veldt decorated with plastics. This is not normal and harms the local economy, detracting from the natural beauty of our countryside that is such a rich tourist attraction.
So what to do?
We can all make an impact by insisting on only using reusable shopping bags, using refillable water bottles of whatever type suits you, and carrying your own coffee cup. A number of local eateries and cafes will give you a small discount if you use your own cup. McLellan also advocates using your lips to drink, not a straw, because ‘straws suck’. For addicts of straws there are numerous alternatives to plastic straws.
Beyond that, balloons are very bad news for the environment, find other ways to celebrate. Releasing helium filled balloons is actually illegal, because it is aerial litter – scattering balloons all over the place. Items that form loops such as hairbands and plastic bands of all descriptions often become entangled around the necks of animals, hence a campaign to ‘Cut A loop and save a life.’
If you are ready, or have already stopped using single use plastic bags, straws, cups etc. please don’t keep these solutions to yourself. Give reusable items as presents, talk about why you’ve stopped, and let shops and other outlets know that you do not accept single-use plastics. For more facts, ideas and inspiration please see: https://www.aquarium.co.za/content/page/rethink-the-bag
Focus on Young People
Hayley McLellan encourages all institutions, especially schools, to make a pledge to become single-use plastic bag free zones. For more information, including factsheets and educational videos you can contact her at email@example.com or locally contact MPAG via Tim Bull firstname.lastname@example.org .
It was a packed three days, with great engagement and plenty to build on towards a single-use plastic free Makana. Thank you to Hayley McLellan of Two Oceans Aquarium for her endless enthusiasm for engaging and informing us about the environmental disaster caused by single-use plastics. All the support from SPAR locally and Eastern Cape region; Conrad Isaac, Alan Stapleton, Guy White and Andiswa Mfondini who made all this possible. The schools for greeting Hayley so warmly and adjusting timetables so she could make presentations to so many learners. Thank you to NELM for use of your facilities free of charge. And not least, thank you to MPAG, especially Dr Sarah Hanton who organised Hayley’s schedule and Daksha Naran for accommodating McLellan.
MPAG urges you to make the Pledge: “For the good of the environment, I promise to no longer purchase or accept any plastic shopping bags. Instead I will take my own long-life shopping bags.”
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