By Aaniyah Omardien (The Beach Co-op) and Jackie May (Twyg)
#PlasticFreeMzansi: the plastic items that have to go
Our #PlasticFreeMzansi campaign, led by WWF South Africa and in partnership with Twyg, inspired more than 630 people to join our cleanups of stretches of Mouille Point, Kommetjie, Strandfontein and Milnerton beaches during July. We picked up more than 1 000 kilograms of waste along just 7 kilometres of beach using our Dirty Dozen methodology to log the 12 most commonly found items.
The top plastic culprits? We collected 6 091 individual sweet wrappers, 5 511 lollypop sticks, 5 431 straws, 4 235 plastic cooldrink lids and thousands more plastic items, including hundreds of chip packets and water and cooldrink bottles!
These figures hint to the serious nature of our irresponsible use of plastics. While plastic can be incredibly useful – it is an essential part of our modern society and switching to alternatives in many cases would result in much greater environmental impacts than continuing to use plastics. But there are certain applications where we can just say ‘no’ or at the very least make sure they are disposed of properly. This is particularly important in South Africa because our waste management systems are under serious strain and often small, light plastic items, which are not recyclable, don’t even make it to landfill.
We use beach cleanups to activate people. We know from past experiences of beach cleanups that people start to realise the scale of the problem, and that they have the power to fix it. They start to reduce their use of single-use plastic and call on suppliers to look for more sustainable solutions. The turn-out for cleanups and participation on social media platforms for #PlasticFreeMzansi shows that the public has taken on board the issue of plastic pollution and wants it to end.
Twyg brought its creative style to the campaign with an Instagram challenge in which people posted an image of their outfits with an analysis of the fabric contents each day. This brought attention to the issue of plastic content in our clothing and the plastic microfibres that enter the environment every time we do laundry.
Professor Peter Ryan, our scientific advisor, said the results of the cleanups were not a surprise. “We have long called for a ban on plastic straws, earbud and lolly sticks, which would have a big impact on the amount of plastic littering our beaches. Chip packets and sweet wrappers are harder to substitute – they need to be responsibly thrown away.”
We will continue our #PlasticFreeMzansi journey in September, which is International Coastal Cleanup month, with more beach cleanups. We will also be engaging with solid waste management in our major cities and manufacturers of unnecessary single-use packaging to encourage the re-design of this packaging.