Ban plastic shopping bags.
That was the radical call this week from Two Oceans Aquarium environmental campaigner Hayley McLellan, made at the African Marine Waste Conference in Port Elizabeth.
McLellan, who works at the aquarium in Cape Town, said: “Our goal is to create environmental awareness regarding waste consumption in general, via behavioural change with this one item.
“In support of this drive, we need to convince the government to place a total ban on plastic shopping bags in South Africa.”
In tandem with this, plastic bag manufacturers had to be encouraged to transform their operations to focus instead on the production of reusable/long-life bags – with no loss of jobs, she said.
The Two Oceans Aquarium ban the plastic bag initiative is based on a sobering figure revealed in a 2010 University of Cape Town research paper – South Africans use some eight billion shopping bags a year.
In 2002, an agreement between the government and the labour and industry sectors was reached with the objective of increasing the value of plastic shopping bags.
For the first time, shoppers would have to buy the bags.
Related to this, a 3c levy – gradually increasing to 8c – was set on the purchase of each bag. The money raised was supposed to be used to increase plastic recycling and jobs in the sector and these funds were to be managed by Buyisae-Bag, McLellan noted.
“Between 2004 and 2014 R1.2-billion was raised in this way. But in 2011, Buyisae-Bag was disbanded and despite the initial agreement the money was not ringfenced.
“Today, only R200-million of this levy fund has been spent on the environment – on the alien brush removal Working for Water programme – while the rest has disappeared into the general fiscus.”
The Two Oceans call has already been seized upon by different entities and Port Elizabeth is leading the way.
DF Malherbe High School is the first school to ban plastic shopping bags on the school grounds.