Greyton is on its way to becoming South Africa’s first plastic bag free town

Submitted by: Nadia Shah, Thursday, April 24, 2014

<p>Greyton's plastic bag free campaign aims to reduce the impacts of plastic bags on their local environment (Source: <a href="http://www.123rf.com" title="www.123rf.com">www.123rf.com</a>) </p>

Greyton's plastic bag free campaign aims to reduce the impacts of plastic bags on their local environment (Source: www.123rf.com

Greyton, a small town in Overberg, Western Cape has launched a campaign to be the first plastic bag free town in South Africa. In the two years since joining the Global Transition Network, which supports community-led responses to climate change, Greyton has successfully implemented a number of projects including the conversion of a landfill site into a recreational park and fruit forest.  The plastic bag free campaign, its latest initiative, aims to rid the town of single use plastic shopping bags by National Plastic Bag Free Day on the 3rd of July 2014.

The blight of plastic bags

According to Nicola Vernon, Chairman of the Greyton Transition Town (GTT), the campaign responds to the urgent need expressed by the community to rid the town of plastic bags. “Over the years I have watched residents becoming more and more distressed about our dumpsite, the amount of litter in our streets, the general ‘toss it away and forget about it’ attitude that is a symptom of a more profound sense of disconnection from our planet.”

Due to their ability to become airborne, plastic bags have led to a multitude of problems in the area, including littering the streets, being ingested by livestock and leaching toxins into the environment. Plastic bags are also a significant threat to marine life. “Billions of bags end up in the oceans where they contribute to the millions of marine animals estimated to die each year from plastic ingestion or entrapment.  This is why our campaign has been given full support by the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town,” said Vernon.

Apart from the environmental ills associated with plastic bags, GTT have also found them to be uneconomical. “Some of our members noted that it is the poorest of our community who continue to use these bags whilst the more affluent are more likely to use a longlife shopping bag.  The 50c charge at the till for a plastic bag has become so insidious that shoppers don’t realise they are paying it. We have asked some of our poorer members to calculate how much they spend per month on a plastic shopping bag, they were shocked to realise that it can amount to as much as R25 per month,” said Vernon.

Implementing the initiative

GTT introduced the idea of a plastic bag free town to the community about 18 months ago. From the community’s feedback GTT realised that finding an acceptable alternative bag was critical to moving the project forward. “We tried making them locally but the cheapest we could make cost R20. After months of searching we recently found an ideal source - colourful, attractive, very sturdy, longlife bags for only R4 including VAT and postage to Greyton.  Five outlets are selling them in Greyton and more are coming on board every day.  We've ordered our second lot of 1,000 bags so now around 1,200 have been sold” she said.

Hayley McLellan, Campaign Director of ‘Rethink the Bag’ at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, mobilised support for the initiative by presenting the threats of plastic bags to local shop owners and cashiers. The presentation inspired several shop owners who are showing their support by selling the bags at close to cost price to encourage their customers to embrace the change.

GTT have plans to monitor the progress and to provide the community with information and feedback on the progress of the campaign.  “We are a small village and we know our retailers so we will visit them frequently and support each and every one of them through this process, responding to different challenges with different and imaginative promotions and incentives.  It's important that we create an atmosphere of 'can do' and positivity,” said Vernon.

Driving social change

“Most projects that are going to have a positive effect on the environment require a change in one’s habits.  Business as usual has to be abandoned and new ways of living need to be found.  This frightens some people and GTT needs to recognise that and support them so that they can see that being friendly to the planet is not only rewarding, it is life affirming. There will always be resistance to change and it's up to GTT to find ways of inspiring and motivating.  We don't preach or try to educate, instead we find fun things to do that will get people thinking, engaging and interacting with these environmental challenges,” said Vernon.

Vernon hopes that the initiative will inspire other South Africans. “We are publicising our attempt to become the first plastic shopping bag free town in South Africa so that others can learn from us – what works, what doesn’t – so that they can move forward in their own communities and help South Africa become one of the growing number of countries in the world that no longer supplies the single use plastic shopping bags,” she said.

To find out more about Greyton Transition Town, read our article on their Trash to Treasure initiative and visit the Greyton Transition Town website.

To find out more on the effects of pollution on marine life read our article on marine debris.

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