02 August 2013

Brave or insane? Attending the 1st African Marine Debris Summit

Hayley McLellan
Me receiving my thank-you gift for presenting. We are all laughing hard as the gift came wrapped in a plastic bag, which I insisted John Kieser of Plastics SA (left) remove before I could possibly accept it graciously. On the right is the MC, Gregory Player, who arranges the beach clean-ups in the Blouberg/Milnerton area

I was blown away at being invited by the hosts of the 1st African Marine Debris Summit, Plastics SA, to present the Rethink The Bag campaign.

Instead of burying their head in the sand and making a foe of me, they chose to remain open to what the cause stands for. What an opportunity this was, handed to me on a silver platter!

At one stage, a few weeks prior to presenting at this forum, I was beginning to feel quite nervous due to the rank of the already-confirmed presenters. I promptly had a stern chat to myself, saying “I have nothing to be scared of, they’re scared of me!” I instantly felt myself swing from feelings of fear to empowerment!

Interestingly, the specific individuals or companies, within the broader plastics industry, who are instrumental in the ongoing production and endorsement of plastic shopping bags, declined their invitation to express their viewpoints and collaborate in this process … Hmmm …
The proceedings took place over only one-and-a-half days, and much information was covered during this time. Most of it was from a particularly scientific angle with many figures, graphs and charts being flashed across the screen. I was the very last presenter and this was a fantastic thing, as everything the delegation had heard up until this point absolutely backed up the more emotive approach I was about to pitch to the room. I encouraged them to make the shift from their heads to their hearts, and allow themselves to deeply feel the reality of plastic bags on our planet.

I believe that what they saw that day had the desired effect on most present, as I received very positive and promising feedback from several members of the audience. During question time I was challenged by a senior staff member of Plastics SA, who said if plastic bags should be banned then so, too, should many other things, such as alcohol and cigarettes. My response was that he was absolutely right; there are many causes – pick one, this one is mine! Well, the applause from the group completely reinforced me in terms of affirming that I am on the right track with my passion.

It is important to “walk the talk”, so I want to make mention at this point that I have not used a plastic shopping bag for almost six years now. Actions definitely speak louder than words.

A senior staff member of City of Cape Town Solid Waste Management approached me afterwards and encouragingly told me I was a very brave lady to stand up and tell Plastics SA that I was going to ban the plastic bag in South Africa! Brave, or out of my mind – I’m still pondering that one …
I have told you of my experience of this summit and I can only tell you how it was for me. Others in attendance may well tell a different story and that, too, is okay. After presenting at this summit, I feel confident that the conversation for the banning of plastic shopping bags in South Africa is finally open. Watch this space!

Here is a powerful reminder about why the Rethink the Bag campaign, and others that aim to reduce our reliance on plastics, is so important:

Stay in touch: for daily Aquarium updates, talk to us on Twitter (@2OceansAquarium) and become a fan on Facebook.

blog comments powered by Disqus