16 July 2014

Feedback from International Plastic Bag Free Day

Hayley McLellan

International Plastic Bag Free Day highlighted the necessity to change a hardwired habit of consumers: the ongoing behaviour of purchasing plastic shopping bags while choosing to remain ignorant of the harmful effects these bags have on the environment.

All visitors on the day were encouraged to bring with them 20 plastic shopping bags to exchange for an attractive, colourful reusable bag – a sincere reward from the Rethink the Bag campaign for making a difference. All contributors were asked to sign a petition to ban plastic shopping bags in South Africa, and willingly did so.

On the day, 58 reusable bags were exchanged for approximately 1160 plastic shopping bags of all sorts, while 327 more petition signatures were gathered. There is a powerful message being sent here.

The town of Greyton officially became the first town in South Africa to ban the plastic shopping bag on this global day of plastic-bag awareness. The town’s total commitment to this project has rewarded it with a title that is a dream come true for both this progressive transition town, as well as for the Rethink the Bag campaign.

Greyton highlights:

  • Not a single plastic shopping bag was sold in Greyton on 3 July, and all stores and outlets displayed posters supporting the campaign
  • All small shops (about 15) have now removed plastic shopping bags from their outlets permanently, while the larger supermarkets are committed to phasing out plastic shopping bags

In the words of Nicky Vernon, Greyton Transition Town Committee member and driver of the Rethink the Bag campaign in her town: “Walking around the village it is clear that 90% of the residents now have and use long-life bags. I rarely see plastic bags anymore.”

In Hout Bay, the positive impact was felt and it is estimated that between 1 500 and 2 000 bags were prevented from poisoning underground waters and the ocean, or ending up in a landfill.

Well done to the Hout Bay SuperSpar, which saw 400 reusable bags being sold on the day.

The day was such a success for the store that it has decided to continue to have a plastic-bag free day every Thursday until its customers are ready to ban the bag completely.

Adjusting our language can go a very long way to changing the way we behave. All tellers are encouraged to follow the three simple questions below rather than immediately offer a plastic shopping bag to shoppers:

1. Hello ... have you brought your own shopping bag today?
2. Would you like to buy a reusable bag?
3. Would you like a plastic bag? (Or a box?)

In the words of Bronwen Lankers-Byrne of Thrive Hout Bay: “The majority of customers were happy to carry their goods away in their own shopping bags, in boxes or in purchased reusable bags sold at the till or by Thrive members.”

As the campaign grows from strength to strength, we ask readers to consider the reality of plastic shopping bags in the environment and to deeply question whether they are going remain a part of the problem or join us as we become a part of the solution? The choice is, seemingly, obvious.

Here’s to a plastic-bag free South Africa!

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