New month, new opportunity to change the world – even just a little bit.
It’s Plastic-Free July, and four of our staff members have taken up the challenge to refuse single-use plastic this month.
Plastic is designed to last forever, and yet we almost always only use it once and then throw it away (think about clingwrap, water bottles, food wrapping…). Most plastic goes to landfill sites, a small portion is recycled, and much ends up in the environment.
It is estimated that 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean per year, where it entangles and is ingested by wildlife.
Here at the Aquarium, we regularly experience, first-hand, the damage that plastic pollution can cause. Bob the green turlte is just one of our iconic examples: After months of rehabilitation here at our rehab-and-release facility, Bob pooped out a pile of balloons and plastic bags. (Bob has not returned to good enough health to be released back into the wild, so you can see him in our new I&J Ocean Exhibit).
We also have a whole programme dedicated to freeing V&A Waterfront harbour seals of harmful plastic box bands and fishing line. The Seal Rescue Programme is supported by SPAR Western Cape. Sometimes we also help seabirds that are similarly affected. All because of the irresponsible disposal of plastic.
Plastic-Free July is an international campaign that challenges regular people to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July.
Single-use plastic includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, packaging – anything that’s intended to only be used once and then thrown away.
Four of our staff members have taken up the Plastic-Free July challenge this year, and we’ll be following their journeys – ups and downs, lessons and insights, frustrations and victories – on our blog.
Helen Lockhart, Two Oceans Aquarium Communications and Sustainability Manager
“I’ve been a vegetarian since 1999 but I don't enjoy cooking much. I love being outside – in my garden or somewhere away from the built-up environment (and we are spoilt for choice in Cape Town), reading and occasionally writing poetry, and paddling in my canoe at sunset. The Karoo is my soul place where I retreat annually with my partner. I live with five cats and occasionally two dogs, who are oblivious of the trials and tribulations of trying to be mindful and living in the present.
“I chose the ‘all plastic option’ of this challenge as I already avoid single-use plastic shopping bags, I don’t buy takeaway coffee or bottled water, and I don't use straws. But I know from my recycling that I still buy a lot of stuff in single-use plastic. And that's because it’s convenient and because I am not always as mindful as I’d like to be when I am shopping.
“This will be a challenge for me, to step out of my comfort zone and to look for alternatives – not only in terms of the products I buy and consume but also where I shop.
“One of my immediate thoughts when I signed up for the challenge was ‘Where can I get milk that is not in a plastic bottle or a plastic satchet?’ so I am off to a farmers’ market this weekend to see what I can find…
“And I am looking forward to learning from the others who are participating to see what great alternatives they find and to sharing ideas.”
Hayley McLellan, Two Oceans Aquarium Environmental Campaigner
As our loudest pro-environment voice (she not only founded the Rethink the Bag campaign, which aims to ban the single-use plastic bag in South Africa, but leads our environmental campaigns here at the Aquarium, and helps us all source eco-friendly cleaning products on the side…), Hayley is already a role model when it comes to plastic. She was the first to take up the challenge of Plastic-Free July and inspired the others to do so. But, never content in a comfort zone, Hayley is taking her refusal of plastic to the next level.
“Earth warrior, wannabe vegetarian, on a one-way journey to eliminating as many threatening processes in my daily living as I can.
“Living with two other regular earthlings is both frustrating and humbling in this context!”
“This challenge is just what I needed to catapult me to the next level… I’ll just go climb a mountain if things get too tough!”
Katja Rockstroh, Two Oceans Aquarium PA to the Head of Education
“I’m a half-German chocoholic and vegetarian who enjoys yoga, sewing and watching movies. I’m living with someone who is a carnivore and not doing Plastic-Free July.
“I want to challenge myself to live plastic-free, because plastic is everywhere. But to say that you cannot escape it is not true. You can choose to say no to plastic, it is a mindset that can be changed and which may be a challenge, but I think it’s definitely doable.”
Two Oceans Aquarium Senior Teacher Xavier Zylstra
“At the Aquarium, I teach school groups, especially the Afrikaans ones, present special holiday courses, mentor the younger teaching staff and oversee the husbandry of animals in the upper Discovery Centre.
“After hours, mountain biking enables me to get some exercise outdoors and provides the occasional technical challenge. When there is more time available, I head off to the family beach house at Cape Infanta and spend my time reading, exploring in the fynbos and on the rocky shores, pedalling the mountain bike even further, snorkelling and surfing… When the surf is up, everything else takes second preference.
“Why am I taking part in Plastic-Free July? Well, teaching about the evils of plastic pollution in the environment has led me to be much more careful about how much plastic I use, and I try to set an example in terms of using plastic responsibly. Up to now, I have been refusing shopping bags and recycling all plastic I can’t reuse. I think this challenge will move me to a new level, where I will feel challenged to find further solutions to plastic use I have regarded as unavoidable up to now…
“Will I be able to buy veggies without the plastic bag they get put it into after weighing? Do any retailers sell yoghurt that is not packaged in plastic containers? Am I obliged to accept all the plastic hitherto seen as unavoidable? What kind of plastic packaging should I see as practical, acceptable and reusable or recyclable…?”
Watch this space to see how our eco-warriors fare!
Want to take part? The rules for Plastic-Free July are simple:
1. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July.
2. Remember: it's not going to be easy! It is a challenge, not a competition, so don't worry about being perfect.
3. Collect any unavoidable single-use plastic you buy. Keep it in a “dilemma bag” and share it with us during the challenge, or share it with the folks behind the campaign.
4. How long you participate is up to you. You might decide to go plastic-free for a day, a week, a month or longer! However long you choose will still make a contribution.
You can make your participation “official” by registering on the Plastic-Free July website as an individual, a school or an organisation. The website has lots of great tools to get your through this change.
International Plastic Bag Free Day 2016
This Sunday, 3 July, is Plastic Bag Free Day, an international day designed to draw awareness to some scary plastic bag facts:
- On average, plastic bags are used for 25 minutes
- 1 million plastic bags are used around the world every minute
- 80% of marine litter is plastic
- Plastic bags are made of crude oil – a finite resource!
- They embody the message of the throw-away society that is trashing the planet
Make this Sunday the first day of many that you say “No, thank you” at the till to the question “Would you like a bag with that?”.
SPAR Western Cape has teamed up with the Two Oceans Aquarium and Rethink the Bag. Until 3 July 2016 you can exchange 10 plastic shopping bags (of any brand) for one SPAR reusable shopping bag at any SPAR Western Cape store, compliments of SPAR. The event culminates on Sunday 3 July 2016: International Plastic Bag Free Day.
Other ways to support Rethink the Bag
1. Make a pledge
Add your powerful voice to the Rethink the Bag pledges on our website. By stating your intention to refuse plastic shopping bags, you are helping us show the decision makers (politicians, CEOs, manufacturers) that the public wants change. Without your voice, we can’t change their minds.
2. Sign the petition
If you haven’t done so already, please sign our petition to ban the plastic shopping bag in South Africa. Governments, companies and individuals value their reputations and feel accountable to their neighbours, constituents and customers. When thousands of people raise their voices, the message is hard to ignore.
3. Take our survey
We want to know what makes you tick when it comes to using reusable shopping bags. If you have a couple of minutes, this survey won’t take long at all and will go a long way in helping us understand how we can help consumers like you.
4. Show us your bag!
"Like" the Rethink the Bag page on Facebook, take a pic with your reusable bag and we’ll share it online. We want to build an album of everyday eco-warriors like you to inspire change in others. Social media is a powerful instrument for change; help us show them how it’s done.