23 April 2014

The first South African town to ban plastic bags

In a first for South Africa, the town of Greyton in the Western Cape will, from 3 July 2014, completely phase out single-use plastic shopping bags.

With guidance from the Two Oceans Aquarium’s Environmental Campaigner, Hayley McLellan, a group of forward-thinking residents are taking the principles of the Rethink the Bag campaign to heart, as part of one of the many creative waste reduction programmes planned for the town.

Hayley McLellan recently returned from Greyton, where the third annual Trash to Treasure Festival was held.

“We were so delighted to host Hayley here in Greyton to launch our bid to become the first plastic shopping bag free town in South Africa,” says Nicky Vernon, chairperson of Greyton Transition Town. “Her enthusiasm, passion and professionalism inspired all our shop owners, who turned up in force to watch her presentation and to listen to her speak.

“I just want you to know how very very grateful we are for this support for our little town, which we hope will soon be making BIG history! To have the guidance of such a professional and passionate person who connects so easily with everybody is very special, and we are fully aware of how lucky we are to have Hayley walking this journey with us. We simply couldn’t do it without her and the Two Oceans Aquarium.”

Here’s Hayley’s account of what the Trash to Treasure Festival was all about:

All photos courtesy of Hayley McLellan

The quaint town of Greyton, peacefully set in the picturesque and rolling hills of the Western Cape just a short drive from Cape Town, is consistently working smart towards being a successful transition town, which is loosely defined as a community whose aim “is to raise awareness of sustainable living and build local ecological resilience in the near future”. The absence of corporate anything in their village is refreshing and a rarity, considering the influence of all the towns nearby.

The four pillars of this project are the very foundations which create a life that works for all and, yet, they are the simple needs that we so often overlook in our rush to get through the daily grind which we call living. When we experience a close connection to nature, and it’s successfully harmonious systems, this helps to create a sense of peace and clarity within each of us – a natural knowing of how life can unfold with ease and comfort if we follow the basic principles of life.

Considering there is no “away” on this planet, I have to wonder why we continue to approach our disposal of waste in the same manner day after day, year after year, generation after generation ... by filling up landfill sites? We are definitely living proof of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, of “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. It’s high time we thought differently, and Greyton certainly is leading the way.

The issues of housing and food security are the other two pillars, approached on a par with educating people about the environment and waste.

The ingenious idea of transforming trash into treasure has ensured a fun and novel approach for all in the community. Everyone knows that we are more open to learning when it is packaged as delight! Plastic is made to last a lifetime and in its array of attractive colours, it most definitely seems a sin to aimlessly discard such a potential rainbow of joy. After my experience at this treasure site I find myself impatiently enthusiastic to get cracking on turning my own rooftop into a wild kaleidoscope of colour!

Breathe ... (I really am that excited about this.)

The entire festival site was fashioned using trash/treasure found at the dump. And if you are wondering if there was a prevalent smell of refuse in the heat of a very hot day, no, there surprisingly was not.

This local gentleman, Peter Plaatjies, has won the annual contest for making the most eco-bricks three years running now! This clever challenge culminates at the T2T Festival each year, and Peter is not letting go of this prestigious title he has so rightfully earned by donating over 500 bricks for his past year of effort. His prize in 2013 was a practical bicycle, and this year he walked away with his own cellphone.

Peter spent a lot of his festival time hanging out with us ladies from the Aquarium. He was so engaging, just writing about him I feel a warm smile take over my being ... Here is a man who lives a most humble life and with such conviction, and a wicked sense of humour too.

This is what an eco-brick wall looks like before plastering the finishing touches. Using pervasive plastic beverage bottles, tightly stuffed with any sort of plastic packet (chips, choccie and candy wrappers, plastic shopping bags), a substitute for clay bricks is magically created. There is definitely an art to this and Peter has perfected it; they must be solid.

Not only is this alternative brick creation helping to clean up the environment, it is also reducing building costs as rudimentary buildings can be safely erected. There is a thatched, rondavel classroom almost complete on site which will be used to host learners for teaching on related topics of sustainability.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that a visitor’s entry to the festival site was secured by the donation of one eco-brick, of course.

What a fun way to encourage hands-on recycling. Sets of these large drums were dotted around the venue. Painted in appealing primary colours, they were screaming out to be filled. Again, notice the eco-brick option on the far right.

An attention-grabbing, much-larger-than-life puppet was paraded through the centre of Greyton to announce the start of the celebration. This brightly coloured, and beautifully made, marionette and followers were entranced by rhythmic drummers – our African version of pied pipers no doubt – all the way to the festival site.

A group of smaller hand puppets from the Two Oceans Aquarium kept groups of children spellbound throughout the day, with the Keep the Beach Clean show. The lesson of Sally the seal swallowing the plastic shopping bag served to reinforce the message of the Rethink the Bag campaign for the little people. In following the show with a book reading, the theme of the presentation was well understood.

This has to be one of the most nifty ideas I’ve ever seen for discarded bicycle wheels! They really do not serve any obvious purpose other than seeming like a fun gadget to create out of them, and this is good enough reason for me. Perhaps they would be effective and decorative as mole deterrents in a garden? The wind catchers are 2-litre plastic beverage bottles.

An all-inclusive drum circle served to bring even more of a community essence to the day. Sharing of constructive energy in this way certainly gets the happy hormones pumping as each drummer tries to make more of a racket than their neighbour, all the time with a grin for the other.

Even alien wood from the landfill is put to good use. The appearance of this chair may be deceiving in terms of its comfort offering, but I can vouch for the piece to the point where I am also considering that it could add value to my personal rooftop project..

This was my second visit to the annual Trash to Treasure Festival, to bring the Rethink the Bag campaign to the Greyton community. The unique concept of transforming their trash site into a treasure site has touched a soft spot in my heart, and watching their simple approach to doing so has been both fascinating and uplifting for my spirit. The condition of eco-depression truly does exist and when a committed few tackle a project such as this seemingly unachievable one, they show the world what is possible with a dash of commitment and courage in the face of the naysayers.

Greyton has fully embraced the Rethink the Bag campaign and has set its intention to “march the last plastic bag out of town” on 3 July this year, which is International Plastic Bag Free Day, making it the first town in South Africa to officially and effectively ban the plastic shopping bag – a bold and much-needed move!

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