This July I’m joining the Two Oceans Aquarium challenge to refuse the top four single-use plastics, that is plastic shopping bags, straws, takeaway containers (plastic coffee cup lids, cutlery, etc.) and plastic water bottles – and encourage you to do the same. It’s easy really, it just takes a little bit of planning, and the oceans will thank you. I invite you to join me on the choose to refuse Plastic Free July Challenge.
By some estimates, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by the year 2050.
The Plastic Free Challenge
Plastic pollution in the ocean is one of the biggest environmental threats we are faced with today. Single-use plastics, in particular, are the main culprits, a testimony to the havoc wreaked by our addiction to convenience. This July, we are challenging you to give up the top 4 single-use plastic items – use less plastic and choose to refuse the single-use plastic shopping bags, takeaway cups and cutlery, plastic water bottles and plastic straws.
Why Plastic Free July?
Plastic is the one of the most recognisable and ever-prevalent man-made materials currently on our planet. Since plastics were produced in the 1950s, plastic has infiltrated all aspects of our lives. Hence it is often said that we live in the plastic age. Plastic has been so pervasive in our lives because plastics are punted as being safe, reusable, recyclable, durable, cheap, lightweight and eco-friendly.
These are all true, apart from the last one. However, because of their durability and the cost-effectiveness of production, plastic production and use of single-use plastics has increased beyond measure and in doing so has outstripped our capacity to manage our plastic waste. As a result, plastics make up 75% of our marine litter. What this means is that 8 million tons of plastic waste is deposited into our oceans every year that is equivalent to 1 dump truck of plastic dumped into the oceans per minute. It is estimated that at this current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight.
Our dumping of plastics in the oceans have far-reaching consequences for all marine life due to entanglement, ingestion and altering the ocean habitats. The United Nations in 2018 estimated that over 100 000 marine animals die from plastic pollution per annum. Humans are not exempted from the effects of plastic pollution in our oceans, there are far reaching consequences for our actions. Social impacts include reduced benefits from reduced access to coastal environments and recreational activities. Significant economic impacts on tourism, economic losses experienced by fisheries and other marine sectors, more importantly micro-plastics often found in cosmetics and household products have been shown to enter the human food system through a variety of commercial fish and shellfish species.
How does South Africa fare in this plastic age?
A recent paper in Science estimated that South Africa was the 11th worst offender in the world when it comes to releasing plastic wastes into the sea. The reason for the scoring, coming in ahead of heavyweight polluter India, was because of the unfortunate combination of a high per capita consumption of plastics (estimated at 2 kg per person per day, almost as much as the USA) and the high proportion of ‘mismanaged’ wastes not entering a formal disposal scheme (56%, compared to 11% in Brazil or 2% in the USA).
Can you make a difference?
Most marine litter is plastic packaging – single use applications that are particularly prone to inappropriate disposal. According to research surveys, 94% of litter washing up on South African beaches is made of plastic, of which 77% is packaging. The amount of litter washing up daily in Table Bay tripled from 1994 to 2011, far outstripping the 60% growth in Cape Town’s human population over the same period.
What is the solution? Waste plastic has value – it can be recycled, renewed, reused and reinvented. The challenge is to establish effective ways of using that value. For single-use plastics the best way to help would be to refuse these, what you would use for less then 12minutes takes 400 years to break down in the environment.
Here are some single-use plastics we can do without.
- Plastic shopping bags – buy and use reusable bags which are strong, environmentally friendly and savvy and pledge to #rethinkthebag.
- Plastic coffee cup lids. Bring your own coffee mug along, if you have to, eco-brick your single-use plastics.
- Drinking straws. Plastic straws are one of the most ubiquitous litter items on South African beaches, and have been found to kill seabirds when ingested.
- Plastic water bottles. It can take up to 26 liters of water to produce a one-litre plastic bottle and three liters of water to make one liter of bottled water. Bottled water is not only expensive to buy, but the plastic manufacturing process is resource and energy intensive.
- Earbuds. Until the 1980’s, earbud sticks were made from rolled wax paper. Use ones that have a stick made from paper.
- Plastic sucker sticks pose a similar problem. Reverting to waxed paper would solve this problem.
- Sports-drink bottle lids. Bottle lids are one of the fastest growing litter types. Sports-drinks with push-pull spigots use more plastic than conventional lids, and the clear plastic covers are particularly prone to littering.
- Individual sweet wrappers are another super-abundant litter item, especially at urban beaches.
- Expanded polystyrene food packaging. Widely used in the fast food industry, fragments of polystyrene cups and trays are one of the most ubiquitous forms of litter on our beaches, with an average density of 3 pieces per meter, and peak values on urban beaches of up to 30 pieces per meter.
Globally South Africa is the 11th worst offender when it comes to releasing plastic waste into the sea.
Plastics by numbers
- Eight million tons of plastic waste is deposited into our oceans every year = 1 dump truck of plastic dumped into the oceans per minute.
- At this current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by volume.
- Out of the top 20 offenders, South Africa is the 11th worst offender in the world when it comes to releasing plastic waste into the sea (higher than India and Brazil)
- 94% of all beach litter in South Africa is made from plastic of which 77% is packaging.
- An estimated 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.
- 100 000 marine animals killed by plastics each year.
- 50% of consumer plastics are single use.
** Sources: Peter Ryan and Coleen Moloney, University of Cape Town’s Fitzpatrick Institute, United Nations, Science, WWF-UK and FOA and the Two Oceans Aquarium. For more inspiration, read my post on how The Two Oceans Aquarium Goes Green in Support of the Blue Planet.