Plastic pollution a growing menace
If you've ever had a paper straw die on you, know that you're not alone. During a particularly spectacular night out with a friend, a paper straw wilted on me. After some mild irritation, I was reminded why the straw was needed in the first place.
A picture of the plastic that washed into the Durban harbour and onto the beaches after the recent devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal came to mind.
The truth of the matter is that plastic pollution is a huge problem and each day we're making the problem worse. It takes about 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose, so we're still sitting with plastic waste our great grandparents threw out and so will our great-grandchildren.
What can be done about this problem? Firstly, we can educate ourselves and try to minimise the effects of plastic pollution. One of the people bent on cleaning up and saving the environment is 24-year-old entrepreneur Tsietsi Ngobese. Ngobese recently launched the WeSolve4x Cleaning My Planet initiative.
The campaign aims to get community members to donate an hour of their time every Saturday to cleaning up the environment.
WeSolve4x is the name of Ngobese's company. He is a graduate from the University of Cape Town and started his entrepreneurial journey by selling fruit and vegetables and even recycled for cash.
In a statement Ngobese explains how and why taking care of the environment is so important.
"My community in Katlehong not only has an illegal dumping site, but there is constant littering and trash piling up on a daily basis. This is not unique in South Africa, or even globally. When I was growing up, I even used to play at the dump site, which poses a serious health risk for children. My perception changed when I adopted the mantra of 'trash to cash' as the guiding principle of my recycling initiatives."
According to Ngobese his parents quickly put a stop to that business as he was in danger of turning their yard into a dump site.
"Throwing trash down and littering is a generational issue acquired from our parents and grandparents. We see it in both public and private spaces and places, and we are all guilty, from young to old. We need to not only inform our youth that this is no longer acceptable, but that they have a responsibility to ensuring a clean and healthy environment for the next generation," Ngobese says.
He hopes that over time the number of people involved will increase, thus increasing the hours spent cleaning the environment.
Thankfully, Ngobese is not the only entrepreneur who has realised that taking care of the environment is a winning strategy, especially when it comes to reducing plastic pollution. Bloemfontein-born Margo Fargo also decided to help in the fight against plastic, tackling the prevalent plastic straw problem. Fargo started her business, Far_go Straws, selling stainless steel straws, which can be used an infinite amount of times. They come in a kit complete with a cleaning brush and can be taken anywhere.
Hotel chains like Tsogo Sun stopped serving straws with drinks. Ocean Basket not only banned straws but plastic bags too. A lot of restaurant chains have followed suit.
The fight to reduce plastic waste received a boost recently with Johannesburg's very first plastic-free weigh-and-pay grocer in Cedar Square, called The Refillery.
The store is owned by husband and wife team Sam and Dominic Moleta.
How you can help
As a consumer, you can opt to refuse a plastic straw and any other single-use plastic item, such as plastic cutlery.
Use alternatives to plastic straws such as glass, paper and bamboo straws. Coincidentally, you can also replace your plastic toothbrush with a bamboo brush. If these methods are a little too much for you, you can opt for no straw at all.
Be more active in recycling, even though sometimes plastic cannot be avoided. You can assist by sending your recyclable waste to the recycling centres yourself or make sure the informal waste pickers who make a living from recycling get it.
If you don't have a green bin as of yet, putting your weekly plastic waste in a box labelled "plastic" and setting it on top of your bin will surely make it easier for them and spare them the act of going through your dustbin.
As a family or community group have weekly clean-ups and recycling drives, educate others and put pressure on your local businesses that have not come over to the green side. Engage with reputable agencies and NGOs on how to better take care of the environment; perhaps even facilitate in starting a chapter.