It turns out Africa is pretty good at this whole saving the planet thing. A recent report by National Geographic has shown that Africa, specifically the Southern part, is leading the world when it comes to implementing plastic bag bans.
Plastic bags have been around since the 1970s, back when they were celebrated for their innovation. In just a few decades, the bag has gone from being a cool change from carrying your groceries in inconvenient brown paper bags to public enemy number one (with plastic straws coming in at a close second).
The war on plastic is in full swing and Africa is leading the way. Business Tech has reported that the effort put in by restaurants and retailers to reduce plastic usage is working. Woolworths are aiming to be free of single-use plastics by 2020, and Pick n Pay is phasing out plastic straws and now use plastic bags made from 100% recycled materials. And overall there were 2 billion less plastic bags sold in the last financial year than in 2016/2017.
We’re not just talking judgemental stares from the cashier when you forget to bring your own plastic bags, African nations are getting hectic (in a good way). If you’re planning a visit to Tanzania be sure not to pack any plastic bags as from June this year all forms of plastic carrier bags are prohibited in the country. And Kenya seems to have the most severe repercussions for ignoring their plastic bag ban: you could be slapped with a $38,000 fine or four years in prison. Quite a big incentive to remember to bring that Woolies tote along to the shops.
How much harm are plastic bags really doing though?
It’s pretty well-known how thin plastic bags blowing around in the wind are detrimental to wildlife. They are one of the top five items picked up during beach and river cleanups. It’s not unusual to find dead whales with stomachs full of plastic bags, and in African countries, this can include cattle and elephants too.
The difference in banning plastic bags can make
Although saying no to one plastic packet at Pick n Pay feels inconsequential, it all adds up and makes a difference. Denmark was the first country to pass bag tax (back in 1993) and their citizens use four plastic bags a year on average. Compare that to citizens of the United States, who use about one bag a day. Pretty solid proof that taxes and bans are effective.
Mark Murray, the executive director of Californians Against Waste agrees with cynics that bans like this aren’t going to ‘change the world’, however, that’s not the point. ‘The main point, frankly, is to communicate to policy makers, the public, and to the industry that we’ve got to do something serious to reduce plastic packaging and if you all can’t figure out how to do it, we’re going to start banning your products one at a time,’ he says.
This is the kind of news we love to see South Africa mentioned in. This month, COSMO’s First Ever Green Issue is about raising awareness, starting a dialogue and supporting each other in driving change. We want to hear your stories. You can turn the tide on plastic waste. You can be part of the movement, and you can make a difference. Join the COSMO Break-Up With Plastic Challenge and stand a chance to win one of 10 SodaStreams.
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