Don't kill the world Photo of Mountains and ocean in False Bay, South Africa

Don’t kill the world

We look after ourselves and our loved ones instinctively. And throughout our formative years we are taught at home, at learning institutions and through social observation how to treat everyone and everything (like animals and our environment) with respect, right?

But just the other day as I was walking on campus in Stellenbosch, I saw someone casually throwing his chocolate wrapper into the sluice. I walked up to this young man and asked him to pick up his rubbish and not to do it again. And yes, I did ask him if he had not learnt by now that such actions have dire consequences? It did stick with me that here we have an educated person, but still he littered.

So there goes my theory that well brought up and educated people don’t litter.

Then I saw an article that really got me going again:

South Africa is overwhelmed with waste

Each South African accounts for 41kg of plastic waste each year. That’s nearly double than the global average of 29kg. We simply use too much plastic. That’s a fact.

And then on top of that we also litter! Our streets are full of litter. Our roadsides between towns are used as a dumping site for black bags full of rubbish. The Cape South Easter blows discarded plastic bags all over and drapes them over fences and bushes. You will even find plastic water bottles, sweet wrappers, and cigarette butts on the paths in the mountains. And you thought people who enjoy nature are not culprits?

Sadly, you’d be wrong. Out the window goes the theory that people who go traipsing up the mountains don’t litter.

According to the WWF, South Africa’s waste management system also cannot cope with the huge volumes of plastic we generate and thus leaks a large amount of plastic into the environment. Plastic to the tune of 109 000 tonnes are leaked into the ocean annually. Our coastline and waterways are literally being killed by plastic waste. It’s not only the coastlines close to urban sprawl that suffer. Tides carry plastic waste far and wide, reaching remote beaches along our beautiful country’s coast and harming aquatic life wherever the waste flows. On land it poses a threat to animals and plants. Sea and land animals die in their millions from complications directly related to plastic consumption.

Is Plastic terrible?

Facts:

* The world has produced more than 50% of all the plastic ever made since 2004

* Most plastics are not biodegradable and break down over the years into tiny particles, releasing harmful chemicals into the soil, air, and water

* Sea animals die from ingesting plastic or being exposed to the toxins that leach from them

* Another danger is that animals get ensnared or trapped in pieces of plastic waste. Remember the penguin in the movie called “Happy” that’s head was stuck in plastic waste?

So what is the big deal with plastic straws?

Plastic straws are one of the most often used, and disposed of, single-use plastic products. Most types of straws are not biodegradable and cannot be reused or recycled because of the chemicals they are made from. And because we love drinking cooldrinks on summer days on the beaches and anywhere near the water, huge amounts of plastic straws end up being littered on the beaches and then carried into the ocean with the tides. The sea winds sweep the lightweight straws from trash cans and collections facilities on land, and from boats and ferries into the sea. And that’s when even a single straw can have a big environmental impact.

They warned us in the Eighties

The band Boney M sang “We kill the world” in 1981, 40 years ago: “Oceans in despair. There’s rubbish everywhere”.

Many of us weren’t even born yet, but the problem was there already. Pollution was becoming a modern-day nightmare and some people were calling attention to it. I don’t think enough people realized how serious it was and what a global disaster pollution in all its forms was going to become. Recycling was unheard of in South Africa in the eighties. Plastic was purported to be wonderful. Who knew?

It’s high time we think of ways to cut out the use of plastic wherever possible, to re-use and repurpose plastic bags and containers, and to recycle all we can. (Please check out what you can recycle in South Africa here.) Oh yes, and do use sustainable glass bottles and jars that you can refill, re-use and repurpose over and over again.

For tips on what you can do to help to save our planet, please read my blog.

The haunting lyrics ring truer than ever today: “Don’t kill the world, she’s all we have. And surely is worth to save”.

Please take care, naturally

Barbara @Fynemists

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