Each year, the local plastics industry welcomes the arrival of Spring and warmer weather by encouraging citizens to help make a difference where they live, work, learn or play by participating in Clean-Up & Recycle SA Week – an annual public awareness week during which plastics and other litter are removed from our country’s neighbourhoods, rivers, streams, beaches and oceans.
“This year’s Clean-Up & Recycle SA Week is scheduled to take place from 14 – 19 September, culminating in National Recycling Day on 18 September and Coastal Cleanup Day on 19 September. Unfortunately, it seems like the COVID-19 pandemic will be forcing a change in our plans to host our annual beach and community clean-ups,” says Douw Steyn, Plastics SA’s Director of Sustainability.
Steyn explains that South Africa finds itself in the same uncertain situation as countries around the world owing to the fact that large public gatherings are prohibited and beaches are closed in an effort to prevent the spreading of the disease:
“Coastal Cleanup Day is the world’s biggest volunteer effort for ocean health. Over the past 24 years that South Africa has been participating in this global event, we have seen tens of thousands of people give up two hours of their time to help rid our beaches of litter. This year, however, we will be supporting the global call to avoid large group gatherings and maintain social distancing in the interest of everybody’s health and safety,” Steyn says.
Instead of flocking to beaches or gathering in groups for clean-ups, Plastics SA is spreading the message that this year, every South African should be an eco-warrior… one who wears a mask, maintains safe distancing and makes a difference in their immediate area.
In the same way the health pandemic has forced individuals to take responsibility for their health, the plastics and packaging industries are uniting their voices in calling on South Africans to also become responsible citizens when it comes to disposing of their waste. Plastics SA believes it is possible for us to turn the tide on ocean pollution if every person becomes conscious of his or her immediate surroundings and picks up the visible litter around our homes and neighbourhoods.
Says Steyn: “It is vital to recycle as much of our country’s waste as possible in order to reduce the strain on our country’s landfill sites. Reusing and recycling plastic products reduces the material’s environmental footprint as it uses less water, energy and other raw materials to create new products. In addition, more than 60 000 people are employed by the plastics manufacturing and recycling industries, making a meaningful contribution to the country’s economy.”
Nature looks after us, and it is up to each of us to look after nature in return. During the first weeks of the pandemic, we saw first-hand how quickly the environment healed and restored itself when careless human behaviour was removed from the equation. It is time we realise that every piece of trash that falls from somebody’s hand, eventually finds its way into a stream or river and is then carried into our oceans. The issue of plastics in the environment is a human behaviour problem, and the solution therefore also lies with changing human behaviour. Even the smallest act by one individual, can end up making a huge difference!