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It’s 06h00. The alarm clock goes off and you stumble to the kitchen to switch on the kettle. You take out a mug and add coffee and sugar while you wait for it to boil. You add milk, take a sip and start on the kids’ lunch boxes: healthy snack bars, juice and sandwiches neatly packed into plastic bags.

Now do the maths: how many things that you touched will eventually be thrown away? The alarm clock, the kettle, all the containers, the plastic lunch boxes and bags, the juice containers and the wrappers of the snack bars. Then multiply this by many thousands as people across the country have performed similar rituals.

Where does all our rubbish go? According to a 2012 report by the Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa produces more than 108 million tons of waste and more than a million tons of hazardous waste a year. Only 10 per cent of this is recycled, the rest goes to dump sites or landfills, but we’re running out of space and authorities say five of the nine provinces will have landfill shortages within the next decade.

The scary thing is that there are few places on the planet where waste isn’t a sign that we inhabit it. Survivorman Les Stroud travels to some of the most remote corners, but almost always finds some kind of rubbish left or taken there by wind or water. The North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating island of mostly plastic. It’s twice the size of Texas and almost as big as South Africa. Plastic, which is basically made from oil, photo degrades in sunlight, breaking down into smaller pieces which can be ingested by fish that eventually land up on our plates.Waste has polluted our world.

Can a country like South Africa, which needs more land to produce food for an increasing population, afford more space for landfills?

Plastic on a tiny island: Photo by Fabi Fliervoet

Not everyone can stop rhino poaching or save the whales, but every person can make a difference to this growing problem by spreading the word that it’s simply not okay to ignore pieces of plastic or glass on the beach or along a river. Flicking cigarette butts, empty cans, wrappers, chewing gum, even disposable nappies from car windows isn’t acceptable.

Remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. Even if you’re already conscious of your environment, there’s always the bigger challenge to get communities, companies and city councils involved. Go on, make a difference, because you can!

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2 Responses to “Death by plastic”

  1. Micke van Niekerk

    Its quite shocking to know that the things we use the most, is the things that will threathen the environment the most because it might not be bio degradeable.. Before we can start doing any of those important 3 words..we need to start simple. How can we start simple? AWARENESS, thats the key word to start any action, to start a movement in a community will turn into a movement on a bigger scale. Im only a grade eleven, still in school but i know that if we can start by making these environmental issues popular in schools then more people will have an urge to do something about this.. what can we do? Reuse, Reduse,Recycle.. if we can start this in our South African schools then the chance will become bigger for a pupil to develop those values and dicipline to recycle and it might go forth in his own lifestyle one day… we need to work together to begin awareness, and generations will be changed! (future environmentalist)

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