SPAR Women's Challenge 2019

Nelson Mandela Bay youth wage war on plastic

School children can do a lot to help says Sustainable Seas Trust's African Youth Waste Network

Courtenay Webster, 23, left, and Alexie Kalenga, 23, both of the Sustainable Seas Trust get moving on a Port Elizabeth beachfront clean-up
Courtenay Webster, 23, left, and Alexie Kalenga, 23, both of the Sustainable Seas Trust get moving on a Port Elizabeth beachfront clean-up
Image: Leon Hugo

The Port Elizabeth-based Sustainable Seas Trust is making waves across the continent in its drive to get young people fighting plastic pollution.

Like enviro-swimmer Sarah Ferguson, its aim is not only to reduce plastic in the oceans but to eradicate it.

It sounds like an impossible goal but the young team in Donkin Street led by Dr Tony Ribbink think it can be done.

“We are motivating for a youth-driven movement that is fighting against plastic pollution and we want to work with all schools and youth NGOs also, as well as faith-based organisations such as churches.

“Our mandate is Africa, not just for South Africa,” says Alexie Kalenga, 23, who does educational outreaches for the SST as head of its African Youth Waste Network (AYWN) division.

“And the fight starts on land, raising awareness of the issue before it reaches the ocean,” she says.

Alexie and her colleagues know they face challenges.

“There is a disconnect between the people on land and the ocean when they don’t see the litter at the ocean as their problem – they say, ‘oh, I don’t go to the beach, it’s the people who go to the beach who put the litter there’.

“They need to realise, hey, you are close to a river or a stream and the stuff that you put in here runs out there via, for example, the Motherwell storm-water canal.

“They don’t realise that it affects all of us.”

Another key message behind the initiative is for children to take responsibility.

“Get out of the mindset that I don’t mind throwing it down because it is someone else’s job to pick it up. We have to change that way of thinking because the reason there is plastic is because you did it, YOU put it there.”

On the other plus side, however, Kalenga also finds young people get really fired up about saving the planet from plastic pollution once they have the information on how much harm it causes.

“A lot of what is driven in society, like new products such as developing a toy, or energy and passion for a cause, is run by youth so why not use that energy and passion to help us deal with pollution in our seas?” she asks.

“The end-goal is mindset change, youth-driven, where they take ownership of a movement using their voices to help make a difference.

“There is a Nelson Mandela quote about how a generation can make a change and this is the generation.

“Unfortunately we are cleaning up the mess of the people who have constructed it.”

Raising awareness of what you are surrounded by is followed by what you can do about it
Alexie Kalenga

African Youth Waste Network visits schools and asks questions such as “what planet do we live on?

“What colours can you see?

The children answer “green, blue or brown” and Kalenga then asks: “what is the blue? Do you know we have a problem with our water?

“They don’t know what plastic pollution is but they know they see plastic bags lying on the ground at the taxi rank or at their school.

“They also don’t know what it is doing to our environment.

“Raising awareness of what you are surrounded by is followed by what you can do about it,” she says.

Her educational outreach also debunks myths such as that plastics can be recycled

“We have seven different types of plastic but only three are recyclable.

“The things we most use – chip packets, the stokkies from lollipops, what our tomatoes get wrapped in – are single use plastics that can’t be recycled, ” says Kalenga.

However, much of it can be used in other ways, she says and the SST has an enterprise development section which shows communities how to turn trash into cash.

“Do you know that the things you are throwing away are worth money?

“You can collect and build, you have the power to do that, there are things you can do with them.”

What you can do

1. Start a recycling club at school

2. Plant a vegetable garden

3. Lead by example: start picking up paper at your school

4. Stop littering, use the bins

5. Take charge, gang together and spread the message.

Beach clean-up

You can do your bit by joining the Algoa Bay Branch of Wessa in one of its beach clean-ups on the Nelson Mandela Bay beachfront.

Each month a squad of volunteers tackles different areas and in March it was Bluewater Bay’s turn.

“We had an excellent turnout with a total of 73 people,” said Tim-Douglas Jones, , one of the organisers of the beach clean-ups.

“We collected 97 bags of beach litter with an estimated weight of about 420kg.”

All it takes is an hour of your time, once-a-month, on a Saturday morning between 9.30 and 10.30am to trawl a small section of land for rubbish.

Wessa will supply bags but please remember to bring hats, sunscreen, water and gloves, if possible.

The April beach clean-up is on Saturday, April 27 at Wells Estate and the next is on Saturday, May 25 (venue TBC).



Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.