Editorial | Change attitudes towards recycling

It is time for the tide of consumer opinion on plastic bags to turn. Yesterday’s report by The Herald environmental reporter Guy Rogers certainly was sobering reading. In it, one eco-campaigner warned that if South Africans did not reduce their reliance on plastic bags, it would lead to dangerous levels of pollution in our coastal waters. And it will not be an abstract threat but a concrete danger for all those who consume fish and other produce coming from the sea. Further, if only half of the R1.8-billion raised by the plastic supermarket bag levy officially has gone towards recycling, as was reported, it begs the question of what happened to the other half. The plastic bag levy which sees consumers now buy their bags rather than get them free has been in place for 14 years, yet the recycling sector is still not flourishing as it should. In addition, the average householder’s concern for the environment often stretches no farther than saving on water or electricity because the consequences of abuse in these areas hit their pocket.

Yet we fear the avalanche of plastic pollution is getting to the size where it can no longer be ignored. It is hard to believe the figure given yesterday of South Africans using eight billion plastic bags each year – this is a simply staggering figure. Former finance minister Malusi Gigaba has announced that tax on the bags will increase by 50% to 12c a bag from April 1, which means the bags will now cost consumers more. However, previous attempts by the government to shrink usage by imposing a price per bag do not seem to have borne much fruit so we are not sure the increased cost will necessarily make much of a difference. This country has a weird mix of first and third world attitudes towards waste and recycling. However, if all sectors of society do not all pull together and work on plastic pollution the health of all may be affected. It is time for the green wave to rise.