All plastic ever created is still in the environment, although not necessarily in its visible form, says Dr Lize Barclay, senior lecturer in Futures Studies and Systems Thinking at Stellenbosch University Business School.

The initial designer of the plastic bag, the Swedish designer Sten Gustaf Thulin initially designed the plastic shopping bag, in 1965, to save trees and to be reused. It is believed that he always kept one folded in his pocket to use and reuse.

“Although the initial design of plastic, including that of plastic bags, was also intended to protect the environment and counteract deforestation, as well as the use of horn, ivory and hooves for creating containers and products – we have since realised the dangers of
plastic, especially disposable plastic,” says Dr Lize Barclay, senior lecturer in Futures Studies and Systems Thinking at Stellenbosch University Business School.

She cautions that “all plastic ever created is still in the environment, although not necessarily in its visible form”.

“As plastic bags degrade, various toxic substances into the soil, air and water are released, clumping together and blocking drainage which intensifies flooding and the breakout of mosquitoes and disease. Plastic harms wildlife and disrupts ecosystems, threatening all
life on earth, including humans. Plastic breaks down into micro and nano-plastic which eventually finds its way into our water, soil and food,” Lize explains.

A recent trend to combat the detrimental effects of plastic pollution is the roll-out of cotton tote bags adorned with environmentally friendly puns.

Yet the impact of these so-called plastic alternatives is debatable, as Lize points out that a cotton tote needs to be used 7,100 times to equal the ‘footprint’ of one plastic bag.

“Cotton is a resource-intensive crop that requires water, pesticides and fertilisers which add to the negative effects of pollution and climate change. While many shops have removed plastic bags, requiring us to purchase their branded bag, these alternative bags
have become an unsustainable pile of shame in the boot, entryway, or kitchen,” she explains.

“Like most so-called green energy solutions, from a systems perspective, nothing is truly green, and everything has some systemic environmental price. True innovation and vigilance are needed to find real and lasting solutions that are near-truly green and are
not green-whishing and green-washing,” she adds.

Lize advises following The Zero Waste Movement’s five Rs as an upside-down pyramid, viz.:

  1. Refuse: Don’t take it, if it’s not needed, especially plastic.
  2. Reduce: Use less and donate the rest.
  3. Reuse: Even if it is not aesthetically pleasing.
  4. Recycle: Paper, glass, metal, plastic.
  5. Rot: Compost organic vegetable matter.

International Plastic Bag Free Day, to raise awareness of the dangers of the plastic pollution, especially plastic bags and to encourage the use of sustainable alternatives, is observed on 3 July.

 

 

Subscribe to ESG Global newsletter

 

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

ESG Global will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.