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Larries rethinks the single-use plastic bag

Life in the ocean and the general environment is paying the price for human generated plastic waste and more people are starting to realise this. La Rochelle Girls High School in Paarl has taken a pledge to lower their contribution to plastic pollution by making the school’s premises a plastic shopping bag free zone.

Mariechen Vermeulen, a life sciences teacher, mobilised the initiative on 16 July. She herself lives waste free after she lived in the Karoo for a year.

“There you are accountable for your own waste as there are no municipal services,” she said and added after the experience she felt she had to continue living waste free.

“We introduced the idea to the learners of La Rochelle after consulting the school governing body and the teachers, and everyone is positive about Larries as a plastic free zone,” she said.

Mariechen said she explained to the children a plastic shopping bag free zone does not mean all plastics such as plastic display files.

She pointed out that becoming a plastic bag free premises is, however, a process. “We have a hostel and the hospitality learners, who must bring food to the school and often plastic is the only means. But we are trying to make alternative reusable and multi-use ‘Larries’-bags for learners, alumni and parents to contribute to this cause,” explained Mariechen.

Mariechen also works with Two Oceans Aquarium’s environmental campaigner Hayley McLellan for guidance with this project. Hayley is the founder of the Rethink the Bag campaign which also challenges single- use plastic pollution through education.

Hayley said paper and plastic bags are not sustainable but people should rather opt to use cotton or fabric reusable bags.

“We shouldn’t demonise plastic, most things contain plastic. It is the single use plastic we should be most concerned about,” she said. She said people should start thinking of innovative ways to make their own bags. She said people can use old T-shirts, bed sheets, curtains and even billboard banners.

When asked about who must be accountable for this pollution, she said both retailers and consumers. “Retailers influence their consumers to a great extent, for instance, Checkers and their mini groceries and Spar with their Angry Birds. I think it was mainly done for commercial gain, but they can shift their focus to environmental issues without losing money,” she argued.

Schools who would like to follow in the footsteps of La Rochelle Girls High School can contact Hayley on Hayley.mclellan@aquarium.co.za

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