Plastic pollution is one of the most significant contributors to climate change. Plastic is difficult to break down and it either ends up in landfills or the ocean where it negatively affects marine life. Plastic is harmful to wildlife as they often mistake plastic for food. Birds, sea turtles and other marine life become entangled in plastic, making it difficult for them to live and escape predators. Plastic dumped at landfills leak toxic chemicals into the soil. When plastic is incinerated, it releases toxins into the air, leading to a rise in greenhouse gases which therefore speeds up the effects of climate change. Plastic free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution. Every July people across the world take part in “Plastic Free July”. This is an international movement that aims to reduce the amount of plastic waste in our environment and encourages citizens to change their habits to long-term environmentally friendly habits.
At Lalibela, our goal is to have zero use of plastic. This is a huge task and involves commitment from all staff, guests and our suppliers. We have already made huge progress and will continue to drive this process until we reach our goal of going plastic free. Over the years, we have made some small changes to meet our goal. We no longer provide guests with plastic straws or bottles of water. We purchase items like sugar, coffee, butter and jams in bulk and decant them into smaller glass jars. This has eliminated the single-use tea, coffee and sugar sachets as well as the butter and jam containers that would have been thrown away.
A simple change from plastic to glass water bottles has significantly reduced the amount of plastic waste on the reserve. On average, a guest would drink one bottle of water on a game drive, multiple that by ten guests and two game drives a day, we were throwing away 20 plastic water bottles a day, and that would have only come from one vehicle of guests!
Where it is not possible to eliminate all plastic, we have come up with ways to reduce our plastic usage. Throughout the reserve, from our lodges to staff housing, workshops and community we have recycling bins. Not only do we recycle plastic, but we also recycle glass, plastic, tins and paper. The recycling is collected and is taken to a nearby recycling plant where it is recycled.
We have a community outreach programme that is currently running whereby community members, particularly the children are collecting single-use plastic waste in the community to use in EcoBricks. An Ecobrick is a plastic bottle that has been packed tightly with used plastic to make a reusable building block. Once the community have collected enough Ecobricks, they can build various items such as tables, benches or storerooms.
3 July is International Plastic Bag Free Day. This day is dedicated to creating awareness about the problems that plastic causes. On this day, we are reminded that the plastic bags we conveniently receive from stores are used for a short period. Did you know that on average, we will use a plastic bag for under 25 minutes before we dispose of it without thinking of the consequences? The thought may not even cross your mind at the time but it has been proven that plastic bags can remain in the world for anywhere between 100 and 500 years before finally breaking down.
Plastic free July is all about encouraging people to become more aware of their plastic use and creating a cleaner, healthier world as a result. So this July we challenge everyone to take part in the plastic free challenge of eliminating one or more single-use plastic items this month. Once you make a small change here and there, you will see how easy it is to make a lasting change. Before you know it, you will have adopted environmentally friendly habits and one month of going plastic free will turn into your everyday habit.
Here are some ways to go plastic free this July:
- Take your reusable shopping bag next time you go shopping – Plastic shopping bags are a huge source of pollution. They are made from non-renewable fossil fuels and are often only used as a once off when you carry your shopping from the shopping centre to your house. They are then often tossed into the garbage or left to litter our planet. Next time you go shopping, try to remember to take a reusable shopping bag with you. You can store one in your car for those unexpected shopping trips or keep a collapsible one in your purse or pocket.
- Use reusable bottles and mugs – One simple change that we can all make is to invest in a stainless-steel water bottle. This is one of the easiest changes to make. By using a stainless-steel bottle you will be cutting down on the amount of plastic bottled water that you buy. The other advantage would be that during the summer, your stainless-steel bottle will keep your water cold and during the winter this is great for storing coffee which will be kept warmer for longer.
- Say no to plastic straws – Plastic straws are a huge contributor to plastic waste – they are used once and then discarded. Next time you are in a restaurant and are offered a plastic straw – say no! If you want a straw, there is a reusable alternative that folds up to fit your bag or purse.
- Reduce your single-use plastic packaging – Throughout the grocery store, we can see how plastic has become a factor for just about every item. Over the years, we have been fooled into thinking that everything needs to go into plastic packaging. If you stop and ask yourself, what does the plastic packaging mean for a bag of oranges if I am going to peel off the peel anyway? A simple change that you can make is to bring your reusable bags for fruits and vegetables or better yet, you can opt to shop in stores that do not use plastic packaging.
- Recycle – Where it is completely impossible to cut out plastic one can always opt to recycle. Look out for recycling bins and centres in your neighbourhood. The added benefit of recycling is that once you start recycling plastic, you can also recycle glass, paper and tins at the same time, so before you know it, you have cut down your wastage substantially.
- Beach clean-ups – Did you know that approximately 73 % of litter found on beaches around the world are plastic and plastic products such as bottles and grocery bags? Next time you go for a walk on the beach, try to make it your goal to pick up any litter that you may come across. You will be contributing to a healthier and cleaner planet!
Plastic free July is the perfect time for you to think beyond your habits and to inspire others to make a change. Always remember that you are not alone in the fight against plastic. We are all in this together and it is up to each one of us to work together to make a difference. The more people who make small changes, the more people can influence others to make a change in their lives.