Penguins suffer as a result of our pollution with plastic bags. Pic taken off the cape town coastline. exact location unknown. pic Peter Ryan

PEOPLE lined up to exchange single-use plastic carriers for reusable and sustainable shopping bags on Sunday.

The exchange, the brainchild of the Two Oceans Aquarium, was to mark the International Plastic Bag Free Day. Over a billion seabirds and mammals die annually due to swallowing plastic bags.

Eighty percent of all marine litter is plastic and these plastic bags can last between 500 and 1 000 years before any sign of degradation.

The day aims to raise awareness about the unnecessary use of single-use plastic bags, which are discarded.

Animals (marine and terrestrial) mistake plastic bags for food. Once ingested, the animals die from intestinal blockages and starvation.

The Rethink the Bag campaign was launched in 2010 by the Aquarium's environmental campaigner, Hayley McLellan to educate, establish partnerships and promote the campaign. South Africans use approximately eight billion shopping bags each year.

Of these, about 96 percent find their way to landfill sites and into the ocean, threatening the lives of marine and terrestrial animals. Research has shown that the average functioning lifespan of a shopping bag is approximately 20 minutes, whereafter it is discarded. Eighty percent of all marine litter is plastic and these plastic bags can last between 500 and 1 000 years before any sign of degradation.

“Every day we hear about what is going wrong in the environment and this can feel dis-empowering. Always choosing reusable bags, rather than plastic bags, is such a simple way for each person to do something to benefit our world and feel like they are making a difference, seemingly against the odds,” said McLellan.

A number of countries have banned these bags. Rwanda did so in 200, followed by Mauritius and Madagascar.

More recently the US started, where Hawaii also banned the bag.

In 2003 a levy was included in the price of each shopping bag sold in South Africa and between 2004 and 2014, R1.2 billion was collected through this levy.

Food retailer Spar, an avid supporter of the Rethink the Bag campaign, ran a bag exchange programme from June 29 to yesterday.

Customers were encouraged to bring 10 single-use plastic bags and exchange them for one reusable bag at any of their stores.

The retailer's Cape Quarter Manager, Unathi Tshangana, said: “We take programmes like this seriously because everyone needs to do what they can to help the environment.”

“The collected single-use plastic bags will be recycled,” Tshangana said.

You can show your support of the Rethink the Bag campaign by clicking on www.rethinkthebag.org and sign the petition to urge the South African government to place an outright ban on single-use plastic bags.

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