Backing on plastic bags surprises Moosa

By Melanie Gosling Time of article published Jun 5, 2000

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When Environment Affairs Minister Valli Moosa told parliamentarians last year that he might ban plastic bags, it was just something he said off the top of his head and to which he had not given much thought.

"I had only just been appointed for a few weeks and knew very little about these matters. As I was speaking, a thought occurred to me to say we could do without plastic bags," Moosa said at Kirstenbosch on Monday, at the launch of an anti-plastic campaign organised by Plastic People, a non-government organisation.

"I was in a promise-making mood and I gave the impression that I had given it a lot of thought. It was not a statement to the general public, but after the Cape Times ran it on the front page, I was absolutely amazed at the support I received.

"People from all walks of life, across all political parties, rich and poor, all expressed their support, and it was clear to me that South Africans wanted us to do something about it."

Moosa said the waste management system in South Africa did not work.

"In Denmark 95 percent of waste is recycled. In South Africa about three or four percent is recycled, the rest goes into landfills or, even more worrying, into our rivers and streams."

Moosa said he did not intend to rush in "in an authoritarian manner" with legislation to ban plastic bags or to set up a "plastic bag unit" in the police. He wanted to give adequate opportunity for change to take place in people's consciences.

He said most retail outlets now offered alternative packaging to plastic bags, and he urged the public to ask for them.

Moosa introduced draft regulations last month to ban thin plastic bags - the normal bags provided by retail outlets - which cannot be recycled. Because they have no commercial value they are usually dumped.

Plastic People spokesperson Mary Murphy said: "Each of us has a responsibility to keep the environment clean. The launch of this campaign today might not solve the problem, but we can do it if we work together to find a responsible alternative."

Also on Monday, during a clean-up of the Lotus River to mark World Environment Day, Moosa said the rest of the world would not take South Africa seriously "unless we clean up the filth on our doorsteps".

Moosa put on gumboots and helped haul rubbish out of the heavily polluted river which flows into Zeekoevlei, as part of a nationwide clean-up in which staff of the Department of Water Affairs' Working for Water project helped tackle the scourge of litter throughout the country.

"Rubbish affects the quality of life of South Africans. We will never have a better life if we're living in filth and dirt, particularly in places where poor people live.

"We will never have pride as long as we live in filth. No one will take us seriously if we can't even clean up our own doorstep."

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