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A youthful take on problem plastics

The world’s most complex problems are often solved with simple solutions. This was the general opinion of a group of high-school learners who shared their views on plastic pollution during a visit to WWF’s Cape Town offices in July.

As part of a holiday job shadow, a group of high school students spent two days learning about WWF and the importance of valuing the environment.

Time in nature

As part of a job shadow experience, the 11 students from different schools across the Cape peninsula spent two days of their winter break learning about the focus areas of WWF.
 
As well as spending time with WWF South Africa’s CEO and a few other WWF staff members, they visited the Two Oceans Aquarium and the nearby harbour to learn more about our oceans, sustainable seafood and many threats facing our marine environment, including the growing problem of plastic pollution.

Kholosa Magudu, from WWF’s Freshwater Programme leads the group of visiting grade 11s on an assessment along the banks of the Liesbeek River.

On the second day, the youngsters got closer to nature on the banks of the Liesbeek River. They were shown how to conduct a river health assessment by Kholosa Magudu in  WWF’s freshwater team.

Picking your brains for the planet

Given the opportunity to engage young fresh minds during plastic-free July, the team at WWF decided to ask them what they would propose as innovative solutions to deal with the overwhelming issue of plastic pollution. This was what they said.

Keep it simple and spread the word

“Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way that you can help stop the plastic problem is by recycling your own plastic,” says Matthew Winn of Muizenberg High School.
 
He says we should encourage our friends and neighbours to buy reusable bags and products. He noted that many municipalities around the world have banned the use of plastic bags, take-out containers and plastic bottles. He also suggests that we avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking out for the polyethylene in cosmetic products.
Matthew believes that regular beach or river clean-ups can help prevent plastic from getting into the oceans.
 
“In that way we can save our oceans and plant life,” says Matthew.

Matthew Winn (left) and Jared Hamman (right) share a chuckle while discovering interesting insights from the river assessment exercise during their job shadow at WWF.

Cut out unnecessary plastics

Jared Hamman, also from Muizenberg High School, encourages sustainable shopping practices.
 
“As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the amount of garbage that people produce… don’t forget to carry a paper or cloth shopping bag,” he says.  
 
He adds: “Get rid of bottled water. Educate business about options they can switch for packaging or storage. Recycle everything.”

Tara Southey (right) was very enthusiastic during the river assessment activity

Stop it at the source

“Firstly, we have to stop ocean-based plastic pollution at its source: it starts with us on land,” says Tara Southey from the Ecole Franҫaise du Cap, the Cape French School. She says plastic bags are one of the main pollutants and to prevent them from ending up in the ocean, they should be made illegal and replaced with paper or fabric bags in supermarkets.
 
Plastic straws can be replaced with paper ones which are recyclable or glass or metal or bamboo ones which are reusable, according to Tara. She feels that every city in the world should introduce a recycling system with separate bins for glass, organic material, plastic, metal and paper to facilitate the recycling of different materials.
 
“Secondly, a machine or a contraption needs to be created which detects plastic waste (and not fish) and would then suction it into a holding area where it would be compressed to take up as little space possible. These machines similar to trash cans, therefore would also need to be emptied,” says Tara.

Georgia Kalis (Left), of Reddam House High School, and Sonique Mathys (right), from Stellenberg High School, taking a break in nature during the river assessment.

Incentivised litter collection

Georgia Kalis, of Reddam House High School, had some innovative ideas. She proposes having a designated “litter collector” at shopping centres and accessible landmarks.
 
“This ‘collector’ would be a large structure with three designated holes for plastic waste.  In return, when someone who puts their plastic into one of the holes they will receive a small financial reward, such as 10 cents for every piece of litter or a discount at an associated store (such as Woolworths) and this initiative could fall under a business’s CSR programme,” she says.
 
“Litter will be collected and recycled, and the streets and oceans may become cleaner as a result,” she added.

​Inspired change and innovation

While there may not be quick-fix solutions to the immense environmental threat of plastic pollution, this group of inspired school learners have reminded us that by making simple changes in our daily lives, we can all implement short-term solutions while also dreaming up innovative ways of thinking outside the box. Who knows what these students may go on to achieve in their careers. WWF wishes them all the best and we hope they choose a career that contributes to making the environment better! 

When last did you use a straw when drinking something refreshing? Bamboo straws are one alternative to plastic straws, one of the top nine problem plastics.
Natasha Prince Photo
Natasha Prince, writer

Super panda supporter by day. Superhero by night. I love my planet.

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