Rethink The Bag

Yesterday we met with Hayley Mclellan, Founder of Rethink The Bag. Hayley’s talk was inspiring, she descried her 11 year-long journey as an environmental campaigner against plastic pollution and her mission to ban single use plastic in South Africa.


Rethink The Bag call’s people to make a pledge that says, “For the good of the environment, I pledge to no longer purchase or accept any single use plastic shopping bags.” Our volunteers will be challenged to make one change during their stay with us. MHC crew will be following in Hayley’s footsteps to abstain from using plastic bags.

8 million metric tons of plastic goes into the ocean every year, every piece of plastic that was ever been made still exists somewhere. Hayley stresses that people are oblivious to the problem; it’s an out of sight, out of mind matter. That first plastic straw that you used as a child, where is it today?

Dr Sylvia Earle says, “There are two obvious problems, what we are putting in and what we are taking out of the ocean, excessive in both cases”.


The Rethink The Bag Organisation asks should we ban plastic bags? 8 billion plastic shopping bags are used every year in South Africa and 96% ends up in landfill. The landfill then burns it, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.



Hayley Mclellan says, “Islands of trash, not solid islands that we can walk on, it’s a soupy mix that exist in what we call the 5 ocean gyres of plastic pollution.” Read more about the 5 Ocean Gyres organisation at


 The plastic bags that end up in the ocean, must look like jellyfish to turtles and penguins. These animals ingest the plastic bags, they have backwards-facing barbs in their throats and therefore cannot regurgitate the plastic, and painfully die from ingestion. A green turtle was brought to the Cape Town Aquarium for rehabilitation in November 2014. This turtle was placed into an isolation tank, where it refused to eat for 2 months. The vet came in to access the green turtle once again, only to find plastic bags, balloons, and strings in the tank with it. It took this green turtle two months, in a predator free environment, to remove that waste and plastic from its system. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it photo-degrades, meaning it breaks up into smaller pieces of plastic. The UV rays of the sun and the corrosive environment of the ocean break up the plastic into what we call micro-plastics. Hayley explains how micro-plastics are making a literal soup of our oceans. Plastic floats and sinks at different densities, turtle hatchings spend the early stages of their lives in the top few meters of the ocean surface feeding. What’s there? Micro-plastic. Turtle hatchlings are often brought into the Cape Town aquarium, but unfortunately many of them don’t make it, cause of death being micro-plastic.

Hayley Mclellan says, “We throw away everything as consumers, and asks can you just do one thing, not use plastic bags?”


Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum, in a report called The New Plastics Economy, which looks at the amount of plastic that ends up in the sea made a prediction that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Jambeck, J.R., Andrady, A., Geyer, R., Narayan, R., Perryman, M., Siegler, T., Wilcox, C., Lavender Law, K. , (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the oceanScience, 347, p. 768-771.


Algoa Bay is home to the largest colony of  endangered African Penguins. 100 years ago the population stood at approximately 2 million birds, today there are roughly 40 000 African Penguins left, and more than half of them are found in Algoa Bay. This may sound like a lot, but Hayley likened this to having 2 million rand and now only having R40 000 left. We need to be just as upset about declining populations in the wild as we are about losing money.

The historical threats to the African Penguin are the sailors eating them, collection of eggs as a delicacy, collection of their guano that they nest in, habitat destruction, their natural predators, competing with the fishing industry, and today we add-on the plastic bag.

 It’s as simple as excluding single use plastics from your life, change just one to benefit the environment. – Hayley Mclellan


Penguin Conservation
Endangered African Penguins effected by plastic pollution

Our existence is dependent on the blue part of the planet. – Dr Sylvia Earle


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