Since Mandela day falls on a week day this year, the Group decided that the Saturday beforehand, 14 July, would be a better day to do our Mandela Day activity. We decided to do a Vlei litter clean-up for various reasons. The vlei is the Group's home - we sail and swim in the water, we do Cub activities on the banks and we enjoy the beautiful views during Cub and Scout meetings at the Sea Scout base. Therefore, the less pollution in the vlei, the better for all of us. There are a large amount of birds and fish in the vlei and due to the litter blown into the water or flushed down by the rains from the canals in Marina da Gama, it is a danger and a health hazard for everyone.
The Cubs are also busy with their annual Cub National Challenge this
term and the theme this year is "Plastic, not so Fantastic", aiming at highlighting the enormous amount of single-use plastic that we use and discard, sometimes after just a few minutes use.
Single-use plastic items are destroying habitats and ecosystems all over the world. Things like plastic shopping bags, plastic drinking straws, styrofoam food containers and plastic water bottles are made to only be used once - and when you throw it away, instead of recycling it, it stays in nature for thousands of years. This year, we are being challenged to be friends of nature and learn about the dangers of disposable plastic items as well as taking action to find out about environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic. Basically, we need to rethink our relationship with single-use plastic.
You may be wondering why plastic is so bad for the environment. Plastic is a great thing - you can mould it into any shape you want, it's cheap and it lasts a long time. The problem is that it's being used to make things that get used once and then they're thrown away and lie around for thousands of years. If this rubbish ends up in the sea, which is normally does, it gets eaten by sea animals - plastic kills at least 1 million sea birds a year as well as 100 000 seals, dolphins and whales a year. Plastic doesn't rot away like food or disintegrate like paper, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic which birds and animals and fish swallow. This means that if we eat that fish, we swallow plastic too! These little pieces of plastic are called micro-plastic and they can affect even the smallest animals in nature.
We had 3 Cubs and 2 Scouts attend the event and they all brought their families along so there was a good group of people to tackle the litter on the banks of the vlei close to the Sea Scout base. It is disappointing that more could not attend but we were happy with the amount of litter collected. We went as far as the playground towards the braai area and collected the normal culprits (chip packets, plastic cooldrink bottles, glass beer bottles, cigarette stompies, lollipop sticks) as well as some unusual things (a nappy, a soccer boot, a rusty metal grid).
The plan with most of this litter is to dry it out, dust it off and use it to make Eco Bricks. The brilliance of an Eco Brick is that it's as simple as filling a 2L plastic cooldrink bottle with any un-recyclable plastic you have at home, compacting it into the bottle with a dowel stick or wooden spoon handle. Once you have filled a bottle, which takes an enormous amount of plastic, it becomes as hard as a brick and can be used to build schools or homes. We are supporting the EcoBrick Exchange (EBE) who build pre-schools with their donated Eco Bricks. The local collection point is in Westlake, at the offices of Sustainable.co.za which is an online eco-store owned by one of our Pack Scouters.
We were fortunate to have Kevin Rack join us for our litter clean-up. Locals will know Kevin as an eco-warrior, involved in various conservation efforts in our community such as the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID) beach clean-ups. Kevin spoke to us about the effects of pollution in the Vlei, where the rubbish comes from and the dangers of single-use plastic. He explained that plastic never really goes away, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller particles to become micro-plastic (little pieces of plastic so small they are easily missed). We found a large amount of micro-plastic in the sand on the banks of the Vlei, little brightly coloured pieces of plastic that will invariably end up eaten by the local birds or fish.
We hope to continue with regular litter clean-ups and would love the local Scouting community to join us next time!