City urged to stop using plastic bags to collect cuttings

The blue bags used by the City to collect verge cuttings along Prince George Drive.

For 18 months, Mike Ryder, of Marina da Gama, has been asking the City to chuck out the blue plastic bags it uses to collect verge cuttings in Ward 64, with no success.

Ward 64 covers Clovelly, the Coastal Park landfill site, Fish Hoek (south of Silvermine Stream), Glencairn (Glencairn Heights and Glen Ridge) Kalk Bay, Lakeside (south-east of Boyes Drive), Muizenberg and St James.

Mr Ryder says the City advises the public to be environmentally conscious while it festoons the roads in plastic.

“These hardly filled, one-time use bags go direct to landfill and are not recycled in any form or manner. I want the City’s indiscriminate, partial, and misuse of these thin blue plastic bags to stop,” he said.

Recycled bags did not solve the problem and neither did supposedly biodegradable plastic bags, he said.

“Biodegradable bags, you should know by now are a myth, and will not solve the issue of micro-plastics nor the litter issues in our lifetime let alone that of our children,” he said.

The plastic simply kept breaking down into smaller and smaller particles becoming micro-plastics which were then ingested by fish and later by people.

“If a plastic degrades by ultraviolet action, then it just breaks down to micro-plastic. Most plastics are photodegradeable: they go brittle and crumble over time, but they are still essentially the original plastic, just shorter polymer chains,” he said.

Photodegradeability and biodegradeability are fundamentally different.

“To be truly biodegradeable the ‘plastic’ should be metabolised i.e. ‘eaten’ by bugs or other animate objects and the product should be carbon dioxide and water and whatever inert fillers are used,” he said.

In Wynberg a contractor used wheelbarrows to collect verge cutting, and a similar system could be used in Ward 64 with little or no need for plastic bags, Mr Ryder said.

“I do not understand how the consumption of so many plastic bags in such an inefficient way is tolerated; it is anathema to me,” he said.

Mr Ryder wrote to ward councillor Aimee Kuhl in October this year.

And on Thursday November 19, he sent an open letter to her, saying he had a one-year-old email from the City, which had been copied to Ms Kuhl, promising that none of the blue bags would go to landfill. He asked Ms Kuhl to explain why that promise had not been kept.

Ms Kuhl apologised, saying it was frustrating that the issue had still not been resolved.

“I again followed up with the directorate and am told that blue bags are emptied on site and used several times again by contractors. Having said that, I do not know if sufficient measures are in place to actually monitor contractor behaviour. I will yet again try and put pressure on the relevant mid management in waste to receive a comprehensive response and a tangible way forward,” she said.

Ms Kuhl said she had seen a lot of blue bags and their contents being dumped at the Coastal Park landfill during a recent visit there and had told water and waste mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg about that.

“Considering that waste to landfill is a looming crisis for a growing municipality like Cape Town, I really want to assist in finding more sustainable solutions,” she said.

Ms Limberg said the bags used to collect leaves and sand were reused.“It is not currently possible to reuse bags for general litter due to health risks this could pose.”

The bags were filled according to the weight limit of the plastic, so in cases where sand or heavy debris were being cleared it could appear as if the bag was not being filled enough, she said.

When the bags could no longer be reused they were disposed of safely at a disposal site, she said.