Young Environmentalist Tackles Plastic Pollution

Say no to single-use plastic


Climate change, plastic pollution, ailing oceans and mass extinction are just some of the sobering environmental issues that we are faced with as we herald in a new decade.  It is clear that all is not well with our planet and it is easy to become completely overwhelmed by the scale of these issues, and understandably so.  While the state of the environment leads some to adopt a ‘head in the sand’ approach or throw their hands up in the air in despair, others, like Sahara Thagunna, are mobilised into action.

Sahara, a 17yr local Knysna resident, is just one of a growing legion of passionate and vocal young environmental activists from around the world that are simply no longer prepared to accept the status quo. They are tired of hoping that things will change and they are prepared to fight for a future for the planet. So, sprouting from a local, grassroots level, Sahara is playing her part in affecting positive change in her hometown of Knysna.

Sahara grew up barefoot and fancy free on a farm in the rural area of Rheenendal, just outside of Knysna, and from an early age she nurtured her connection with the natural world. At the age of 14 she made the decision to shift to a vegan diet and so began her conscious awakening and her efforts to live kindly and tread lightly on the planet.

As time went by, she became increasingly frustrated at the prevalence of plastic in our society and in an effort to shed light on the issue, she launched a campaign called ‘What the Bag’, which is  “focused on plastic awareness with an emphasis on single-use plastic bags”, says Sahara.  “Reusable cloth shopping bags and produce bags are sewn from old, unused or leftover fabric donated by the local community.  From fabric cut-offs lying in your cupboard, old curtains or sheets, cloth advertising banners from companies and even broken parachutes; all this material that would have otherwise gone to waste is repurposed and turned into beautiful, useful, reusable shopping bags. The bags are handed out for free allowing any person the chance to stop, think and change.  In return one pledges to use the bags and reduce (or stop!) their consumption of plastic bags.  Then they must pay it forward by telling others about the campaign and message around plastic – creating a mushroom effect of connected change”.

Positive about inspiring a wave of change on a local level, she has set her heights high this year, pledging to make 2020 bags, which will also be handed out free of charge if people pledge to cut single use plastic bags from their lives. Sahara hopes that people’s attitudes towards single use plastic will gradually shift and that our local communities will be more mindful about the individual impacts that they have on the planet.

Another project Sahara is involved in is “ Knysna Unlittered”, a passionate collaboration of like-minded ocean warriors and enviro-activists whose aim it is to rid our local waterways and streets of plastic pollution. Those involved include Ocean Odyssey, the Knysna Basin Project, SANparks Honorary Rangers, the Strandloper Project and others. The plan is to have clean-ups throughout the year, each one revolving around specific dates on the calendar, including Earth Day, International Coastal Cleanup Day and Ocean Day.

The first clean-up for the year took place over this past weekend on February 8th 2020, and it was hugely encouraging to see the positive turn out of local volunteers wanting to do their bit for Knysna’s environment. A group of divers, including members of the Knysna Basin Project and Strandloper Project, dived for over an hour near the SANparks jetty on Thesen Island with the aim to clear lost and discarded fishing debris and other plastic items. Despite the fact that the visibility was extremely poor, the team still managed to retrieve a substantial amount of lost fishing gear and other skanky items.

Shoreline teams collected 25 black plastic bags full of rubbish in about an hour – a sobering tally of plastic waste that would have eventually entered our estuary on a high tide and possibly washed out to sea if it had not been removed. People may not realise it, but our Knysna Estuary is considered one of the richest and most important estuaries in the country in terms of biodiversity. It was even declared a Hope Spot by Mission Blue, an honour given to the most important ocean habitats on the planet. The extraordinary web of life which is exists across this liquid realm needs protection, and environmental activists like Sahara and the locals that have joined hands with her, are making impactful strides in the war against plastic pollution.

Remember as you navigate your way through life, to live simply and tread lightly and do not use single use plastic…our survival as a species depends on it.

SAVE THE DATE for the next big clean up for Earth Day April 22nd 2020

PHOTOS AND IMAGES BY Lisa Leslie Photography & Media/ @lisalesliephoto /