It takes a combined effort to ensure that we still have a planet earth to call home in three generations. This was at the forefront of conversation as environmental champions gathered for the #PlasticFreeMzansi green carpet event held at the Oceana Power Boat Club in Granger Bay on Wednesday 31 July.The event hosted more than 100 scientists, designers, influencers, retailers and environmental activists who gathered to hear feedback about a month-long campaign that focussed on growing awareness about plastic.The main prize for being the most influential campaigner during the month of July went to Smile 904 radio personality, Kia Johnson. According to Twyg founder and editor, Jackie May, Johnson’s consistency in conservation efforts was key in winning her the prize. Shamyra Moodley, Emma Jones-Phillipson and Anele Nono were awarded the best sustainably dressed. Another showstopper at the event were the vegan finger snacks, in particular the falafel balls served with tumeric-humus, provided by Cape Town’s very own Nourish’d Cafe and Juicery.“Plastic free July is something which happens annually,” said Aaniyah Omardien, founder and director of The Beach Co-Op.A collaboration between WWF and SASSI, the Beach Co-op and Twyg, the #PlasticFreeMzansi campaign asked people to give up three items X earbuds, plastic bottles and chip packets X found on the Dirty Dozen list for the month of July. Invented by scientific advisor Professor Peter Ryan, the Dirty Dozen Methodology identifies the 12 most commonly found items of litter on beaches. Ryan is from the Percy Fitz-Patrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town (UCT).According to Omardien, over 1000kg of trash was picked up during five beach clean-ups held during July. “Participants had to log the 12 items while cleaning up,” Omardien said.Litter collected included: 6 001 individual sweet wrappers, 5 511 lollipop sticks and 5 431 straws.According to a press release, most of the litter collected usually ends up in landfill sites as it’s mostly non-recyclable.“The purpose of the beach cleanups is to make people aware that this litter doesn’t go away,” Omardien said. This spoke to the importance of developing a culture of environmental affairs education.Ryan shared: “I started focusing on plastic in the 80s. We began to find plastic in sea birds, and it was very worrying.” According to Ryan, we need to become cognisant of the fact that plastic is a small symptom of the larger problem X the destructive effect humans are having on the planet. “It’s great that we’re putting so much effort into tackling plastic; but if that becomes the main focus, we run the risk of not addressing the serious problems that underpin the challenges we face. “We have to remember, plastics aren’t the problem, people are,” said Ryan. He, however, aknowleged that there were some cases in our society where plastic played a significant role and could not be done without.According to Pavitray Pillay, manager of environmental human-behavioural change at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the South African branch of the organisation first ventured into the world of preventing plastic pollution two years ago. He said they were approaching the issue on different tiers. “Plastic can be viewd from so many levels,” said Pillay. “Plastic isn’t a bad material – it’s pretty neat. (The problem is) how we misuse plastic.”A recurring message at the event was that plastic wasn’t the problem, and that with proper management, it could be a boon to society if used and disposed of properly.“The best economic and environmentally friendly way to utilise plastic, is to create a circular economy around it,” Pillay said. He explained that if used plastic held value, if people could make money out of it, it would alleviate the plastic waste problem.“We’ve become almost oblivious of how much plastic we use, and some of it we don’t really need,” Pillay said.