South Africa’s “Rethink the Bag” after More Than a Decade of Success

environmental protection

In 2010, Hayley McLellan, the then-Senior Bird Trainer at South Africa’s Two Oceans Aquarium, launched what started as a personal campaign to diminish the use of plastic bags in an attempt to save the environment. Soon enough, the Rethink the Bag initiative attracted the attention of the country’s media, institutions, and citizens and quickly gained traction to become one of the longest, most viable green initiatives in South Africa. The Two Oceans Aquarium embraced the project and used its own resources to promote it. McLellan became Environmental Campaigner at the Aquarium and things started to take off.

Now, more than a decade after the campaign began, we take a look back at so many years of hard work, dedication, and success to celebrate the country’s effort in promoting a cleaner environment and a healthier lifestyle. Before we begin, however, let us step back and reiterate why it is essential to limit and if possible – altogether abandon – the use of plastic bags.

Why Are Plastic Bags Bad for the Environment?

Plastic bags are extremely hard to decompose. It takes up to 300 years for them to dissolve. What is worse, they release toxic substances into the soil when left exposed to sunlight for a long time. On top of that, they also emit hazardous substances into the air, which makes them impossible to burn.

Thus, plastic bags are left to rot in landfills all over the world. The consequences are dire, ranging from littering and stormwater drain blockages to carcinogenic diseases and extreme marine pollution. Talking about the latter, we have all seen footage of sea animals being entangled in plastic bags. In addition, many marine creatures mistake the dangerous debris for food and swallow it, thus causing significant health damage and even death. One of the best ways to better understand why plastic bags should be banned is to hear what Hayley McLellan herself has to say:

The Pledge

It is interesting to note that the Rethink the Bag Campaign relies heavily on people to pledge they will abandon the use of plastic bags. What gave a boost to this part of the project was the 2018 pledge of 50 top South African celebrities, who promised they would only use linen bags.

The pledge campaign was a huge success and turned into a social media sensation. South Africa’s most famous people would use various Internet media to post motivational footage and explain why saving the environment and living a green lifestyle is key to the survival of humankind and our planet.

Of course, we all know about the power of celebrities to influence the masses in general and young people in particular. Luckily, South Africa is the home to many famous people who advocate for combating the global climate crisis by adopting a greener, eco-friendly lifestyle. Here are some of the celebrity Rethink the Bag pledgers:

Zolani Mahola

Zolani Mahola, a strong supporter of sustainable living, was born and raised in the city of Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa. She is a celebrated singer, actress, and storyteller. Mahola is also known under the stage name The One Who Sings. Since 2019, she has pursued a solo career and devoted herself to various causes including preserving the environment.

Siv Ngesi

Siv Ngesi is one of South Africa’s most influential stars. He is an actor, dancer, comedian, and human rights activist. In addition, Ngesi is a celebrated social media influencer. He is famous for embracing a lot of causes that help advance humankind, and sustainable living is just one of them.

Rati Lekalakala

Born and raised in South Africa, Rati Lekalakala is a social media sensation across the country. The young fashion and bikini model has made quite a career on Instagram and is celebrated for her sophisticated looks and style.

However, she is not all about glamour. Lekalakala also runs a vegan and sustainability blog called Keratilwe and is extremely devoted to the cause of preserving the environment. She has successfully leveraged the power of social media to promote eco-friendly ideals and inspire tens of thousands of followers, especially young people, to adopt sustainable living habits.

Jordy Smith

Jordan Michael “Jordy” Smith is one of the most famous South African sports celebrities. He is a pro surfer, who competes in World championship tour surfing (WCT). He has won numerous prizes and competitions throughout his professional career. An interesting fact about him is that he started surfing at the age of 3.

Nik Rabinowitz

Nik Rabinowitz is a popular comedian, actor and author born and raised in South Africa. He has made guest appearances on many comedy shows and starred in the 2012 movie Material. Rabinowitz also works as a presenter on SABC and has published a book called South Africa: Long Walk to a Free Ride.

Siba Mtongana

Sibahle Mtongana, also known as Siba Mtongana, is a South African celebrity chef. She is a renowned TV star who has her own show called Siba’s Table. The mother of four children, she is passionate about food and green living and has supported many environmental causes.


If you are passionate about preserving the environment, you can also join the Rethink the Bag initiative. Regular people can become pledgers, too. All you need to do is go to the campaign’s website and fill in the pledge form. If you are looking for more green causes, you can also check other organizations and initiatives in South Africa, such as:

  • The Green Belt Movement (GBM)
  • Environment Liaison Centre International (ELCI)
  • Giving Life Nature Volunteer
  • African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC)
  • Green Africa Foundation
  • and more.