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Southern Africa Mothers’ Union boycotts Styrofoam

Posted on: February 23, 2016 11:08 AM
Members of the Mothers' Union in Lesotho at the start of the Provincial Council's 50th meeting
Photo Credit: Lynne Tembey / Mothers Union
Related Categories: environment, mothers union, Southern Africa

[ACNS] A self-imposed ban on the use of Styrofoam – or Polystyrene – products by members of the Mothers’ Union in Southern Africa will lead to an increase in washing up – but it’s a price that the members are willing to pay for the impact their decision will have on the environment.

Styrofoam is one of the world’s most widely used plastics. It is used in a range of products from packing materials to CD and DVD cases through to yoghurt pots and disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. But its use is increasingly controversial because of the impact it has on the environment.

Production of the petroleum-based plastic is heavily energy-intensive; and it takes at least 500 years to decompose. Most recycling facilities refuse to accept Styrofoam because the economic costs of transporting and degreasing the lightweight plastic far outweigh the potential financial returns. And so the plastic is often dumped illegally on land or in the seas. There are increasingly significant quantities of it in the Pacific Ocean.

At their 50th Council Meeting in Maseru, Lesotho, the Mothers’ Union Provincial Council of Southern Africa (which brings together MU members from South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland) discussed the growing problems of environmental degradation and climate change.

The MU members heard a presentation on “What kind of world do you want to leave for your grandchild” from the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, the environmental coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. They then passed a number of environmentally-friendly motions. These included the promotion of growing of vegetable patches and planting of trees; and the promotion of recycling and the proper disposal of waste.

But the most eye-catching motion was a commitment to the promotion of green clean environments through a self-denying use of polystyrene and foam products in their parishes and communities; and an awareness campaigns about the negative effect those products have on the environment.

As they discussed how this could be done, the MU members agreed not to use Styrofoam disposable products when they cater for parish events. Instead, they would buy proper plates, dishes, cups and cutlery. For large parish events and celebrations – such as catering for wedding receptions – they would arrange to loan dishes from other churches in the deanery to top up their own stocks.

Styrofoam is “the primary source of urban litter,” the Revd Dr Rachel Mash said. “It is also one of the main pollutants of oceans, and other water sources, causing choking and starvation in wildlife.

“It also has health impacts since it is made from Benzene and Styrene, both of which are carcinogens (cancer causing). Microwaving Styrofoam causes the release of toxic chemicals, which pose a threat to human health.

“We salute the Mothers Union for leading the way in this important resolution.”

Around the world, a number of legislatures are banning the use of Styrofoam in certain industry sectors – most notably in the fast food industry. In the United States, the use of Styrofoam in restaurants and take-away outlets is banned in a growing number of localities. It is also banned in China, India and Taiwan. But the decision by the Southern African provincial Mothers’ Union is thought to be the first time that the issue has been taken up within the Anglican Communion.