Today I thought I’d touch on one of the subjects most dear to my heart, the environment, and more specifically the huge problem of plastic waste.
Today I thought I’d touch on one of the subjects most dear to my heart, the environment, and more specifically the huge problem of plastic waste. Being from a family of farmers in Northern England, I was brought up in the beautiful rolling countryside of Northumberland, I have an enormous affinity for the natural world and it really is my ‘first love’. Our wonderful planet truly is something to be nurtured and enjoyed in all its beauty. When I take breaks I head to the mountains for skiing or the oceans for diving. However, more and more I am sickened by the disrespect we as humans have shown to our world. There is nothing that upsets me more than the sight of trash and especially plastic waste desecrating this place we call home. As a diver, I see plastic pollution everywhere and it is one of the greatest threats to ocean health worldwide. It sickens me to see marine life living in and ingesting this sea of plastic which mars the beautiful beaches and coastlines of the world. Worryingly, the plastic waste is expected to double over the next 10 years. It just wasn’t like this when I was young and as a father, I worry for future generations.
Why is plastic so bad?
Obviously, the main reason the plastic is so bad for the environment is that it just doesn’t go away, it stays with us pretty much forever. Instead, the plastic debris gradually breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, eventually forming microplastic which we can barely see but are found in huge amounts in the digestive tracts of marine life.
What can we all do to help improve the situation?
We all collectively have a responsibility to reduce the stress we cause to our environment and do what we can to help our poor, abused planet. I believe we should live a deliberate, intentional life where we become more responsible for the footprint we impose on the earth.
I invite you to start making some changes today. Create some good habits and if you teach your kids you’ll find they love being able to contribute. You’ll feel good about yourself and it will help to make a difference. I’ll show you here 6 steps to help you make that difference.
1. Reduce Your Use of Single-Use Plastics
This is the best and easiest place to start. Be mindful of the sheer volume of plastic you are are going through. Look at your consumption and identify the main sources of single-use plastic and styrofoam, including the plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, take-out containers, and in fact anything that is used once and then disposed of. As you start to say no to these convenience items, bringing with you your own reusable versions, you will find you get little resistance. In fact, you will be applauded often and you can be proud that you are leading by example. It will also encourage businesses to offer recyclable versions which is what we all would like to see.
2. Recycle where you can
When you MUST use single-use plastic, do make sure that those that can be recycled ARE recycled. This is a no brainer really, but an education thing. Obviously, by recycling, we reduce the possibility of plastic ending up in the ocean and it reduces the need for ‘new’ plastic. Recently, when in Helsinki, I applauded the fact that all plastic bottles have a ‘return value’. As you visit the supermarket to purchase products in plastic bottles you feed last week’s bottles into a collection machine and redeem their return value. This works perfectly and everyone happily recycles because it is simple and it makes complete sense. Unfortunately, only 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled and this statistic simply must be improved!
3. Grocery shopping
This really is a biggie and needs us all to change our mindset and take some action. It is when you do your weekly grocery shopping that much of the plastic comes into your life. If you don’t make simple provisions, you are guaranteed to come home loaded with plastic. Traditionally, people go to the store assuming that everything they purchase will be packaged with the carrying bags provided. Such has been the system for decades. Now we see the folly in this system and we realize just how short-sighted we have been. It’s only a matter of taking an interest and being organized.
Awareness is the main thing; just try your best to reduce the amount of goods that come in plastic. For example, do watch out for frozen products, even meat and veggies; they are pretty much always packed in plastic.
Do some research and you might be pleasantly surprised how many stores are supportive, especially as awareness of the plastic pollution problem continues to spread.
Obviously, you will need to get organized but once you have your reusable bags, containers and boxes you are set. You will also need a good selection of glass jars and storage containers in various sizes for storage because you’ll want to find a local store that sells loose produce by weight. These stores are appearing all over the place selling pasta, rice, cereals, dried beans, nuts, seeds, baking supplies, dried fruit, and spices. The list continues to grow as people recognize the benefits. Obviously, shopping whenever possible at your local wet market would be a great choice but do remember to take your own bags.
These choices will also make your grocery shopping a more interesting experience and of course, there is also the ‘feel-good factor’.
4. Watch out for convenience food!
Generally, convenience always means plastic products. It’s virtually impossible to buy ‘fast’ or ‘convenience’ food, beverages or water without it coming packaged in plastic or styrofoam. We choose to carry with us at all times reusable water bottles and we have travel mugs close by for coffees on the go. Where possible we take food prepped at home or we eat in the restaurants to avoid the plastic takeout container and the disposable cutlery. Make sure you ask for a biodegradable straw, or even better no straw at all.
5. Join (or Organize) a Beach or River Clean-up
I have joined a number of beach cleanings around Singapore and not only do they do a great job improving and protecting the environment but they are also enormously gratifying, great fun, and you certainly sleep well that night.
As I’ve traveled around Asia especially, I’ve been sickened by the amount of plastic debris that has found itself in our natural watercourses and oceans. The beaches are literally strewn with plastic and this is, without doubt, one of the greatest ecological disasters on the planet today.
In Singapore I highly recommend you connect with my friends at Seven Clean Seas. They run an extensive program of beach cleans at home and internationally. Do try and join them for a morning’s clean-up, it really is hugely rewarding.
6. Avoid Products Containing Microbeads
Most of the plastic that finds its way into the ocean ends up being broken down into tiny plastic particles called “microbeads”. This problem is worsened by day-to-day bathroom products that actually contain these particles in their makeup.
Some face scrubs, toothpaste, and body washes will cause these plastic pollutants to go straight into our waterways through our sewer system. Do try and avoid products containing “polypropylene” or “polyethylene” and look for natural alternatives like pumice.
Watch this 3 part series where ‘Vice’ sails to the North Pacific Gyre, the collecting point for all of the ocean’s flotsam and home of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: a mythical, Texas-sized island made entirely of our trash.
Another great thing to help keep you on track and provide you with lots of inspiring ideas to implement and share is through Social Media. I follow a few FaceBook pages (eg ‘Life Without Plastic’ and ‘Seven Clean Seas) and on Instagram, I follow the hashtag #plasticfreeliving for my daily inspiration.
Watch this trailer of ‘Bag It’ where “everyman” Job Berrier embarks on a global tour to unravel the complexities of our world. What starts as a film about plastic bags evolves into a wholesale investigation into plastic and its effect on our waterways, oceans and even our bodies.
The ideas I have mentioned here are a good place to start. I don’t want to overwhelm you but simply show you what is possible. The important thing is that we all do something, no matter how small. I suggest you start immediately by choosing a few changes that seem doable and that will have an impact. None of us can do it all, it’s too big a deal, but we can all get started and we can all make a contribution. Every little bit helps.
Watch this trailer of ‘Addicted to Plastic’. This is a Canadian documentary on modern society’s ‘addiction’ to plastic; our prolific use of this product, its effects on the earth and on us, and where our unwanted plastic ends up.
Here’s a thought for you. As we move into the festive season please note that this is the most wasteful time of year. So many groceries bought, presents wrapped and parties catered for. Let’s be mindful of our actions this year. Why not end the year and start next year with a mindset of reducing waste and especially plastic.