There’s an unwritten rule when you’re in nature: you respect and protect the places you explore and you leave them as you found them – without a trace. It’s the trade off to making sure our natural places remain desirable.
That’s sounds pretty reasonable, right.
No one wants to find discarded tins of tuna, crisp packets and water bottles en route to the summit of a mountain (those are just a few things I encountered last time I climbed Snowdon). Nor do we want to SUP along the canals and feel like we’re making our way through a graveyard of plastic bottles, plastic bags and other crap mindlessly chucked in for good measure.
It wasn’t until I started paddle boarding in London a couple of years ago that I realized the scale of the issue we’re facing with plastics choking our waterways. I was horrified by what I would witness every time I went out. SUP was meant to be my escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, but it was often marred by what I was seeing.
After getting one too many plastic bags caught in my fin I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. In May 2016 launched a nationwide campaign to rid our waterways of plastics. I paddle boarded the entire length of our canal and river network – from Surrey to Lake District – with the added twist of plotting, mapping and scaling every piece of plastic I encountered along my route. On #PlasticPatrol I took more than 3000 photographs in 22 days (and that doesn’t account for what was lurking underwater, on the towpaths or on the other side of the bank) that I didn't capture.
I took #PlasticPatrol a step further and a few months later revisited some of the worst affected places in the country, and litter picked from my paddleboard. In three days (and I spent no more than three hours on the water each day) I collected more than 1000 plastic bottles.
I’m just going to let that punctuate for a moment…
Obscene, isn’t it?
And then I used those plastic bottles to build this.
Yesterday Sky News announced the launch of its #OceanRescue campaign. Richard Branson and Prince Charles are just two of the names on board to add some extra clout. The plastic facts and stats they presented were so stark it’s hard to ignore, and I’m certain it’s got a lot of environmental sleepwalkers thinking about their own plastic consumption… and that can only be a good thing.
Facts about Plastic Pollution:
1) Every minute, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic is dumped into our oceans; most will never decompose and will remain there forever.
2) At this rate, by 2050 all the plastic in the ocean could weigh more than all the fish.
3) There’s currently enough plastic in the world’s oceans to fill five carrier bags for every foot of coastline on the planet.
4) A staggering 90% of seabirds are now thought to have ingested plastic and it’s predicted that this will increase to 95% by 2050.
5) 80% of plastic pollution in our oceans comes from inland sources – that’s means us!
You can’t imagine the excitement I felt that an organization like Sky was backing this issue. Not only did it restore my faith in humanity as I read the tweets from people who shared my frustration and sadness, but also it inspired me to keep pushing my message and, ultimately, believing that we can make a difference.
The number of people that don’t recycle or make environmentally conscious choices in their day-to-day lives often astounds me. The general feeling is that they don’t think their contribution will make a difference. They're wrong. Individual commitment and accountability is absolutely vital to combatting plastic pollution. We can’t control what other people do, but we can control our own actions.
Small changes by everyone in his or her day-to-day lives will have a big aggregate impact. Let’s steer clear of the finger pointing and blame culture and focus on what adjustments we can make at home, in our own lives, to make a difference.
I’ve put together my top 8 tips for reducing your plastic footprint - and all can be started immediately. If you decide to do one, or all of these, you’re making a huge difference – no matter how insignificant you might feel, it isn’t.
1 Stop drinking bottled water.
Not only will it save you money in the long run, you’ll be helping to reduce the consumption of the most culpable plastic item found in our waterways and oceans. I use a Jerry can wherever I go, and fill it up whenever I can. There are lots of re-useable bottles in all shapes and sizes, and often companies donate a portion of sales to charitable causes. It’s a no-brainer.
2 Take your own shopping bag to the supermarket.
Plastic bags are a huge contributor and once they end up in the ocean they are often mistaken as food by jellyfish and turtles. You can imagine the catastrophic results! We’ve seen a significant reduction in the use of plastic bags since the 5p charge was brought in (hurrah!) but there’s still a long way to go.
3 Use a refillable soap dispenser in your bathroom.
And do the same for your washing up liquid. If you can, buy one large bottle – it’s better than using a bunch of smaller ones.
4 Stop using sandwich bags.
Get a lunchbox and re-use it.
5 Take your own re-fillable cup into coffee shops.
Starbucks and a few of the other big chains have introduced initiatives that reward customers for bringing in their own re-usable cups. Both coffee cups and the lips are non-recyclable. Now think of the number of take-out coffees you’ve had in the last week, month and year – and now multiply by the adult population of the world… That’s a lot of plastic!
6 Avoid single serve packaging.
I know almost everything comes wrapped in plastic so this might seem like an almost impossible task, but just be mindful of it and when there is an alternative, take it.
7 Use silverware (or edible!) instead of plastic utensils.
Keep a set at the office, keep a set in your handbag, and take a set on your summer picnic. It might be a pain but there does need to be a little bit of effort on our part.
8 Stop using straws
You don’t need to drink from a straw anymore – you’re no longer a toddler. If you’re in a bar and the barman is about to put a straw (or three!) in your cocktail, decline. If you are insistent on using a straw there are stainless steel options out there. Like your utensils, carry one in your bag.
If you have any more suggestions about ways to use less plastic do add them to the comments section - I'd love to know.