I loved living by the ocean when I moved there a couple of years ago. It was so calming to listen to and beautiful to look at, that it made me forget I was living near a huge city and a desert. It was honestly a lifesaver.
I have travelled to many parts of the world and dipped my toes in many an ocean, sea and river, and I have always been amazed by them. I have to admit that I’m a little afraid of the vast oceans, but I am still absolutely fascinated by the life that grows and feeds there. From the huge blue whales and my favourite penguins to the tiny little jellyfish and coral reefs, I can’t help but be in awe of how amazing our planet is.
The Earth’s surface is made up of 71% water, therefore by taking care of our oceans, we’re taking care of the majority of our planet. So why do we cause it so much damage? We no longer have the excuse of not knowing what we are doing. We have scientific evidence that tells us again and again what is happening and how we can prevent it. Plastic pollution, we now know, is not only those larger bits of rubbish that finds its way into the ocean. It’s also tiny microscopic pieces of plastic that we have been flooding the ocean with, sometimes unknowingly, and poisoning the life that lives and feeds there.
We’re all guilty, knowingly or otherwise, of polluting our waterways with plastic. I know that I’m not perfect, I certainly use plastic, but I’ve been making a conscious effort over the last few years to reduce how much I use and to educate myself which products it may be hiding in (I’m looking at you teabags). Obviously there is a lot of plastic that’s hard to avoid, but I think if we can try to avoid single use plastic, that’s definitely a start. Every change is a positive one and we have already been shown how something as simple as a 5p fee on, or complete removal of, plastic bags dramatically reduces the amount we use.
When we visited the beaches around St. Pete in Florida I couldn’t help but notice how clean the beaches were. I know that the Pinellas county has a recycling program, whereby participating parks and beaches have a number of places for depositing your recycling, including plastic bottles, which I’m sure helps immensely with the state of their beaches.
Here are a few ways in which each of us can reduce our plastic footprint and in turn help our oceans and the rest of our beautiful planet.
I feel like this is one we can easily change. Especially in the UK where our tap water is perfectly fine to drink so we have absolutely no excuse for buying bottled water. Water bottles are absolutely everywhere, but try to find a BPA free (a type of toxic plastic used in food and drink containers) and /or stainless steel one. S’well bottles are fantastic and you can find them easily throughout the USA, UK and Canada (try Oliver Bonus in-store or Amazon in the UK). They come in a huge range of colours and a number of sizes so you’re sure to find one that fits your needs. They’re a little pricier than a regular water bottle, but they’re condensation proof, and keep cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot drinks hot for up to 12 hours. I carry my S’well bottle absolutely everywhere. I also reuse the tiny plastic water bottles from aeroplanes when I have a small bag that doesn’t fit my S’well, they’re really very useful. Eliminating single use plastic is a step in the right direction at least.
I know there will be some people who don’t like the taste of their tap water, so maybe add some cucumber, orange slices, mint or lemon to obscure it. Or sometimes filtering it can change the taste too. Either way there’s no need for bottled water when you can refill your bottles at home and take them anywhere you need to go.
Try to refuse plastic bags, where they are still available, and use reusable bags or totes instead. I always try to have a fold up shopping bag in my handbag and in England we always have a stash of reusable supermarket bags in the car ready for shopping. They are so ridiculously useful for everything from food to books and from clothes to day-to-day life. I can’t tell you how useful my little Onya fold away rucksack (not currently available on their website) is for walking, biking and shopping in Lima, and it’s also made from recycled plastic bottles, which I think is amazing. And think about it, if you buy heavy things, the handles of a reusable bag won’t break, unlike a plastic one, so that’s always a bonus. Obviously there are times when it can’t be helped, but reducing as much as possible is a step in the right direction. According to The Guardian, the 5p tax on plastic bags in the UK resulted in a 90% decline in the use of plastic bags, which is an enormous result.
You may be thinking ‘But takeaway cups are made from cardboard’, and you would be right, however they are often lined with a plastic coating which helps to stop the coffee soaking into the cardboard. Most paper recyclers can’t recycle this coating so it ends up in the landfill anyway. Plus, some of the plastic lids used are non recyclable, so these cups are really not helping the plastic problem at all. So what can you do? Do as the Italians do and take 5 minutes to sit down for your coffee and have it in an actual mug. If you’re on the run, take a reusable coffee cup into your local coffee chain and have them fill that up for you instead, and they will often give you a discount for doing so.
Plastic straws are absolutely not biodegradable and a lot end up in the ocean. I’ve even seen a photo of a turtle with a straw stuck in its nose; it’s horrific. If you’re partial to sugary or coloured drinks, or have sensitive teeth, then using a straw is definitely better for your dental health. But does that mean that we need to choose between our health and the oceans’? That’s where reusable, washable straws come into play. You can find ones made from stainless steel, BPA free silicone, acrylic, glass or bamboo, which you use and then wash afterwards. Almost all will go through the dishwasher, so you don’t even have to wash them by hand. Lazy washer uppers rejoice!
This has been a huge deal within the beauty and skincare industry recently due to the revelation that a wide variety of skincare products and toiletries, namely scrubs and toothpastes, contain microbeads of plastic that can end up in the ocean. Once in the sea they attract toxins, and because they never degrade, fish and other sea animals ingest the plastic and then often we eat the sea creature and in turn end up eating the plastic ourselves. Beat The Microbead has a huge amount of information on their site about the problem of micro plastic particles and also an extensive list of products that contain them. You can download an app for peace of mind when shopping for your next lot of toiletries. I know it has saved my skin (literally) a good few times now.
It’s often hard to shop without buying products with a ton of plastic packaging. There was that uproar in 2016 when Whole Foods put a peeled orange in a plastic container. What? Were they crazy? Peel your own orange people, the skin is all the protection an orange needs. However, there are locations where you can go to fill up on anything from laundry detergent to cornflakes using your own container or reusing the last one you bought. The Daily Bread Co-operative in Cambridge is a fantastic store in a warehouse that sells all kinds of products sourced locally, sustainably, and/or eco friendly and everything is cruelty free. They offer a service where you can refill selected cleaning products (I think Ecover) here and receive a discount for doing so. Benefits for everyone! Talking of Ecover, they have refilling stations all over the UK and their washing up liquid and detergent smells divine. The Zero Waster has a list of places where you can shop ‘unpackaged’ goods and a local area guide to zero waste shops near you. Also, if you can get a milkman to deliver your milk, then it comes delivered in glass bottles which get collected when empty and reused. And the circle continues….
This is a fairly new revelation, but so many tea brands have ‘been in hot water’ recently (I do love a pun) over the use of plastic in the teabags themselves. The plastic was found to be used in the sealant of the teabags and with the English being such massive tea drinkers, this is a real problem for us. Luckily, you can always buy loose leaf tea and use a tea infuser and then there’s zero plastic waste. Deep Tea Diver (love this name) infuser anyone?
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
I know that eliminating plastic waste from our lives completely is super ambitious considering how much of our world is constructed with it, but hopefully we can all find a way to reduce our use. Using some of the examples above can help cut this down tremendously.
Alongside these, reusing plastic is a huge help. For example, we reuse the plastic boxes from our Indian takeaways for leftovers in the fridge and packed lunches too. I also reuse my ziplock sandwich bags over and over again for so many things, not only for food. I use them for toiletries when travelling as they can easily be washed out and used again.
We also need to be recycling as much as we can and educating ourselves in what kinds of plastics are able to be recycled. Obviously it’s not only us that need to change, businesses need to do their part too. Recycling needs to be available everywhere, not only at home, and more companies need to be selling their products with no unnecessary packaging or packaging that is easily recycled or recycled itself (supermarkets could definitely do with a reduction in their plastic packaging). For example, Lush wrap their bath bombs in paper, use recycled plastic packaging and sell shower gels with no packaging at all.
If we all do a little to help, I’m hopeful that we can dramatically reduce the plastic waste produced that is filling our oceans. After all, we want our oceans to be clean, safe and teeming with life a long time after we’ve gone.
“We’re at a unique stage of our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet and never before have we had the power to do something about that. Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed of all life on earth, now depends on us.”
David Attenborough – Blue Planet II
Photos from St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island Beach and Fort de Soto County Park, all in Pinellas County, Florida.