Last month, in the UK, the kids were off for a week for half-term. I asked my 6-year-old what she wanted to do and one of the things she asked to do was litter picking on the beach.
Being an eco-warrior myself, I couldn’t help smiling.
We usually go litter picking in our local area and we have had positive comments and smiles from people passing but we’ve never done it on the beach.
It was a bright, sunny day on the beach in Folkestone, Kent, armed with our litter pickers we asked my friend, Rachel, to join us as she lived locally.
When we’re litter picking in our local park, we tend to find the usual suspects; crisp packets, McDonald’s packaging, sweet wrappers, bottles and polystyrene fast food trays.
Here’s a few photos of what we found at the beach
We found the odd bottle cap and sweet wrappers but the main thing we found was bit of nets used in fishing. There were so many little pieces of them littered everywhere along the stretch of beach.
Who knows how long they’ve been in the sea or sitting on the beach ready to be washed out again by the tide and we all know what this does to wildlife.
If you’ve got 30-minutes to spare, grab a litter picker and a bag and pick up litter – it doesn’t even have to be at the beach. You’ll get a bit of exercise, some fresh air, you’ll be doing something for your community and it’s free to do!
Over the past year, I’ve become more aware of my carbon footprint which has made me make some changes in my life. The things we buy have a carbon footprint; production, transport etc so I’ve stopped buying certain items I realised I personally didn’t need anymore
I’ve actively refuse to buy drinks in a plastic bottle. I have quite a few reusable bottles and when I go out with my daughter, I make sure I fill up a bottle for her. She also has a water bottle she takes to school everyday. When my partner comes home from a football match after eating his fried chicken on the train, he always buys a plastic bottle on water. I’ve used this bottle for things like watering the plants in the house. Ideally, I would prefer if he took a water bottle with him…I’m working on it!
Shopping Plastic Bags
Reusable bags can be bought from anywhere and there is no excuse to have to purchase plastic carrier bags from the supermarket. It helps if you have a few bags in your handbag, car, workplace desk. They will always come in handy.
I know this is going to sound like a weird one but I love eating strawberries and they are always sold in the plastic tub with a sheet of bubble wrap at the bottom. I know strawberries can be easily bruised and need protection but this packaging really irks me. I started growing strawberries in my garden and although I won’t be able to eat strawberries all year round, when they’re in season, I nip out to the garden and pick what I want.
The only time I buy clothes brand new is when I need underwear, which isn’t that often anyway. Some friends and family turn their noses up at charity shops but it’s never bothered me. Quite a few months ago I needed a hat a scarf, I washed my hat and shrunk, a lot! I found a hat and scarf for £2 each, bargain! I bought a pair of jeans for £3. I even buy furniture too.
I’ve stopped using cling film a while ago and I’m trying to get my Mum to do the same. For leftover food, I put the food in reusable plastic containers or reusable wraps. There are plenty on the market to choose from.
I don’t buy new dishcloths anymore, I just chuck them in the washing machine with the rest of the washing.
Loose fruit and veg
I make a conscious effort to buy loose fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. I will never understand why buying four apples loose costs more than buying four apples in plastic wrap. I think it’s something to do with the grade of the item but I think it’s just a cop out. Give us more choice.
Making changes to our habits takes time, when we realise we’ve changed your shopping habits, we need to keep adding more. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
On the run up to July 2020, I started noticing the hashtag #PlasticFreeJuly. For someone who has been making changes in an effort to reduce plastic use, I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of them before.
Based in Australia, Plastic Free July started in 2011 and have an amazing website offering a wealth of ideas of how you can reduce your plastic use at home, school, work, businesses and within local communities. If you’re stuck of ideas, check out their ‘What Others Do’ page for some fantastic inspiration.
In light of this, I decided to take on the #PlasticFreeJuly challenge. I started looking at what changes I could make to reduce my plastic use.
Fruit and Veg
Every Tuesday and Thursday, there is a fruit and veg stall and when I need something, I buy from the stall (#SupportLocal). When I used to buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, I found it frustrating that the only options available to me was pre-packaged and, in most cases, more than what I needed. At least buying from a stall, I can buy what I needed. However, the downside I found was that they offer to package your items in a plastic carrier bag. Nope, not for me. I have a small bag that I leave in my bag I only use for loose food. I also started growing my own strawberries at home so no need to buy them.
I’m a tea-loving Brit and after the shock of discovering that some teabags contain micro plastics, the thought of little bits of plastic swimming around in my tea made me feel a little queasy. In light of this new information, a solution was urgently needed. After some research, it turns out that there are some brands who advertise their products don’t contain plastic but one thing I’ve been aware of in the past, not necessarily by tea bag brands, is that when a company changes something about their product, they aren’t always as vocal or transparent as they should be about the changes. I guess, as a consumer, I’m not that trusting. Therefore, I found a place that sells loose tea. I had to buy a tea infuser and using loose tea did take a bit of getting used to but I don’t notice it anymore.
I’ve been waxing since my teens and I’ve always used wax strips available in shops, yes, that ones that can’t be recycled. So, I decided to convert to sugar waxing, however, I don’t think I use sugar waxing how it was intended. I appears that you should roll up a ball, smooth it on your skin and pull it off quickly, I found that hurts WAY TOO MUCH. I quickly realised that I needed strips of some sort so I cut up a cotton shirt my partner no longer needed into strips and used them instead. I’m not going to lie, it still hurts but I don’t feel like my skin is being ripped off like shop bought wax strips and it’s made of natural ingredients; sugar, lemon, salt and water. It’s a lot cheaper too, to wax both of my legs cost me eighty pence. Bargain and nothing to landfill!
I’m really happy about the changes I’ve made so far and I won’t be waiting until next July to make more changes, I will continue to do so until I can reduce my plastic use as much as I possibly can. What changes did you make for #PlasticFreeJuly?
Due to human activity, we are accelerating climate change, I believe this to be true. Global warming has occurred in Earth’s history, the difference is that we, humans, are accelerating it. But I began looking at it differently since I started studying for an BSc in Environmental Science.
We aren’t killing the planet; we are killing life on the planet. Two very different things but just as serious.
The earth is 4.6 billion years old and has survived five mass extinctions:
Ordovician–Silurian extinction – 439 million years ago
Late Devonian extinction – 364 million years ago
Permian–Triassic extinction – 251 million years ago
Triassic–Jurassic extinction – 199 million to 214 million years ago
Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction – 65 million years ago (Asteroid)
From my studies, the third mass extinction, Permian–Triassic extinction, which was the deadliest, wiped out about 75% of life on land and 95% of life in the ocean. 95%, that’s huge! Especially since life actually began in the oceans and made its way onto land. Despite this devastation, some form of life was still able to continue and evolved. The fifth mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs wasn’t as devastating as the third one and that was due to an asteroid colliding with earth.
Whenever the planet has experienced an extinction, Earth has always been able to regenerate itself and there is no reason to believe it can’t do that again. However, I do wonder whether humans will be part of the future. Although we are an arrogant species wielding the superiority sword, we are also incredibly fragile. A little fact I learned during my studies; 95% of ALL life that has EVER lived on earth is extinct.
It is believed by some that we are in the sixth extinction event, Holocene extinction. As our CO2 parts per million is at the highest level than at any recorded time in the past, something has to give. We are on a path of destruction and the crazy thing is that not everyone is on board with this.
We humans really do need to change our habits instead of playing lip service. I don’t believe we, humans, can stop the sixth extinction. However, we do have the capability to slow if we all worked together. The painful truth is that the officials we elect have so much power and are able to make colossal changes but they just aren’t doing enough. In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to in the world to pass a law requiring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and we’re not even the richest economy in the world!
I believe in science, and no one knows how this is going to play out. Scientists are providing us with their best predictions based on various models but these are being readjusted because certain factors are accelerating the problem. There will always be variable factors; number of people living on the planet, the next pandemic and the resulting loss of life.
I’m still at the early stages in my educational journey, maybe my views may change along the way. That’s what I want out of my education; learning, listening to different opinions and forming my own conclusions based on the facts in front of me.
Geologists can tell a lot about history from rock layers built up over millions and millions of years. In the very distant future when more intelligent species start investigating the planet’s past, they will find our legacy in the rocks, a thin layer of plastic pinpointing the age of humans.
The Story of Plastic was aired in the UK on Earth Day 22nd April 2020. I found the film to be incredibly moving giving us the story of not just where plastic ends up but also where it begins.
Since the 1950s, plastic was seen as an incredible invention with multiple uses and since then it has weaved itself into every aspect of our lives. We are starting to discover the true cost of this material that never actually goes away.
We have been encouraged to separate our rubbish and ensure we recycle as much as we possibly can. As well as metals, glass and paper, we put our plastic in our recycling bins in good faith believing it is being taken away and something useful is made from it, after all, that’s what the word recycle means, doesn’t it? This film shows us what happens to our plastic once it has been collected from our bins.
The focus at the start of the plastic journey was a plastic processioning plant in Texas, USA, where toxic chemicals are released into the local water and air. Tiny plastic pellets end up into local rivers and will eventually be ingested by local marine life which will inevitably enter the food chain. The cancer rates and health issues in the local areas are shockingly high; child leukemia, infertility and respiratory issues.
What I found shocking was that a product sold in a European country displays that it is recyclable but the same product sold in an Asian country in sachets which cannot be recycled. Decisions made in these boardrooms are adding to the plastic problem faced in Asia and companies should be responsible for installing the necessary waste infrastructure.
What is plastic recycling?
The film shows plastic sorted from India and the Philippines discussing the issues faced when it comes to recycling. One point that struck me was that the whole recycling industry is only possible because there is poverty in the world, who else will do it? Most of the plastic from the West is shipped to Asian countries to deal with and it is hand sorted. Unlike other materials, there are around 80 different categories plastic falls into and therefore the sorting process is a time-consuming one.
When a plastic is sorted and can be ‘recycled’, it is washed, melted down and chopped into plastic pellets; the dirty water used to clean the plastic is dumped into a local waterway leading to pollution, the melting process emits harmful chemicals to the workers, who do not have any protective clothing. Incinerators come with their own set of problems too; skin rashes, increase in cancer rates and other health issues.
It turns out that plastic recycling is a myth.
Who does the buck stop with?
Fossil fuel companies have aired their concerns about the pollution caused by plastic but they seem to prefer shifting the blame onto consumers rather than admitting their products are ill-designed. The film shows that these companies aim their products towards the Asian market flooding them with single-use plastics forcing them to be reliant on these products while hiding behind the excuse of a rise in demand.
I would highly recommend everyone watching this film. The plastic issue is everyone’s problem, not just Asian countries (where the west are dumping their plastic).
If you’re interested in this eye-opening film, click below for the trailer
On a very bitter, cold Saturday morning, I joined my first ever litter pick in Ashford. The area targeted for litter picking was a park in Ashford called Victoria Park.
The litter pick was organised by a local group who have a Facebook page called Keep Ashford Clean. I’ve seen their litter picking events on my feed for a while and this time I decided to stop thinking about it and just do it. It’s only two hours of volunteering.
We all met by the fountain at Victoria Park at 1pm and there were in total about 10 volunteers.
We were all provided with the equipment; a high-visibility vest, a litter picker, gloves, a bag for rubbish and a bag for recycling. We were split into teams of two and sent off on our way to cover areas of the park. Although, we were in pairs, it wasn’t really easy to have a chat with your buddy because there was so much ground to cover.
Here’s how I got on with my litter pick
Once I got underway, I put my headphones in and started listening to a playlist I had downloaded; *Nysnc, East 17, Jon Bon Jovi, Backstreet Boys and Timbaland, I was in my element. No judgement, please 😉
I was under the impression that I would mainly find drink cans and bottles, but this wasn’t the case. I found so many crisp packets and sweet wrappers, the items that can’t go in the recycling bag for Ashford Borough Council, and these wrappers get everywhere! You really have to look in hedges, fencing, play areas. It was a little sad to see.
About 45 minutes into my litter pick, my fingers started going numb. We had been provided gloves but despite wearing my own gloves underneath, the tips of my fingers were struggling. Despite this, I carried on.
With the rise of knife crime in this country, I did wonder whether anyone had ever found any knives, I asked my ‘buddy’ and she said there had been cases of knives being found. And not just knives, needles too. She said needles were mostly found in the play area! Imagine taking your child to the park to play on the swings and slides and finding a needle!
About an hour and a half in, I started noticing other volunteers moving towards the water fountain so I started litter picking in that direction and arrived back to the fountain about an hour and 45 minutes after we started.
I was astonished by the amount of bags we filled!
The blue bags were rubbish and the clear bags were for recycling. The volunteers even found a TV, bicycle tire and what looks like part of a child’s scooter. In just two hours, this is what we collected!
It doesn’t make sense
I never understand why people litter? When I was growing up I was always taught to put your rubbish in the bin and if you couldn’t find a bin, put it in your pocket and wait until you get home and throw you rubbish away. When I’m on the school run, I do see kids drop things on the floor and it really annoys me, but it’s not always kids, it’s adults too. Just because they have no pride in where they live, they have no respect for others.
People dropping litter isn’t the only way litter in found on the roads. Council’s clearly aren’t emptying the bins quickly enough so when they are overflowing, and bit of wind and the rubbish goes everywhere. Council’s need to take more responsibility too. There also needs to be an element of common sense, although that seems to be lacking nowadays, if the bin is overflowing, don’t keep trying to add to it!
I hate littering, always have done always will do and I will ensure my little one knows not to litter.
Despite the cold, I enjoyed myself. I felt a sense of achievement just for two hours volunteering and hopefully the people who use Victoria Park regularly appreciate it the work that was put in to make their park nicer.
I look forward to the next week and hopefully it won’t be as cold next time!
If you’re interested in reading about what I’m doing to be greener, check out my blog and if you’re interested in signing up to my newsletter, click here, I promise not to spam you.
I help busy mums to adopt sustainable living practices for their home and families without stress, overwhelm or judgement