Beach Treasures or Trash
Even my earliest memories of beach walks always involve my sisters and me being mesmerized by little shells and rocks we found and collected. The Little Mermaid was one of our favorite movies (we still know the songs by heart) and of course, we identified with the beautiful little mermaid collecting the treasures she found on sunken ships. We imagined the spirits of mermaids in the shells and interpreted the shapes of rocks according to what they reminded us of, a camera for instance.
As a rare two week summer vacation on the island of Crete (Greece) with my family comes to an end, we have once more collected little shells that we found at the beach. By now, my oldest sister is a goldsmith. She finds a lot of inspiration in nature, especially in the beauty of the sea and uses shells in her art. We still see the uniqueness and the beauty in what we find. The nostalgia of carrying a piece of that beach from that special day of our vacation still reserves its place in my heart. However, walking even along some of the quietest beaches of the island of Crete, what you find are not just shells and rocks anymore. What you find, is often trash.
It has become a habit for us to collect at least the plastic that surrounds us, to take out any plastic that floats next to us in the sea whenever we go swimming. The photo I uploaded for this blog entry shows what I found at the beach lying in the sand next to our towels, within a few steps of walking. As you can see, the plastic problem is not only about straws, although I am beyond grateful for the movement towards a world free of plastic straws (with reusable bamboo or steel straws or the creative use of macaroni as straws - who'd need them anyways?), the plastic problem is much bigger than that. We are not only drowning in our plastic oceans. We are in the process of creating a plastic planet.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, recent statistics and researchers' estimations paint a gloomy picture: we're headed for a future with more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. There are massive patches of trillions of pieces of plastics in the waters of our blue planet, made visible through video footage. The urgency of change doesn't seem to quite catch us, if we're not right in the middle of it. Most places that suffer from the most obvious plastic pollution seem to be far away. Who in Europe cares about the Pacific, if they never go there? What makes Indonesia relatable, if I go for a swim in the lake close-by? Or the public swimming pool (which is so much more comforting anyways, because, well, there are no plants. No fish either, by the way)?
So the most visible plastic may be swimming and floating around areas we don't necessarily care about. Part of the amount may come from ships. But plastic pollution is a matter that we all should feel responsible for, as the majority of that trash originates from our landfills. It makes its way into the sea via runoff, the wind, or rivers and accumulates in our beautiful blue.
But plastic pollution is not just a massive carpet of trash floating on top of the water, visible to the eye willing to see. Plastic pollutes our oceans more like smog, as it degrades and turns into tiny little plastic pieces. Marine life suffers extremely from this situation, needless to say. Apart from those dying from these tiny plastics, the xenoestrogens, hormone-disrupting chemicals found in plastic, play havoc with their hormonal systems (they have the same effect on the human system, by the way).
Let's face it though, our planet is an amazing source of life and like our bodies, constantly making up for the stuff we do, breathing and fighting and alive. If we change, our planet's health will. Let's do a little something and breathe life back into the deep blue!
If you feel a little helpless and don't know where to begin, here are some of my recommendations to become a more conscious consumer, 'cause really: recycling ain't as good as reusing or avoiding plastics altogether!
1. Get yourself a beautiful reusable water bottle. Materials that I prefer are glass or stainless steel. Buy one that appeals to you aesthetically and carry it with you wherever you go. Easiest way to avoid any single-use plastic bottles, I swear! There are some thermos mugs that you can use for both coffee or water when you're out - instead of grabbing that coffee in a paper or plastic cup. Yes, bad news - the paper cups are usually covered with a thin plastic foil to protect the paper from getting soaked in the beverage you're drinking. We can do better than that.
2. Collect jars from honey, jam etc., wash them thoroughly, remove the labels, and use them as food containers, instead of your own refillable water bottle, or to store foods like cereals, nuts and legumes in your pantry. This saves you money, as you don't have to buy any food containers, and your kitchen cupboards will look lovely and well-organized.
3. Bring your own shopping bag, when you do your groceries. I always carry a tote bag in my bag, just in case I need something. That happens on every other day, because I love to make my meals with very fresh produce and cook intuitively.
4. When doing your groceries, be conscious of the packaging of what you're buying. Are there apples in a plastic foil and loose ones? Grab those without the packaging. Every single time you do this, your choice is like a vote. The way our supply-and-demand-system is designed, everything you choose to buy influences what will be offered!
5. Buy bulk! What are your staple foods? Buy them in bulk instead of small packages every time you do your groceries.
6. Be proactive and communicate that you don't want a straw in your drink. If you want one, why don't you just get one made from bamboo? Or steel? You can neatly fold them in a napkin afterwards and wash it at home. Or, bring your own macaroni. Not kidding, they perfectly fulfill the purpose of slurping that drink.
7. If you are lucky, your supermarket will have garbage bags that are compostable. Buy these instead of the normal plastic bags. Whenever you end up getting plastic bags while shopping, collect them. Reuse them. They are also perfect garbage bags. Though it's more comfortable to use bags for plastic trash, there are plenty of places where you are not by law required to use them for your trash. Look into the regulations that apply for your area!
8. Avoid clothes made from plastic microfibers. Natural materials like cotton allow your skin to breathe better, too, which honestly feels better.
9. Whenever you're outside - by the seaside, up in the mountains, going for a walk in the fields or a forest nearby - and you see trash lying around, collect it. Make it a practice. Let it become a habit. You may not be the one who has left it there, but you are of mankind. One of us has left it there. Be respectful and take it with you. Throw it into a bin nearby. A very smart way of going about this is to carry an empty plastic bag in your bag which you can use to collect the trash.
10. Start a conversation on the packaging wherever you recognize unnecessary and wasteful use of plastic. I'm not judging anyone for avoiding this chat at times, as it requires courage and energy to have this conversation with people who don't have any awareness for this matter. But there are people who meet you with a smile, who are happy about feedback. Don't do it too preachy, 'cause nobody likes to be blamed, but say for example, that it'd make you very happy to see less plastic packaging around your veggies and fruits in the local store. Suggest to your favorite coffee shop to introduce a reduction on beverage prices, if people bring their own refillable mug, instead of getting a single use cup. There are many ways to make this a fruitful and kind interaction, instead of a discussion led by negative energy.
There is so much we can do. Every day, with every choice we make, we have an impact on our environment. Maybe we're not perfect. There might be days, where you forget your mug. Where you forget to bring your extra bag. But the important thing is consistency and trying. The intention to do better and the effort to be proactive and conscious.
I recall one moment on this year's vacation very clearly: my sister and I were swimming back to the shore and about to go back to the beach after a swim. She turned to me and said that she believes this planet once was paradise. But that we are the ones poisoning it. Making dolphins disappear from bays that once were known for their rich marine life and clean waters.
I really wish to keep our Mother Earth healthy by taking better care of ourselves and her. I hope that future generations of little girls like my sisters and me can experience a planet that allows for dreams and fairy tales of mermaids and plenty of fish in the sea, not plastics. Let's make that happen.
Further reading on the David Suzuki Foundation and our Plastic Oceans here