Enough plastic is thrown away every year to circle the world 4 times. A million plastic bottles are used per minute around the world. An estimated 15-51 trillion pieces of plastic now litter the world’s oceans. Such startling facts are collated in Turning the Tide on Plastic by journalist, broadcaster and eco expert Lucy Siegle in which she points out that, without big action, at the current rate, pieces of plastic will outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050.
Lucy Siegle is a beach clean veteran of many years standing – she picks plastic out of the Thames in London daily in her canoe, and she’s a trustee and ambassador for Surfers Against Sewage ,who created the Plastic Free Communities model and mobilised 68,000 people to turn out for beach cleans in the UK last year. We often believe that change begins at home, but Lucy also sees big opportunities to act on plastic when you’re travelling.
‘There are several reasons for this,’ she explains. ‘Firstly you’re often in an environment when you’re seeing the plastic pandemic first hand. When you swim in a soup of plastic pieces, you can’t turn away from the issue. Secondly, much of travelling is all about planning and preparation. It’s the perfect time to build in strategies that minimise your exposure to and use of plastic. Lastly, you are on unfamiliar ground, often where rubbish facilities are lacking. The reality is that the plastic pollution you generate has a high chance of ending up in the environment you’ve come to see.’
To help, Siegle builds on the age-old framework of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ to suggest six more practical strategies we can act on right now.
Collect your own data about your consumption, so that you drive your own success. At home, I do this by putting a grid on my fridge next to the bin. Everytime plastic flows into my kitchen, it’s recorded. When you’re travelling, every time you use plastic, note it on your phone. This is great data. Next trip, you will try and cut the amount of plastic you use.
Swap the ecological hooligans that colonise your cupboard, gym bag and commute, for cool high-function, low-impact alternatives. A durable lightweight next- generation water bottle made from stainless steel and a refillable coffee cup (the rCUP is made from recycled disposable coffee cups and is leak-proof) are almost as important as carrying your passport.
Find your steely inner core to form a robust defence that will stop unnecessary plastic getting into your life. Good at languages? ‘No thank you I prefer to go plastic free’ in response to unnecessary plastic bags, single use cutlery, receipts etc should become a phrase book essential. The global plastic pandemic has struck a chord with people all over the world, so many people will understand where you’re coming from. Say it with a smile. It works the world over.
Navigate the places and products that bring everyday life up to speed without using disposable plastic. Fill up your water bottle wherever you come across a water source. Remember to empty them when going through security. Airports including Heathrow and Gatwick in the UK have recently installed water refill stations.
I get excited about a trip away for all the usual reasons, but for me there’s an added incentive. I get to utilise all the plastic empties I’ve been saving to reuse. From ‘holiday’ sized shampoo bottles that the manufacturer intended as single use but which I have a plan for, to the old chocolate container that I keep my jewellery in when I’m travelling, my suitcase is full of plastic containers being given a second chance.
When you’re away from home it pays to develop a cutting-edge way of solving plastic challenges. You can’t just rely on recycling. For starters it might be hard to figure out what the recycling system is, or there may not be any infrastructure for dealing with waste at all. Your aim is always to be part of the solution, not the pollution. So think about the 8Rs: Record, Reduce, Replace, Refuse, Reuse, Refill, Rethink, Recycle and minimise your plastic consumption first. You don’t want to be responsible for ruining the beautiful landscape you’ve come to see!
Want to read more? Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle is out in paperback, published by Trapeze.