Plastic and me, an ongoing journey
It’s around the mid-’90s, I am close to 10 years old, and we go on a family trip down to the coast. I didn’t grow up close to the ocean, but it always drew some magic in me, as I found fascinating the mysteries of its depths, the weird animals, the freedom of swimming, and the respect I gave it from that first time I almost drown under my bodyboard. I remember these trips I made with my family with joy and love. But I remember not really nice things too. I guess that was the first time I experience ocean pollution. I remember going down to the little beach with my mum to do some bodyboarding when I was able to spot a diaper and a plastic bag floating along. As my little sisters were in their diaper stage, it kind of got stuck in my mind during that day. These marine litter sightings were rare back then, and I never thought, at my short age, the significant problem these daily items would become.
Now it’s 2019, I am almost 32 years old, and the picture is very different from that ocean of my childhood. Nowadays, diapers, plastic bags, cigarette butts, and other plastic items are the typical findings in my beach walks. And all I wonder is when this plastic madness will reach its end. Sure, there are so many things going on in this crazy world, that plastic pollution could sound like a futile thing to worry about. What about the climate emergency? Wildlife trafficking? Global hunger? And the list goes on and on. I decided a while ago that it was hard for a single individual to fix all the wrong stuff happening in the world, but that at least with putting my energies into one of these issues, the world would look a bit greener the next day (plus it was less depressing to see it that way).
No, I am not plastic-free (yet), but every day I put a little grain of sand towards more conscious consumption and responsible lifestyle. I would like to say I try to go low waste as much as I can, with few hiccups on the way…like when I ruined my composting that it’s due for a fix soon….but without trying, how are you meant to learn? That is why I totally love this quote I saw somewhere a long time ago: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
So how and why I got into this whole plastic conversation?
Well…I guess it all started when, after finishing my Veterinary degree, I decided to try my luck in Cairns, Australia. After a few weeks looking for animal-related jobs without much success, I decided I would go for option B: The Great Barrier Reef. And I actually got the job! For the next 10 months, I found myself calling the reef my office, taking people snorkelling and diving, and cleaning up litres and litres of spew (is not always a glamorous job!). I started this new sort of relationship with that unknown old friend, the ocean, and I discovered its underwater secrets. I made friends with the fish, the turtles, the coral polyps, and I learnt about everyone’s role in this majestic ecosystem. Until one day, while working as a lookout, I spotted the evil: a whole bunch of marine debris floating towards our boat. That day I couldn’t stop thinking about the turtles and little animals living in that reef sanctuary, as videos from all around the world about the impacts of plastics in marine wildlife were becoming trending topic in social channels. I thought about that turtle with the straw in her nostril. I thought about the turtles and whales eating plastic bags. And I had nightmares about how my new marine friends would suffer and die to extinction. After all, they say that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
At the same time, I started volunteering with the GBR divers group, tracking a piece of coral during the summer of 2016. For the ones more familiar with diving and coral bleaching, 2016 would be probably well-known for you. For those who are not, that year, the Great Barrier Reef experienced one of the most significant and most catastrophic bleaching events, and I was there to witness it. Then, while sailing through the Coral Sea with some friends for a dive adventure, I found myself with another true: Plastic was reaching faraway places. And this was way before watching that documentary called Plastic Ocean. During one of the snorkel times around Holmes Reef, I saw something foreign floating along with the corals. I got closer, and I realised it was a plastic bag….200km from shore! And in that very moment, with some tears in my eyes, I decided I would make a change in my life.
The change started with the way I ate, becoming a very personal decision to stop eating beef (I later stopped eating all meats). This decision was because of the relationship between the beef industry and greenhouse gas emissions, which affect the reef ecosystems. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite trying to defend the reef while purchasing products that would have an impact on it. Then it came the reusable bag and coffee cup, as they were the two easy items to transition away from. I added a couple of reusable straws, started taking my own cutlery to places, and always had a reusable water bottle with me.
I guess that was stage 1: Karin opens her eyes. Now it’s like Stage 2: Karin is learning something new. Every day I learn a new thing about zero waste! Like today, where I found plastic-free toothpaste (big yay!). And while some days you might be a bit less good in terms of plastic use, the good thing is to try your best, to be kind with yourself, and to open your eyes too to all those fantastic things out there that can help us towards a lower waste life.