Summer: time for holidays, sea, relax and fun. Also, time to stop, observe and reflect.
This year I’ve been lucky enough to spend part of my time in a place not far from the sea, so I could start taking the first walks on the beach between April and May, when the shore is still not constantly cleaned up by the lifeguards. What I found was a plastic beach: trash at every step.
When I was a child, I used to collect shells and pebbles on the beach; today’s children will find almost only plastic pieces, cotton buds, cigarette butts… Plastic is choking our oceans, hurting animals and our own health.
According to a research made by Legambiente, which has sifted and studied 78 Italian beaches, the most common litter is, in percentage order:
- caps and rings that come from bottles
- cotton buds
- plastic bottles
- cigarette butts
- straws and disposable tableware
- nets for cultivating mussels
In my humble opinion, for what I see when I clean the beaches voluntarily, other waste should be added to this list, because I always find in large quantities:
- plastic bags of snacks, ice creams or candies
- wipes, non-biodegradable
- pads and applicators of internal tampons
- plastic shoppers
Among these, I even happened to run into plastic packaging of cleaning products with, still legible, old currency prices and dates back to the ’70s and ’80s, which may have wandered into the sea since before my birth!
These fragments are not biodegradable and could remain in the environment for 400 years or more. Over time, they break up, becoming very dangerous microplastics that destroy the natural habitat of the oceans and become part of the food chain.
The plastic on the shore or floating on the surface is just the tip of the iceberg of a devastating environmental crisis: in fact, 94% of the plastic that pollutes the seas is hidden from our eyes because it is located on the seabed.
No area of the Earth is free from this problem: in the Pacific Ocean there is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest accumulation zone of ocean plastic on the planet, which measures 1.6 million of km², that is three times the size of France! In another part of the globe, according to the latest studies of the Norwegian Polar Institute, the concentration of plastic in the Arctic ice is comparable, or even higher, than in urban areas.
700 marine species are victims of plastic pollution and their survival is threatened: turtles, seabirds, whales, and dolphins confuse plastic with food and die from indigestion or suffocation.
In particular, plastic litter is upsetting the development of birds living along the coasts, even those protected in natural reserves: polypropylene, polyethylene, fiberglass, polyester, and nylon have taken the place of organic materials in the nests. This happens because the plastic nets used for mussels and abandoned into the sea by the fishermen are easy to model, fiberglass fragments are colored, clearly visible and available on every shore. If the local policies and all the citizens pay more attention to waste disposal, perhaps these birds would return to collect wood branches to build their nests.
Maybe we would pay more attention if we know how much it costs to pollute our oceans: in Europe every year we spend 412 million euros to clean beaches up.
Is there something we can do to change this situation? Get ready: what we can do is really a lot!
- NEVER abandon garbage anywhere in the environment. Even trash thrown away in the mountains sooner or later will come to the sea through the waterways. So we are all involved, even if we live far from the coast.
- Make separate waste collection.
- Do not throw anything into the toilet bowl, apart from the toilet paper (and be careful: wet wipes are NOT biodegradable, therefore do not throw them into the wc please).
- Stop using disposable plastic. For every plastic product that is part of our daily life, there are many ecological and reusable alternatives. Here are some good alternatives (click to see the eco-friendly solution): cotton buds, toothbrushes, bottles, make-up remover wipes, toothpaste tubes, straws, disposable tableware, pre-packaged snacks, sponges to clean the house, sponges for the body.
- Finding pads and tampons on the beach is really disgusting! Girls, use the menstrual cup and washable pads and you will see the benefits for yourself and the environment!
- Choose biodegradable detergents, which do not contribute to the increase in eutrophication and the death of fish.
- Clean up the beach. You can do it alone or in a group, many environmental associations organize cleanups you can join. If an entire beach seems too big for you, you can start collecting just some litter. If everyone does the same, our beaches would always be clean. Let’s start being a good model to follow, inspiring other people. This is a wonderful activity to do with children: they will have fun and grow up aware that throwing waste into the environment is wrong!
- Buy garments made of natural fabrics instead of the synthetic ones that lose microfibres, which contribute to the pollution of the seas.
- Do not use cosmetics and toothpaste that contain microplastics, tiny particles of polyethylene, smaller than 5 millimeters, usually used for scrubs. In some European countries, they have been already banned, but this will only take effect from 2020, so they are still commercialized. If you need to get a scrub, use a face brush or a loofah sponge for the body.
- Ask the brands (via phone calls to customer service, emails, messages on social networks) to change the packaging of their products, making it eco-friendly and compostable, or at least more easily recyclable.
- Do not let balloons fly away. They look cute and harmless, but they can fly for hundreds of miles, land in a river or in the ocean and end their journey in the stomach of a sea animal, killing it.
- Always carry a cloth bag with you and avoid using plastic ones.
- If you are a fisherman or if you know one, pay attention to this point.
Unfortunately, in the oceans there are lots of nets and polystyrene used to contain freshly caught fish.
Fishermen, the sea is your home, keeping it clean is your interest, please don’t abandon waste in high water. But the issue is more complex than it seems: unfortunately in some countries (like mine, Italy), at the moment, the fishermen are not allowed to dispose of the waste found in water for free. In fact, who collects the garbage that gets stuck in the nets are likely to pay the cost of disposal. That’s why fishermen usually throw the litter they found back into the sea. Let’s fight to change this absurdity!
- Finally, support those organizations that work to clean up and protect our oceans, here are some:
From now on, let’s do our best to leave only the footprints of our feet on the beaches of any part of the world.