I took part in a beach clean-up and this is what I learnt

Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

On the 5th of June, for World Environment Day, Laure Cucuron, General Manager for TerraCycle Europe and I, went to Valencia to take part in a beach clean-up led by Paisaje Limpio, a Spanish environmental NGO. The event was organised as part of the Spanish launch of new Head & Shoulders and Fairy bottles, made incorporating 20% and 10% beach plastics respectively.  TerraCycle works with NGO’s across the world who are carrying out beach clean-ups to provide a way for this waste to be recycled and have a second life in the new consumer products. Because today is World Oceans Day, I wanted to share this experience and work with you to hopefully inspire you to take action.

How was the clean-up?

The event started with a quick introduction from Paisaje Limpio, presenting a few alarming facts about marine pollution, amongst them, one stood out : there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050, according to a study from the Ellen MacArthur foundation.

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We divided ourselves into several groups to cover the whole surface of the beach. We were given big bags, to collect and sort  the waste we picked up. There was one for rigid beach plastics (the type of plastics that TerraCycle can recycle for inclusion in the likes of the Head & Shoulders – HDPE plastic and Fairy bottles – PET plastic), one for flexible plastics, one of glass, one for paper and cardboard and one for everything else (I was in charge of this one!). Whilst walking on the beach and practising our Spanish, we collected an impressive amount of waste in around just one hour.

What did we find?

Most of the waste we collected were little items, which are easy to drop and hard to pick up.  Firstly, we found an incredible amount of cigarette butts (the most littered item globally), which are not only made of paper and tobacco as you would think; the filter is made of plastic. They are also the most common waste items found on beaches! Second on the list, small items made of rigid plastics such as lollipop sticks, straws, caps and lids.

We also came across dozens of baby wipes, which absorb water and sand and turn into disgusting waste items that are washed away by the waves. They are often mistakenly flushed down the toilet, despite the fact they are made of plastic fibres and not biodegradable. In addition, there were also lots of flexible plastics such as plastic shopping bags and food wrappers.

We gathered several dozens of bags full of waste in about one hour, and this is just a (very!) tiny  portion of the 8 million tons of plastics that make it into the ocean each year.

What is the impact of marine pollution?

Whist it’s not very pleasant to roll out your beach towel on cigarette butts or meet with a plastic bag while taking a swim, it is not only your visual comfort which is at stake. There is a much worse aspect to marine pollution.

The impact on the environment and on marine life is huge. Animals in the sea mistake plastics for their food and die from eating our waste. Recently, a whale in Thailand was found dead with 80 plastics bag and other plastics debris in its stomach which it had mistaken for food. And smaller fish are not spared either: they swallow microplastics, tiny fragments of plastics which are impossible to pick up. And then when we eat fish, we in turn ingest any microplastics the fish have digested and end up eating our own waste! Plastic is a huge threat to the whole marine ecosystem!

What can we do about it?

Keep your plastics away from the beach. Next time you go to the seaside, think twice. Make sure you bring eco-friendly packaging, and don’t leave them behind when you go home. Avoid plastic bottles, and little waste items such as straws, lollipop sticks or food wrappers which are easily blown away by the marine breeze. If you are a smoker, bring your own portable ashtray and avoid burying cigarette butts in the sand – remember they contain plastics!

Raise awareness. Tell your friends, children, parents, colleagues and beach buddies about marine pollution. Use your social networks to share articles, facts, impactful videos and spread the word. We need everyone on board for this.

Take part in beach clean ups. If you want to commit further, join an environmental NGO, or organise a clean-up on your favourite beach. It is a great opportunity to take a walk by the sea and make friends with other ocean lovers whilst helping the planet.

Recycle your beach plastics with TerraCycle. At TerraCycle, we recycle beach plastics. So far, we have diverted 160 tons of beach plastics, and about 30 tons in Europe, thanks to hundreds of NGOs and thousands of volunteers we have been working with. We have partnered with P&G and SUEZ, to create sustainable and recyclable products made from beach plastics: the Head & Shoulders bottle, made from 25% beach plastics, and a Fairy bottle, made from 10% beach plastics, which are on shelves in France, Germany and Spain, and will soon be available in other European countries and across the world.

Play your role as a consumer. As consumers, we have a huge role to play: by buying products, we vote for brands every day! If you choose to buy eco-friendly packaging made from beach plastics, you will encourage the brands to tackle marine pollution and find solutions for a more sustainable future.

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On World Oceans day, through this article, I want to encourage everyone to take action, because we have the power to make things different. I would like you to think and really reflect on the impact we can have on the world, on an individual and collective scale.

On World Oceans Day, I would like to pay a tribute to the oceans and all the seas across the world. Our oceans are treasures and we need to look after them.  Think about how diverse they are: from the stillness of the Mediterranean Sea, to the huge waves of the Pacific Ocean, or the freezing waters of the Arctic. There is a whole world under the water: fragile corrals, incredible seaweed, giant turtles, massive whales or tiny plankton, beautiful starfish, and thousands of creatures that we have not been able to see yet. Our oceans have inspired writers, painters, they have fascinated adventurers and explorators across the world and centuries. Please don’t let plastics ruins our oceans and join us in this fight against plastic pollution!

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