After our recent launch of Delphis Eco's 100% recycled plastic packaging, we caught up with Emily Haggett who spends her time campaigning for plastic free coastlines in her role at Surfer's Against Sewage (SAS) to chat to her about plastic pollution.
Emily, who grew up by the sea graduated with a MEnvSci degree from the University of Southampton. She tells me that was where sustainability was first brought to her attention. It was during her internship with Surfers Against Sewage in her penultimate year of university that lead her to being offered a job after she graduated. Emily is now he Plastic Free Coastlines Project Manager for SAS and she runs their ongoing campaign Plastic Free Coastlines. Their aim is to reduce people's reliance on single-use plastics, a goal we share.
Plastic Free Coastlines Campaign - credit: SAS.
We've all been transfixed by Blue Planet II (Sunday nights, 8pm BBC 1) and the effects of plastic pollution is inescapable. David Attenborough gently narrated the heartbreaking story of the pilot whale carrying her dead calf. The suspected cause of death? Plastic pollution poisoning the mother's milk.
Image credit: BBC.
It's no longer an option to sit back and ignore the problem. Plastic pollution is now everywhere, it's in the fish you ate for lunch, it's broken into the sand you walked on over the summer, it's clogging seas of desert islands never before touched by plastic.
Emily explained to me how tiny beads of plastic deposit amongst the sand, "plastic is such a versatile material, it is lightweight, durable and can be turned into pretty much any shape. As a result the trade of plastic around the globe is massive. Plastic is transported in it's raw form - as 'nurdles'. These are essentially tiny plastic beads of all colours, and when transported to their destination can be melted down into the desired product. Billions of these nurdles are transported every day and many are often spilled into the sea. We often find thousands of nurdles on our beaches, they are tiny so quite hard to see but once you spot them you cannot unsee them. The other type of plastic we see are 'secondary micoplastics'. These are smaller pieces of plastic that result from the degradation of larger plastic debris in our oceans. And this ends up on our beaches."
Plastic nurdles, image credit: onthestrandline
The Ellen McArthur Foundation recently estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. A stark fact that could become reality in just 33 years time.
When we talk about single-use plastics, "we are referring to those items made out of plastics that are designed to only be used once. Things such as plastic water bottles, plastic straws, plastic coffee cups and lids etc". On average these items are used for just 20 minutes and then end up in our environment indefinitely.
In the US and the UK we throw away 550 million straws every single day. Eight to twelve million tonnes of plastic are then dumped in our oceans per year. During Recycle Week as part of our shock initiative, we shared the viral video of a sea turtle having a straw removed from its nostril by marine biologists. The video is labelled as 'containing scenes that some may find upsetting', ironic that we're still being shielded from what we are doing to the ocean. The eight minute video is excruciating to watch, with the turtle being held down, bleeding and gripping its eyes tightly shut.
Image credit: Youtube
It's now estimated that green sea turtles are 50% more likely to ingest some form of plastic than they were thirty years ago.
I asked Emily about a time she'd seen plastic affecting marine life in her role with the SAS or via her passion for surfing. She told me it's all too often. "Unfortunately, It's common to see dead sea birds in the tie line that have become entangled with plastic debris from the ocean, such as fishing nets or packaging. Surfers spend a lot of time in the sea paddling out to catch waves. I think I could count on one hand the amount of times I've actually been in the water and not seen any plastic. I regularly have plastic water bottles floating past me, crisp packets and plastic bags. It's pretty upsetting because this is the habitat for thousands of marine creatures and we are ruining it through out consumer culture habits. In Cornwall we have lots of wildlife, including seals. Frequently seals get entangled in plastic such as ghost gear (discarded fishing nets) and packaging, thankfully in Cornwall we have the Seal Sanctuary who rescue and free the seals, releasing them back safely."
Image credit: SAS.
Emily's runs the SAS campaign which sees communities linking up to reduce their use of single-use plastics to avoid them ending up in the ocean. The Plastic Free Coastlines project asks members of the public to sign up as 'Community Leader' for their area and they try to achieve goals that the SAS set them. Once all the objectives are obtained the community can be granted 'Plastic Free Coastlines Approved' status, and the area is added to the SAS online map that visitors and tourists can view. The SAS currently has 120 community leaders across 80 communities in the UK - impressive. I'm proud when Emily tells me that my home county of Devon just passed the Plastic Free Coastlines motion last week!
I was interested to learn more about the SAS beach clean ups that happen bi-annually. Emily told me, "If anyone wants to find out if a beach cleans are happening in their area, head to the SAS website - sas.org.uk to view their map. This year saw us run the largest Autumn Beach Clean week with over 12,300 volunteers cleaning over 350 beaches across the UK. Our amazing volunteers removed 13,913kg of marine pollution which included over 11,450 plastic bottles". What an amazing effort.
Image taken from SAS Beach Clean up gallery (sas.org.uk)
I asked Emily what she thought of Delphis Eco buying recycled milk bottles and re-blowing them into packaging that can be reused over and over. She said, "This is really innovative way of reusing recycled milk bottles - it's something we often find on our beaches due to improper disposal. It's fantastic to have this message being spread in an inner city area such as London where it's often easy to disconnect from issues such as marine plastic pollution. Many people don't realise, but often plastic litter found on our coasts starts its journey being dropped as litter inland in cities such as London where it blows into nearby rivers and water course and then is funnelled out to sea, where it causes damages to the environment. If once used, this packaging is either reused or recycled and correctly collected to prevent this happening it seems like a really good idea."
With thanks to Emily Haggett.