The amount of microplastics that we are releasing into our waterways each year is truly terrifying. I mean, it’s at the point now where we may as well call this planet ‘Plastic’ rather than ‘Earth’. Dreadful, I know.

Kynance Cove

A main culprit is clothing made of synthetic fabrics. Nylon, polyester, and acrylic are in so many of our clothes and they shed tiny microplastic fibres in the washing machine when on a cycle. Hundreds of thousands of them – microscopic in size – make their way into our water supply. Did you know that 72% of UK tap water now has microplastics in it? The percentage is even more alarming stateside, with 94.4% of tap water contaminated across the pond.

So while you might be making steps towards consuming less plastic packaging (which, don’t get me wrong, is fecking awesome), the very garments you’re living your ‘aspiring zero-waste’ life in might be undoing all your hard work.

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you care about making the world better in more ways than one. So, as well as reducing your plastic consumption, you likely also support renewable energy, fair trade and the slow fashion movement amongst other things. You just want to be a good human, in other words.

If there’s one change I could encourage you to make, it would be to only introduce natural fibres into your life from now on. When the time comes to purchase a new garment or textile in the form of a towel, cleaning cloth or bedding, consider something made of biodegradable materials.

It can be really confusing when you see things like ‘recycled plastic’ on the label. Whether it be plastic bottles recycled into a fleece jacket or into a kitchen sponge. On the one hand, it’s commendable that a company has taken a waste product and created something out of it. However, whether it’s new plastic, or recycled, if it’s going to be washed, it’s going to pollute our seas. That’s the simple truth of it. Until someone invents a ridiculously fine mesh filter and fits all washing machines with it, our synthetic fibres are doing no good. Therefore, might I suggest that when the time comes, you look at something, well, better?

Sustainable textiles brands are already limited, so to throw this into the mix as well I realise is frustrating. However, the more it becomes common knowledge of this way that we’re polluting our water with clothing, the more brands are likely to jump on the bandwagon and support the natural fibre movement.

Support cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, silk, wool, rayon, jute, ramie, lyocell and tencel. And a nifty little one to introduce into your kitchen and bathroom cleaning stash is a luffa – totally compostable scrubby vegetable fibres. Scrub away, and when it’s knackered, compost it and get a new one. Forget all these synthetic cleaning cloths and scourers – opt for natural instead.

 

 

 

 

Photos: Sphynx

I’m a big thinker, right? And I’d say my brain is at capacity most of the time. I’m constantly mulling over how I can improve things. Not just the goings-on of my inner world through various mediums of self-improvement, but also the outer one. From a vegan diet to living plastic-free, I’m on a constant mission to try to do my best with what I have. The world needs to change and I’ve dedicated my life to helping that come to fruition. But there’s an extra element that’s thrown into all this. Guilt. And it eats away at me from time to time.

Let me back-pedal a bit to talk about my time in university. Whilst there, I was a key member of the Amnesty International Society – a society that I still very much support. Nowadays, however, I do so from the sideline rather than actively. When I was heavily involved, my perspective was rather different to how it stands today. When day in, day out, you’re following the stories of the most broken of humanity, you are grateful for simply having a roof over your head and food in your belly. And freedom, of course. Just having those basic things is incredibly wonderful. If you get choice added in too, you’re flying.

But as I say, time went on and I left university and began placing more and more focus on environmental issues. The causes I was fighting for were marine habitats, rainforests, native woodland, animals facing extinction, coral bleaching and microplastic pollution. It became less about the people and more about the environment. If I think about it logically, without a planet there are no people and so of course these are worthy causes to be fighting for. But as I sit here with a regular income, enough money to pick and choose my food, my clothing, my lifestyle, I can’t help but feel an element of guilt.

Millions of people around the world – including many on these wealthy British Isles – can’t afford the luxury of choice. They can’t afford the time to even think about being able to shop in fancy food stores that offer aesthetically-pleasing vegan foods and household cleaners and beauty items that are made with an array of delightful natural ingredients. Their priority is getting food on the table for hungry mouths that need feeding. Their priority is being able to afford the rent each month. Their priority is being able to make it through each day. Living on the breadline is no place to be.

So I can’t help but feel guilty when I preach about how we should all be eating vegan foods and living waste-free as much as possible when in truth I don’t understand what it’s like not to have the choice. I don’t come from a wealthy family and in fact growing up I witnessed the stress that a single mother goes through trying to put food on the table for her kids. Her priority was keeping her children healthy and happy. But even with this, I don’t know what it was like to be her. I can’t fully understand.

My dilemma is not wanting someone living a polar opposite life to my own to look at me and see naivety and an unachievable goal. It makes me sick to think that I could evoke anger in someone over my lifestyle choices, values and priorities. It’s this fine line to teeter along, with compassion for humanity on one side and an inner environmental warrior on the other. I don’t yet know the best way of figuring all this out. And in truth, I might never. (To clarify: no one has raged at me. This is purely hypothetical.)

But one thing I do trust in is my gut instinct; as should we all. It guides us. The reality is that there’s no way I could compare my life to that of a low-income single mother with 4 children where the fight for survival is first priority. I’m not living that way – fortunately. So all I can do is what feels right to me, based on the scientific evidence I have ready, with wthe resources I have. If I can afford to choose the most ethical foods to eat, not consume plastic that ends up in the oceans and write about my lifestyle choices in the hope that it might influence someone else who can also make those choices to start living differently, then why not do it? It seems logical…

I’m part of a whole generation wanting to do life differently. We want to live more harmoniously with our planet, improve our infrastructure using renewable energy and live lives that place emphasis on creativity and passion rather than the mind-numbing and mundane. I frequently refer to it as ‘the vagina lottery’ because we don’t know what kind of family we’ll be born into. All we can do is the best we can based on what we know.

We don’t all fight for the same causes and in a way that’s actually kind of great. If some of us could keep doing the great work for humanity while others clean up the environment, we should have a sound future ahead of us. Perhaps that’s all I need to trust in; the fact that we’re all different for a reason and it’s best to just embrace it, even if it does seem flawed. We need each other; that’s the simple truth of it. We’re stronger together.

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Simple question: do you take responsibility for your life and all the things that you do and consume and participate in within it?

Responsibility

Is the instinct to say ‘yes’? Is that instinct there because when we’re young, we’re taught that taking responsibility is a good thing and therefore you want to instinctively answer ‘yes’ so that you don’t get in trouble? God forbid you feel bad about yourself, right? We don’t want to be judged by our peers, right?

We’ve got a whole melting pot of problems on the planet at the moment. All, essentially, stem from bad parenting. (We know how I feel about parenting *shakes head*.) So we divide into power-hungry humans, masking quivering insecure children on the inside. And people who turn a blind eye to helping one another because in our time of need as youths, no one helped us. We fight about all the wrong things and we misalign our priorities. We jeopardise our chances of happiness because we’re too damn involved within our own heads. We laugh, we cry, and ultimately devestate our earth one generation after the next all because we refuse to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.

That phrase, ‘taking responsibility’ stretches further than simply saying we’ll be there to pick our kids up from school, or turning up for that meeting on time. Taking responsibility for ourselves and the role we play in society first means owning up to who we are, what our values are and facing all those inner demons. We don’t like to look at what’s wrong with us. We’re completely blind to it, as Allain de Botton so famously preaches in his work on love and why we find ourselves in unhappy relationships more often than not. And unless we open our eyes and face the bad stuff, how can we possibly take responsibility for our actions?

We act in really strange ways that seem illogical, all because of wounds that score the inside of our head and heart. Sometimes the nature of these strange acts is small and harmless, but get a collective of ‘small and harmless’ and you’ve got ‘large and harmful’.

Detachment

Let’s take a look at some of the ways that we do this. The first is that we are lazy and detached in our food consumption. We expect to have everything available 24/7 on a supermarket shelf. We consume meat we haven’t hunted, fish we haven’t caught and vegetables we haven’t grown. I get it. In this corporate world we find ourselves in where few are in touch with the environment these days, we can’t all be hunters and farmers. But there’s a fundamental problem with only ever seeing your meat (if you consume it) sold in small plastic-packaged portions on a cold, metal, sterile shelf. It detaches you from what is real. What’s real is that that is one of many parts of an animal that had a life and was kept captive and killed for you. You are not taking responsibility for your actions if you consume meat and aren’t OK with killing that animal yourself. You are not taking responsibility for your consumption if you don’t know how it was killed and what the living conditions were like for it while it was alive.

Then there are the fish. Take a look at the state of the world’s oceans today and you’ll see that they’re not doing all that great. Overfishing, invasive species, ocean acidification and plastic pollution are just some of the problems we face that are causing extinction on an enormous scale. If you consume wild-caught fish without having any awareness of the state of the sea from where it was caught, you are not taking responsibility. If you support farmed fish but haven’t looked into the effects of eutrophication in the area where they were farmed, you are not taking responsibility.

Then there’s all the packaging, the plastic and the processed food. You sit in your house and each week the garbage is collected from kerb-side and transported somewhere that’s our of your sight. You are lucky that your neighbourhood aesthetic isn’t tainted. But someone, somewhere has to look at your waste. Is that being a responsible person? Consuming mindlessly certainly is not. That sealed bag of salad that you bought from a supermarket is likely packaged in non-recyclable plastic. That piece of plastic will be sat on our soil for many hundreds of years longer than you will find yourself alive. It will degrade into smaller pieces and distribute itself across our soil and seas, working its way up the food chain until one of your offspring many generations from now will consume it. You may feel no remorse for what you did to that person. After all, you’ll never meet them; never love them. But does that make it OK? No, it doesn’t. You wouldn’t like it if you found yourself on this earth unable to find any unpolluted food to eat or water to drink, would you? You wouldn’t want to live in a wasteland because all the ecosystems had collapsed due to what your parents and grandparents and generations prior had done.

Think about the things you enjoy. Chances are, something outside, in nature, is one of them. After all, that’s why you bought that camera, isn’t it? You want to capture scenes of that beautiful waterfall you plan on visiting next year. And when you’re on those golden sands at the beach, you want to remember how clear the water looked and how vivid all the colours of those tropical fish were, right? Newsflash! Those things are disintegrating. Unlike the Midas touch, everything we touch these days turns to plastic. We are wrecking and ruining and depleting and consuming and soon there will be nothing left.

Everything you do creates a ripple effect across this globe. We influence each other and your actions are those that will change the world for better or worse. The decision is yours.

Photo via Unsplash

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As I near the end of my first week of learning about and partaking in all things vegan, I’ve had a whole new perspective on things. I’m not talking about some greater mental clarity as my body is detoxified or any of that garbage; I’m referring to the back and forth that I’ve had with myself regarding perfectionism.

Whether in the workplace or amongst friends, I’ve been engaging in discussions either about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, or seeking advice from those with experience. Everyone has their own opinion; some have called this mission of mine stupid, others admirable, but mostly I’ve faced intrigue from friends and colleagues that had never considered it themselves.

A big lesson that I’ve learned this week is that I’ve got to be careful where I draw the line with my lifestyle. Some of you may know that I partook in the Marine Conservation Society’s #Lifewithoutplastic challenge earlier this year. Essentially, I tried to live without one-use plastics for a month. It was very eye-opening and challenging and I must admit that whilst I tried to continue with a life free of waste after that month, I reverted somewhat, simply because I felt like I was missing out on some things that I truly craved. I had to compromise on going in a direction that felt a tad bit too restrictive to me – restrictive and isolating.

It’s really easy to become obsessed with wanting to do more and more because you feel an overwhelming urgency to save the planet; before you know it you’re living in the jungle amongst the wildlife, foraging for your own foods and totally isolated from all the people you once knew; all in a quest to be the perfect human and live harmoniously with everything else on the planet. This, however, does not equal happiness necessarily.

If I were to continue with my veganism and try to live a life void of waste, I’d be restricting myself in a way that I really can’t see me being comfortable with right now. Some of the products that I can buy with ease which aren’t derived from animal ingredients happen to come in plastic packaging. That is just how it is. Now, I could look at buying as many products as possible loose from markets, however not all food groups are going to be covered here necessarily and it is really important as a vegan to ensure that you’re getting adequate nutrition from your diet. I feel like I can’t do both.

plastics

It’d be really different if all product packaging was biodegradable. That would mean that I could go to any of my local shops and purchase all the foods that I need to maintain a balanced diet, without having to worry about the repercussions of the packaging that I’ll be taking home and throwing away, adding to landfill. And changes like that have to come from our ‘leaders’. It has to be the only option for manufacturers. Business is business at the end of the day, and the figures have to work in a way such that profits are maximised – at least in the society we currently find ourselves in – and thus if plastics are the cheaper packaging option, that will be the choice.

If it were law that all product packaging must be biodegradable, the consumer would not need to concern themselves with the repercussions of what they buy. They would be able to focus purely on buying the ingredients they desire to make the meals they pine for. Real change, it seems, needs to come from the top down.

I’ve realised that I can’t do everything right. And it frustrates the hell out of me, because I know I strive for perfection, as many of us do. I can buy fair trade and support that market, but the product may be packed in plastic which pollutes our environment. I can buy apples that are loose, but may have been doused in pesticides that are killing our bees. I may be rejecting leather, but then the easiest alternative might be a man-made, non-biodegradable option. You can’t win at everything.

There’s still so much to learn and I see this whole process as trial and error, because I’m human and that’s really all I can do. I’m leaning heavily on researching the consequences of various choices and friends who have experienced the things that I’m debating. I have to accept that striving for perfection at the cost of all else is somewhat narcissistic and probably definitely won’t make for a life I can look back on and truly be proud of. I don’t have all the answers right now, but I know they’ll come with time; I’m on the road to somewhere and that’s better than being left curb side.

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It’s the 2nd of June and what better time to bring to your attention the sickening levels of pollution suffocating our oceans than the second day of the MCS #plasticchallenge! For those of you that don’t know, the Marine Conservation Society have set a challenge this month – live without single-use plastic. I started warming up for this about a fortnight ago and had a real eye-opening into what was to come. I feel less shocked now that I’ve conquered my first day, but it’ll be interesting to see over the coming month just how many challenges I face! If you’d like to join, head here for more info.

There are a million and one topics I could focus on when it comes to pollution in the oceans, but I’d like to focus on the real gem of the day here: plastics. These can be broken down into two categories: macroscopic and microscopic. Macroscopic plastics: the water bottles, plastic bags, old fishing nets, lighters, toys, condoms and packaging of pretty much every kind that floats around at sea. The stuff that washes up on our beaches, gets wrapped around the heads of seals, turtles, seabirds, dolphins, sharks… you see where I’m going with this. Then, there are microplastics. These are the ninjas of the plastic world – the tiny beads in your facial exfoliator, the small fibres washing off your synthetic fabrics and of course larger plastics in the form of any of the aforementioned ‘macroplastic’ items that have been weathered and degraded into smaller pieces.

One could describe macroplastics as the unsightly sore thumbs of the oceans. The obvious. The artificial textures and colours of course stick out like the synthetic beacons they are, as they converge at vortex points around the globe. Take the giant pacific garbage patches for instance – islands of plastic debris that are concentrated by the opposing flow of various currents in our seas. These are a death trap to any animal that goes near them. Take a look at the photos below and tell me this is OK?

Coastal Care

Coastal Care

John Chinuntdet, Marine Photobank

John Chinuntdet, Marine Photobank

We’ve got a number of reasons why all this crap ends up out at sea. Number one is active littering. This is when an individual mindfully throws a plastic product into a waterway, where it eventually washes out to sea. Number two is accidental littering. See below:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/include/image_embed.php?image_file=http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/OceanTrash7.png&entry_url=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/plastic-ocean-garbage_n_5191294.html&width=929&height=2951

Either way, the numbers are growing and soon enough this will be the norm across the world. The solution? We absolutely must start thinking differently about our resources and our environment.

Microplastics, the term coined by Plymouth University’s very own Richard Thompson are the terrifyingly tiny toxic teardrops of our oceans. They are consumed at low trophic levels (by small fish) and work their way up the food chain until it gets to, well, us (Lusher et al. 2013)! When we eat a fish, we remove the guts (where the bulk of the plastic remains), however microscopic plastics that work their way into the bloodstreams of these animals have the potential to end up in our bellies. Much more research is currently under way to explore the effects of this chain reaction, but what we do know is that there is the potential for physical damage by the plastic itself, along with chemical damage both by the plastic as it is broken down, and any external chemicals absorbed by the plastic and carried into each new living vessel.

What can you do?

1. Do not purchase any cosmetic products which contain plastic beads – look for the ingredient ‘polyethylene’ (exfoliators being key here!)

2. Reduce your plastic consumption – buy fruit and veg loose, carry a reusable water bottle, carry a folding fabric bag around with you everywhere for unexpected trips to pick up groceries etc.

3. Make a conscious effort to recycle

4. Pick up litter and put it in a bin when you see it