Is Environmentally-Friendly Living a Luxury That Not Everyone Can Afford?

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.





Troubled Tides – Pissing Polluting Plastics

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:

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