A KEEN team pulling plastic waste out of waterways

Fishing for Plastic

We've all heard by now about the damage that plastic is causing to our environment. This summer, I joined KEEN Europe on the Better Takes Action boat tour, pulling plastic waste out of waterways in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Munich, and London.

In total, we fished 119 kilograms (262 pounds) of litter from urban waterways. While it was only a tiny percentage of the waterways around Europe, it's important to remember that every bit helps.

The responsibility to tackle this issue doesn't fall on one person, it’s for all of us to tackle together— and importantly, for companies and governments to step up too. We all have the ability to make change, and your seemingly small contribution may have more of an impact than you realize.

The two-fold approach to tackling plastic pollution is: Clearing it up from the environment, and stopping it at source.

I don’t live a completely single-use plastic-free lifestyle, I think it’s currently incredibly difficult to do, and I strongly believe that the onus should not be solely on the consumer. However I refuse single-use plastic wherever I can, and purposely buy products that are not wrapped in plastic. I also think about what I’ll need when I leave the house and take it with me to avoid having to buy into the throwaway culture we’ve found ourselves in.

I think it’s really important to look at the big picture here, and see it not just as those individual pieces of plastic that are reduced, but more of a global movement. There are several important reasons that I think reducing single-use plastic consumption is actually beneficial for not only the planet, but our own health, finances, and state of mind. Whether that’s religiously refilling your reusable water bottle, asking for your drinks without straws, or shopping at places where you can get your groceries unwrapped, the benefits of reducing your reliance on single-use plastic may be farther reaching than originally thought.

Here are 10 reasons every single piece of single-use plastic matters

1. Less plastic in our oceans.
Each piece of plastic we say no to can no longer find its way into the environment, into the oceans, and injure an animal. 80% of plastic in the oceans originates from land-based sources—the less we use on land, the less will find its way there.

2. Positive actions spread.
Your refusal of that piece of plastic may also inspire somebody else to take the stand too. One person’s impact may be minimal, but scaled up to the billions of people living on this planet and all of a sudden we’re having an enormous effect.

3. It creates demand for better.
I believe that the onus should not fall solely onto the individual, and that the companies who are profiting from selling their products in plastic, at the expense of our planet’s health, should be taking more responsibility than most currently are. However, without the pressure from us as consumers, the ones who keep their businesses alive, it’s unlikely to happen. So taking a stance against unnecessary single-use plastic, refusing it, spending your money in places that are taking this crisis seriously, is sending a very clear message to those companies that this is something that matters to their customers, and something they need to start taking seriously.

4. It saves money.
With a 4000% mark-up on tap water, we are paying WELL over the odds for the convenience of bottled water. Most coffee shops offer a discount with your own cup. Over a year, if you had 3 coffees a week, you’d save almost £80 just by taking your own cup! Taking a packed lunch instead of buying pre-packaged food when you're out will save you heaps of money, and even taking your own carrier bags will save all those small charges.

5. Every step leads to a mindset adjustment.
We have to re-learn how to live without plastic, and readdress our reliance on single-use. This isn’t just about plastic, this is about our perceived entitlement to a throwaway culture, where the planet pays for our laziness. All disposable materials carry a footprint, and where that product is unnecessary, we need to be changing our relationship with it.

6. Voting with your wallet.
Where do we as consumers have the most impact? We can vote—in elections, and with our wallet. Recently on a trip to the Maldives, I asked the resorts who were ditching single-use plastic what their motivation behind this was. There was some inherent desire to do the right thing amongst management, but more potently their consumers wanted to see no plastic, they wanted them to take responsibility. Spend your hard-earned cash at places that care about this stuff, support the businesses that are doing the right thing, and make it known to them how much this matters to you. This is where, as consumers, our strength lies.

7. Plastic is harmful to our health.
We don't know quite to what extent the plastic in our lives is affecting us, but certain types of plastic have been proven to be carcinogenic, harbor toxins, and sometimes contain harmful chemicals. Consuming food wrapped in this and drinking water contained in it, could also be harmful to our health. We are not separate from the planet, we are part of it, and something that is affecting our planet’s health is also going to affect ours.

8. Avoiding cognitive dissonance.
This is one of my favorite concepts—the idea that if what we do is not aligned with our values, it harms our psyche, and our sense of well-being. It causes unease and sometimes even guilt. I am very keen to discourage guilt and shame. I think these are wholly unhelpful ways to tackle a problem. So I always encourage people to feel proud of the positive impacts they can have, rather than feeling guilty about the plastic they use. Living in alignment with your values will naturally nurture pride, and avoid cognitive dissonance, or the torn feeling you get when your actions and beliefs don’t match up.

9. Changing the status quo.
We spend so much of our lives on auto-pilot, doing the same things we’ve been doing over and over because, well, that’s what we do! It’s time to start thinking about our actions, living more consciously and mindfully, and even just getting curious about the products we’re buying and the plastic we’re using can be a step in the right direction to changing the way it’s always been.

10. It feels awesome.
It feels really blooming good to do something positive. We all have our strengths, powers and ability to do something positive in this plastic pollution crisis. For some that’s creating new policy, for some it’s cleaning beaches. For all of us, it can be switching out unnecessary single use plastic where we can. And being proud to do so. It helps convert concern into action. It makes us feel like there IS something we can do.

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