By Tiani Dun
Meet Gina: A Marine Scientist and Plastic Waste Warrior, born in Germany but currently living in Townsville, Queensland where she is completing her Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology.
Gina lives in my house part-time, and spreads her message of environmental awareness through her cheerful demeanor and minimalistic lifestyle. In this article, she describes her journey towards environmental activism and how we should start by first looking at our own lifestyles.
“Just by doing one small thing each day, everyone can make a difference.”
It was on her exchange to the Galapagos islands when Gina’s eyes were opened to the pressing issue of our growing plastic wastes. Here, she found plastics accumulated around islands which were not even inhabited.
“It was sad because the island chains don’t necessarily use all that plastic but are the ones who reap all the effects from major producers, like Asia and the US.”
Often, due to the direction of the currents, the poorer countries are the ones that see the effects of our luxurious and unsustainable lifestyles.
“People think that when you throw it away it’s gone – it’s out of sight and out of mind. But it does accumulate. We just don’t see it – so we don’t think of the consequences.”
Each year, 381 million tonnes of waste is produced. 50% of this is in the form of single-use plastics, and only 9% of this has ever been recycled (2).
“It’s everywhere, we’re swimming in it, we’re eating it, people just don’t care because it doesn’t necessarily affect them. People think the ocean is a never-ending, bottomless pit.”
There has even been plastic found at the deepest point on earth –in the Mariana Trench –10km below the surface!
“Throughout our degree I’ve become more and more conscious of how much we use. Whether it was working in beach cleanups or diving after debris events, I’ve always been shocked to see how much plastic there is in our oceans,” Gina says.
We have an ethical responsibility to our planet to spread the message of conscious living. So here, Gina provides us with seven simple ways that everybody can make a change.
1. Be more active
When you can, try to walk or cycle rather than drive. You not only get exercise but you get to save the environment at the same time (so it’s a win-win, really). If you need to go somewhere far, see if it’s possible to car-pool with a friend.
2. Buy second hand
Each time you buy something brand new, think of whether you will actually use it or not. Check the tag –has it been ethically made? How long will it last you? Enough to justify the price you pay and perhaps the child labour required to make it?
Buying things new is feeding into the consumerism that drives our society today. Often, new clothes are overpriced and made unethically overseas. In order to reduce our footprints, Gina suggests heading to your local op shop for new wardrobe ideas instead. Often, op shops and second hand stores are filled with plethora of hidden treasures –and for less than half the price!
3. Reduce your meat intake
A largely vegetarian or vegan diet is not only better for your health, but will also have colossal environmental effects. In fact, scientists have calculated that just one meat patty requires over 2,400 litres of fresh water for irrigation and drinking purposes –and this doesn’t even take into consideration the feed, transport and land usage required for production (The Game Changers, 2018).
Meat production is the root cause of a large portion of the deleterious environmental effects we are seeing on our Earth today. If the world suddenly went vegetarian, food-related emissions would drop by up to 60%, while up to 80% of land used for agriculture could be restored to grasslands or forests. Further, worldwide vegetarianism would see a global mortality reduction of up to 10%, thanks to a reduction in coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers (Nuwer, 2016).
Making your own food is not only cheaper, but also much healthier. Check out some easy and cheap vegan recipes here!
4. Reuse everything!
Plastic, if one thing –is used as a convenience. Particularly in this time, plastic is used simply because we are often too lazy to think of other options. However, this sickness is easily curable with a little bit of awareness and a lot of commitment.
Gina advises us to be mindful of what we buy. If there’s an option to buy something that isn’t wrapped in plastic, then take that one –it may be worth paying a couple of dollars to reduce your impact on the planet. Gina recommends buying fruits and veggies from our local markets (which are not wrapped in plastic), and shampoo in bars from stores like Lush. Make the switch to bamboo toothbrushes, hairbrushes and buy drinks in glass bottles rather than plastic when possible! When you do go shopping, bring your own mesh/tote bags and say no to plastic at the counter.
When out and about, it may be useful to have a set of cutlery, tupperware containers and coffee cups that live in your bag or car. Not only will you never need single-use plastics again, but reusing your items also ends up being cheaper in the long-run (at most coffee shops, you can get a discount on your coffees if you BYO cup)!
Further, Gina advises us to avoid eating takeaway foods –not only is cooking much cheaper, but takeaway options typically come in unnecessary plastic packaging.
5. Girls – switch to the menstrual cup
As a modern woman, it may be time to rethink your feminine care options.“Every single tampon is wrapped in plastic – that’s a lot of plastic used per year for one single woman,” Gina says.
One woman will use around 11,000 disposable pads or tampons in a lifetime. But today, there are new, eco-friendly alternatives to pads and tampons. Gina recommends trying out the menstrual cup -a reusable, sustainable option that lasts for years. So if you haven’t already, jump on the menstrual cup bandwagon and give one a try!
6. Start small
It may seem overwhelming, but the trick is to start small and improve over time. When focusing on minor aspects of your life, it becomes easy to find small changes you can make to your everyday habits. Perhaps begin with having a look in your pantry and seeing which items of plastic you could possibly reduce. Maybe you could buy certain things in bulk, or even head to the zero-waste store where you can bring your own jars.
Some people may think it’s too much of a hassle to live sustainably. It’s true –to live consciously isn’t an easy feat. It’s hard, and often our efforts go unrewarded or unnoticed.
Sometimes, you may find yourself unconsciously comparing yourself to others, thoughts like, “Why should I make such an effort when others don’t?” may pop into your mind.
I’m asking you to look beyond the selfish predispositions of your ego. Know that here lies a greater purpose, one which is beyond the individual and for the service of all living things.
It is our responsibility to change. If this resonates with you –if you’ve come this far reading this article –or if you care at all for the future of our planet and civilisation, then you now hold the power to contribute to our new earth.
“We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.”
We are at a crossroads: If we don’t do anything now it’ll only get worse, and soon we will exceed the point where we can ameliorate our dying world.
7. Share your knowledge
By simply telling your friends and family to change their ways, you are having a bigger effect than you can ever imagine. Lead by example –your conscious way of living will inspire those around you and have ripple effects on the people around you and your wider community.
Remember that education is key, and although you may sometimes feel like drowning in the abyss of mindless human consumption, know that people are awakening all over the planet. There are reasons to be positive –worldwide mindfulness is improving and a green revolution has begun. Remember that the core of it starts with you, and even the slightest changes you make will have an impact.