You soon realise the rubbish and plastic problems we have after living or visiting Asia. You soon comprehend that we use a lot of plastic materials because you see plastic rubbish everywhere. In Europe we dispose of litter in a a suitable fashion with some countries re-cycling better than others. Sadly in Asia you see a lot of rubbish and plastic rubbish everywhere. This is mainly due to the lack of rubbish bins and also people collecting rubbish.
One of the great problems in Asia is plastic bags and the abundant use of them. You get plastic bags when you buy any type of goods from most shops. Even when you buy the smallest of things like a can of juice. You get a plastic bag when you shop for anything from grocery to cloth shopping.
Rubbish and Plastic problems are having a detrimental effect on our oceans and beaches so much so that in the Pacific Ocean there is a Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is estimated to be from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres. This is of course has a huge impact on marine life under and above sea level. As you can imagine, animals mistake plastic debris for food items. Then they end up ingesting these items which can can either choke to them death, cause ulcerations or become entangled in them. Another big problem are that turtles mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish. In the water, plastic bags look like jellyfish to turtles. Often turtles eat the bags which unfortunately ends up choking them to death.
It is estimated that 78 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. That is the equivalent of a garbage truck a minute. Plastic is a silent killer as it ends up in marine life as micro plastics and eventually on our plates and into us. When we throw something away do we stop to think about what happens to our garbage and how long it takes to decompose? Below is a fascinating info graphic of common marine debris.
As a diver I always brief customers, students and fellow divers that we should not throw anything over board. Not only rubbish but that also includes food items. The food we eat is not natural to marine animals diet. In some parts of Thailand the fish have become dependant on the food that tourists throw overboard. This means that the fish are not eating algae off the corals. This in turns the water a greenish colour due to increasing levels of algae.
So what can you do to reduce the amount of plastic you use.
- Stop using bottled water – In most cases it is no safer than tap water and costs 3 times as much gasoline and 1,ooo times as much as tap water.
- Bring your own reusable grocery bags with you when you go to the store.
- Use a refillable dispenser for your hand soap and dish washing liquid, one large bottle is better than using a bunch of small ones
- Use a reusable container instead of sandwich bags.
- Bring your own to-go mug with you to the coffee shop.
- Say no to straws in drinks, the US uses 500 million per DAY!
- Use silverware instead of plastic utensils, keep a set at the office, bring a set on a picnic or to the beach.
- Download your music instead of buying CD’s.
- Avoid plastics that are not readily recyclable -like pvc, ldpe, pp, ps.
Just by doing some or all of these steps will help save the environment. Even just doing some of these actions points will reduce your plastic consumption.
I have been involved in Low season Beach Clean ups over many years on Koh Lanta. It is a great way to clean up specific areas and socialise with fellow helpers. It soon makes you realise who much crap gets washed up on our beaches. The rubbish is particulary bad in low season due to the change in water movement. Added to this some resorts close down that would normaly clean the beach daily. Throughout the low season on Koh Lanta we do beach clean ups every week. Around about 20 beach clean ups in total in low season. On selected beaches and each time we must have collected around 50 to 100kg of rubbish.
The main items we collect are cigarette lighters (I think in one low season we collected about 1,300 of them), straws, plastic bottles and cups, flip flops, plastic bags, small pieces of rope and toothbrushes. I have also contributed to underwater reef clean ups in Mabul, Borneo. Here it was greatly needed and I also help to build a concrete rubbish disposal point. This was where locals could throw their rubbish away rather than throwing it in the sea.
I know a lot of Europeans now use re-useable bags when going shopping but if you do visit Asia be sure to bring your re-useable bags if you can. If you don’t have any re-useable bags save the plastic bags and re-sue them. Also think about whether you really need that small plastic straw at the shop or in the bar or restaurant. Before you get the drink ask the bartender for the drink without the straw.
Throw your litter away in bins and not out on the street, just because the locals do it doesn’t mean you should. Try to educate anyone else, some people are unaware of the issues afoot. Try not to sound patronising when talking to locals and others. Often locals haven’t been as well educated as you on recycling. They just don’t know the effect this is having on our planet. We need to act now and fast.