For those not familiar with Curl Curl Lagoon, it is the end of a small water way, where a local stream flows – like most streams ultimately do – into the ocean. At the beach, there is a sand bank, (occasionally opened by Council so the lagoon can drain to the ocean), so the water backs up and forms a wide lagoon where you’ll often find heron, ducks, and even freshwater turtles. From the adjacent park the area looks pristine – the lagoon is behind us in this picture.
Unfortunately, at the water’s edge, the story is not so rosy. Prior to arriving at the lagoon, the water flows between a number of sports fields, and so at the water’s edge amongst the reeds, we’re stunned, and frustrated by just how much plastic floats in the lagoon waiting to be emptied into the ocean.
The team of volunteers from the Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew and friends TwoHandsProject and WalkAwayDave collect all the plastic we can find: bags, bottles, caps, containers, soy fish, cutlery, straws, lollipop sticks, glo-sticks, lighters, pens, and my personal pet-hate: squeezy tomato ketchup containers. All unnecessary single use plastics. This from just 80m stretch at the water’s edge.
All this from just an 80m stretch
The challenge, though, is that much of it has started to break up into smaller and smaller pieces. Many people don’t realise plastic does not ‘break down’ or decompose, but rather that it breaks up into smaller pieces, and that all the plastic that was ever created is still on the planet – somewhere.
Hence we have soups of plastic in places like the so-called great ocean garbage patch. These small pieces have relatively large surface areas and so act like small sponges for the toxic substances in the oceans. These micro plastics and their toxins are consumed by fish and so enter the food chain.
Thinking about this as I try to fish out the small fragments of plastic from the weeds and pumice, I’m acutely aware of how much more effort it takes to clean up the mess, compared to the effort to stop it getting into this state in the first place. The main culprit is single use plastics.
So What’s to be done?
Here are 8 simple things you can do, which will have zero impact on your life style, but could have a big impact on the amount of plastic waste produced in the first place. (And I know I’m preaching to the choir but share this with someone who still doesn’t geddit!)
- Bring a reusable water bottle instead of buying a plastic one.
- Carry a spare bag for items you might purchase throughout your day. If you’re going to the supermarket, take the collection of $1 bag reusable bags you already have; or you can get a little zip up bag about the size of a phone.
- Take a mug or keep-cup with you to work or class and ditch the plastic cups. I even started taking a small plunger to work – saved heaps on coffee!
- Say “NO!” to plastic straws; and decline plastic utensils when eating out. Take your own reusable ones.
- When grocery shopping buy your dry goods in paper packaging and transfer them into reusable, and more easily accessible containers home.
- Use cloth or reusable bags (like Onya bags) instead of plastic bags when buying fruit and veg.
- Switch to bar soap (and shampoo) to avoid the single use plastic packaging designed so you can never get the last 10% of product out of them.
- Do not use any exfoliating face or body wash products with microbeads in them. And check bars of soap – even your regular brand – you will be amazed how insidious manufacturers have become at sneaking these things into ‘ordinary’ products.
If you want to go one step further, and do something that might actually require a change of lifestyle, google “bamboo toothbrush”.
Support a Container Deposit Scheme
One more step you could take is help the Boomerang Alliance get a proper Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) over the line for NSW. Right now, the likes of Coca-Cola are trying to get the scheme watered down to something called ‘Thirst for Good’ which is less than useless. You can make a quick submission on the proposals via this page here. All you need is your name. Just make a submission that says: “We need a proper CDS like the one in South Australia that is proven to work. Not a scheme proposed by the major producers of this single use plastic garbage”. Submissions close at the end of February, but why not do it now while that link is just a click away.
Finally, if you want to join some like-minded people and feel good about spending a couple of hours cleaning up the place, join the Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew. Check out their Facebook page. They meet on the last Sunday of every the month.