Life in plastic may have been fantastic for Aqua back in the 90s, but today… not so much. Last year I spent 6 months travelling around 7 countries in Australasia, America and Asia; each very different in their approach to environmental protection. For some, it’s a way of life, with laws, regulations and conservation projects in place to protect their natural spaces and inhabitants. Whereas others will casually empty their bins into the streets and rivers like it’s nothing.
I stayed in eco-friendly hostels where non-recyclable waste was banned, and I walked along beaches where discarded fishing gear, flip flops, bottles, tyres and bike helmets were strewn across the sand. The contrast is unreal.
It takes me back to a hostel I stayed at in New Zealand. I ordered a drink at the bar, when the bartender tapped a pot of plastic straws and said, ‘Don’t use a straw… save a turtle.’ He said it with an air of judgement, when I had made no indication that I even wanted a straw.
I didn’t take one. But I thought, if you really want to save a turtle, don’t have the straws in the first place. By buying them, you’re simply fuelling the demand for their production. You’d make more of an impact by investing in paper, bamboo or stainless steel straws.
Now this was only one instance, one bartender; and New Zealand remains one of the most beautiful and eco-conscious countries I’ve visited because it works so hard to protect its environment and wildlife. But I hope, writing this a year later, that hostel has made a change, just as Capri has taken a new stand against non-biodegradable plastic.
Capri bans all single-use plastic
Known for its lavish lifestyle and rugged seascapes, Capri is making a new name for itself when it comes to the environment. Putting its green foot forward, the Italian island has banned all single-use plastic, handing out fines of up to €500 (£430) to anyone caught using non-recyclable plastic.
Plastic bags, cups, utensils, water bottles and straws are no longer welcome as Capri’s beaches and coasts have become plagued by plastic waste, with its annual 2.3 million tourists contributing heavily.
Mayor Gianni De Martino told EFE: ‘We have a very big problem and we have to contribute (to finding a solution).’ Shopkeepers won’t be able to sell anything made from single-use plastic and have been given 90 days to clear their existing stock, leaving travellers to think more carefully about what they bring to the island.
However Capri isn’t the first island to implement the ban; Isole Tremiti, an archipelago off the east coast of Italy, banned all plastic plates, cups and utensils from 1 May 2018, with its mayor, Antonio Fentini, calling on the other mayors of all islands and coastal areas to follow suit.
The move came after ‘researchers found 2.2 pieces of plastic per metre cubed of water, most of it polyethylene, the common plastic used to make bags, bottles and other packaging,’ (The Local). EFE also states that ‘single-use plastic products account for 70% of the total number of marine litter items.’
With these figures, it’s no wonder Capri is taking action in cleaning up its coast. Our natural spaces are losing everything that makes them natural, becoming not too dissimilar from our landfills. Because who cares where that bottle of water ends up once you’re done with it, as long as it’s not near you, right?
For too long we’ve adopted an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, and it’s only until we see the horrifying effects that we actually do something about it – simply Googling ‘trash island’ is enough to make you rethink your own choices.
But it’s not just the scenic views and unspoiled, Instagrammable beach looks that we’re losing; it’s our wildlife too.
A whale and her foetus starved to death by plastic debris
In April 2019, a pregnant sperm whale washed up on a beach outside Italy’s Porto Cervo, where inside her stomach lay a dead baby whale and nearly 50 pounds of plastic waste. The plastic filled more than two thirds of her stomach, packed with fishing nets, fishing lines, plastic bags (some so fresh the barcodes were still readable), plastic pipes and plastic plates.
Our everyday life was crammed into this whale’s stomach, destroying her from the inside. If ever there was a representation for what we’re doing to the world, let it be this.
A plastic bag floating through the ocean can often be mistaken for a squid or a jellyfish, leading whales and other marine life to unknowingly ingest our discarded waste. Turtles have been found with plastic straws lodged up their nostrils, entangled in fishing gear, stuck in six pack rings; all at the expense of our need for cheap-to-make convenience and lack of proper waste disposal.
Plastic bag found in the deepest place in the ocean
To emphasise just how bad the situation is, a plastic bag was found in the deepest place in the ocean. American explorer, Victor Vescovo, came across plastic waste on the seafloor, nearly 7 miles to the ocean’s deepest depths – the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench – whilst breaking the record for the deepest ever dive. He found ‘sea creatures, but also found a plastic bag and sweet wrappers,’ (BBC News). A discovery like this is just another example of how much we need to change – something ABTA’s been working towards.
Stamping out throwaway tourism
ABTA’s annual campaign, Make Holidays Greener, has announced its summer campaign theme to be ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’; chosen as a follow-on from their 2018 ‘Say no to plastic’ theme. Led by ABTA in partnership with Travelife for Accommodation, the campaign will continue to inspire customers to find alternatives to plastic, but also address waste management, including food waste, from a broader perspective.
With ABTA’s latest research showing that ‘over a third (36%) of people would now choose one travel provider over another if they had a better environmental/sustainable record, compared to a fifth in 2011’, it shows a shift in attitude and awareness, as well as an increased importance of sustainable travel.
Nikki White, ABTA Director of Destinations and Sustainability, said: ‘Whilst plastics has been high on the agenda, and will continue to be, it’s important both the industry and consumers look at waste from a broader perspective to make a positive change in the long term – which ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ aims to highlight.’
The campaign offers travel companies the chance to try out new initiatives and share best practice; ‘to work towards achieving the ‘circular economy’ – where resources would be in use for as long as possible and we minimise waste or pollution,’ continues Nikki. ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ will launch on 5th June, World Environment Day, and run until the end of September.
EU Parliament seals ban on single-use plastics by 2021
Back in March 2019, the EU Parliament approved a new law banning single-use plastic items by 2021, including plates, cutlery, straws and cotton bud sticks, in a bid to tackle marine litter and encourage sustainable alternatives.
In a press release, the EU Parliament said: ‘Member states will have to achieve a 90% collection target for plastic bottles by 2029, and plastic bottles will have to contain at least 25% of recycled content by 2025 and 30% by 2030.’ Additionally, the agreement also strengthens the ‘polluter pays’ principle, enforcing manufacturers of fishing gear, tobacco filters and more to bear the costs of environmental responsibility.
What we take from the world, we must give back
Protecting our environment isn’t an ‘opt in or out’ situation. Every one of us, as individuals, has a responsibility to look after our natural surroundings. And what we take from the world, we must give back.
By switching to sustainable alternatives that soon become part of everyday life, embedding environmental education into our schools, and changing our attitudes and the choices we make; we might stand a chance at saving our planet.