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Make 2019 count - Beach clean

by Gael Pawson 13 Sep 23:00 NZST
Beach clean during the 420 UK Nationals at Hayling Island © Kelly McPherson

It might seem like an impossible task, but cleaning up our beaches is one way all sailors can all make a difference, and it can be fun too, as increasing numbers of our community are realising.

When we see the reports of huge islands of plastic waste in our seas, micro plastics in the deepest recesses of our oceans, in our food, even rain, the plastic litter on our beaches seems like the tip of a gigantic iceberg in which we can hardly hope to make the tiniest dent. But as with all the other changes we have talked about to try to stem the flow of rubbish into our seas, so it is with cleaning up; every little action counts. If every one of us picks a piece of plastic up that's a big difference.

One of the best things about a beach clean is the litter has generally been thoroughly washed by the sea, so although some people prefer to use gloves (or a carrier bag) to pick things up, a lot of it is very clean and easy to collect.

Beach cleaning tips:

  • Stash small bags in your pockets/bag
  • Pick up litter where you can
  • Involve friends and family
  • Make it fun
  • Use the litter for fun art projects
  • Look out for local clean-up events to join
  • Share your wins

Turning off the tap

Firstly it can be hard to remain motivated when you realise that every piece of plastic made in our lifetimes is still in existence. How little of the plastic waste ever used is actually recycled, how much goes into landfill and how much escapes into our environment. Plastic consumption is actually set to RISE with consumers current habits. We need firstly to turn the curve downwards, by considering everything we purchase, and every lifestyle change we can make; reducing our overall consumption, changing key products in areas such as eating and drinking, clothing, toiletries. If we cut our consumption we turn off the tap. If we help to clean up - with a mix of one-off larger clean-ups, and simple smaller cleans and individual actions - we are also becoming part of the solution.

Big litter picks

Surfers Against Sewage has been at the forefront of cleaning up our seas for a long time now, since it was set up in 1990, and it organises regular beach cleans. It has set an example that is being increasingly followed by a wide variety of organisations.

A newer drive comes from the work of #sailors4thesea such as the Olympic sailors cleaning up at Weymouth.

At a local level we have seen the drive spread to event organisers and class organisations. There was a beach clean at the 420 Nationals recently. Do look at the RS200 class which held a beach clean as part of their social programme.

That's an important point - cleaning up can be fun, especially if you do it with friends. It's actually a really good way to spend time outdoors together. A couple of years ago I spent a couple of hours of my birthday walk picking up litter; I enjoyed my birthday lunch all the more for the satisfaction of doing something useful.

We have done many beach cleans with children in tow, for them too it can be fun, as well as heightening their awareness of what happens to waste when we don't dispose of it responsibly ourselves.

In many ways our actions as humans over the past decades have been almost child-like - as though there is a parent coming behind us to clear up the mess we make. Just because that trail of waste is invisible to our eyes, conveniently cleared out of our own homes by the handy lorry that empties our bins every week, it doesn't mean it's not there. On our beaches and in our waters we can see a glimpse of the problem we have made for ourselves. By involving children we can give them a fun as well as a useful way to spend time outside, and show them why we need to change our ways.

Quick picks

The alternative to big organised cleans is a multitude of quick picks that might be as small as one item. If we all spend a few minutes each time we visit a beach picking up a few items of waste, over a year we will have cleared a huge amount with very little effort. Such is the thinking behind initiatives like the #2minutebeachclean.

When we had our dog, poo bags provided a handy receptacle and I usually had one in my bag or pocket. Instead now I try to have a small bag in various coat pockets and bags so I will usually have something to hand to fill for an unplanned pick. If you don't have a bag, often you can find a piece of litter to do the job for you.

Making it fun

There are plenty of fun ways to make picks more enjoyable, here are just a few ideas.

Make it social: Just as you can enjoy a chat over a pint, you can enjoy a chat while picking litter, so get friends and family involved and try to take the chore element out by doing it with others.

Set a challenge: This could be a competition where groups try to gather more than each other, or something more creative like finding a rainbow of colours.

Make something with the litter you find: This could be a piece of artwork at home, or a 'flatlay' for a photograph for Instagram or Facebook.

Combine it with a regular activity: Each time you go for a run, walk the dog or go for a sail make a litter pick part of your day, then you get the enjoyment of doing what you love together with the satisfaction of helping the clean up. The added bonus is a cleaner environment the next time you run along it. This applies to litter on land as well, as remember that a lot of that ends up in our waterways and ultimately our seas and beaches.

Share your work: By sharing you can help to raise awareness of the problem as well as help to inspire others.

Make 2019 count

So there you have it, more ways to Make 2019 Count. Check back on our other ideas; Buy less, buy smarter, Kinder cleaning and Greener travel for sailors, and keep an eye out for the rest of our features to help you reach the end of 2019 living a more sustainable sailing life.

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