Plastic, and the amount of it that ends up in our oceans, has been a huge topic of conversation recently, with people feeling the pressure to change their habits when it comes to single use plastics and supermarkets being asked as to why they are using so much plastic on their products. There are a number of initiatives out there, fighting the war against plastic and changing how we look at the product that has become a part of our day-to-day lives, and one of these is Paddle Against Plastic. Set up by Cal Major in 2016, Paddle Against Plastic captures peoples’ attention with their paddle boarding adventures which both highlight the issue of plastic pollution and promotes positive solutions as to how to make a difference. I was lucky enough to talk to Cal Major about her work with Paddle Against Plastic and how she thinks we can all make a difference.
What inspired you to begin your work?
I learnt to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef when I was 18 years old. I was blown away by the peace and the joy I felt being underwater and loved seeing all of the animals and the colours. I was hooked, and ever since then I have known that I wanted to dedicate my life and work to protecting the incredible underwater species and ecosystems.
I have been a keen surfer since I was a teenager too, and absolutely love time in and around the water. I believe that everyone has their place in nature where they feel most at home – for me it is the oceans. I moved to Devon in 2014 and was horrified by the amount of plastic on the beaches every time I came out from a surf or a coastal exploration on my SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard). I needed to find a way to talk to people about it, and to bring a positive solution to all of the doom and gloom around the issue. So, I set out to stand up paddleboard the entire Cornish coast, highlighting how many plastic bottles there were on the beaches there, and asking people to commit to using a refillable water bottle instead of buying a single-use plastic one. That’s how Paddle Against Plastic began.
How does it feel to see so much plastic in the water whilst you are out on expeditions?
I am really used to see plastic in the water and on the beaches, having explored the UK waters and run beach cleans for several years now. However, there are always still moments that shock me – particularly badly affected beaches, or when animals are affected. I think it can be easy in these situations to feel hopeless, and like we are up against something so much bigger than us, but these are crucial moments to turn that fury and despair into action and acknowledge that we all have a part to play in helping to solve the issue.
How do you think that we can change the amount of plastic that we use on a daily basis?
It’s becoming easier to reduce the amount of plastic we each use, as individuals. I think that the easiest way to start is by acknowledging where we are using single-use plastic, and where we can make simple changes, such as committing to take your bags to the supermarket, or your reusable cup to the coffee shop. I think that it’s really important that we reassess our relationships with single-use and our supposed entitlement to convenience as a whole, not just plastic, and where we can reduce our reliance on disposable materials full stop.
There are lots of zero-waste shops popping up all over the country but living without single-use plastic at all is still more challenging than just going to the supermarket and picking up our everyday products wrapped in plastic. I think that it is important not to feel guilty about the plastic that we do use, but really proud of that which we can avoid. There are always improvements we can make, and choices we can build on, but it is a journey and it is also not our sole responsibility as individuals to solve this crisis by living single-use-plastic-free.
Do you think that there is a reason as to why so many companies (for example, supermarkets) still use a lot of plastic on their products?
When I first started campaigning in this space, I found it incredibly frustrating that supermarkets were not doing more to reduce their plastic immediately. Surely they could just stop using plastic, now we know it’s such a problem. This year I have been working with the Midcounties Co-Operative, and its really opened my eyes as to how complicated this issue is, and that the answer is not as simple as perhaps originally thought. We have to factor in minimising food waste, which plastic helps us to do really well, carbon footprint, which as a lightweight material plastic is pretty handy for and have to re-learn how to package and label food. It also is not necessarily beneficial to switch all oil-based plastic to compostable materials, as currently the options for proper disposal of these are very limited in most councils and we need to be avoiding landfill at all costs. So, my eyes have been really opened to the complicated process that comes with trying to tackle this issue at large company levels. I think we need to be supporting companies that are dedicated to reducing their plastic, especially those that are making the uncomfortable decisions to do the right thing, but we also need to be aware of the whole picture.
Is there anything that my fellow students and I can do to spread the ‘Paddle Against Plastic’ message?
I think that the most important role we have as individuals is to use our voice. It’s consumer pressure that is encouraging companies and governments to make the right choices and we need to continue to apply this pressure by voting with our wallet (making the best individual choices and supporting the companies that are doing the right thing), exercising our vote in the upcoming election and making it known to our MP’s that this really does matter to us.
I think that there’s an important missing link too- people will only protect what they love, so when we are asking people to make a choice on the basis of protecting the environment, we are assuming that people care enough about it to make that choice. If, like much of society, we have lost connection with their natural world then that choice is less obvious. I think that Marjon students are in a unique position in that we live so close to the ocean, the moors; areas of real beauty and wildness. You have the opportunity to spend time there, appreciate the issues happening there, see the plastic, appreciate how wonderful it feels to be there, form that relationship with the natural world and encourage others to do so too. This will create a community better connected to nature, and more prepared to do what it takes to protect it.