Meet Gina, a Marine Scientist and Plastic Waste Warrior. Born in Germany but currently living in Townsville, Queensland. Gina has completed her Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and is now working as a scientific diver on the Great Barrier Reef.
Gina spreads her message of environmental awareness through her cheerful demeanour and minimalistic lifestyle. In this article, she describes her journey towards environmental activism, the state of global pollution, and how we should start by first looking at our lifestyles.
“Just by doing one small thing each day, everyone can make a difference,” said Gina.
On her exchange to the Galapagos islands, Gina’s eyes were opened to the pressing issue of our growing plastic wastes. Here, she found plastics accumulated around islands that were not even inhabited.
“It was sad because the island chains don’t necessarily use all that plastic but are the ones who reap all the effects from major producers, like Asia and the US,” said Gina.
Often, due to the direction of the currents, the poorer countries are the ones that see the effects of our luxurious and unsustainable lifestyles.
“People think that when you throw it away, it’s gone – it’s out of sight and out of mind. But it does accumulate. We just don’t see it – so we don’t think of the consequences,” said Gina.
Each year, 381 million tonnes of waste is produced. Single-use plastics make up 50% of this, and only 9% of this has ever been recycled (Ocean Conservancy).
“It’s everywhere; we’re swimming in it, we’re eating it, people just don’t care because it doesn’t necessarily affect them. People think the ocean is a never-ending, bottomless pit [emphasis added],” Gina said.
There have even been plastics found at the deepest point on Earth – in the Mariana Trench – 10km below the surface!
“Throughout my degree, I’ve become more and more conscious of how much we use. Whether it was working in beach cleanups or diving after debris events, I’ve always been shocked to see how much plastic there is in our oceans,” Gina said.
Gina provides us with seven simple ways that everybody can make a change.
1. Start Small
It may seem overwhelming, but the trick is to start small and improve over time.
When focusing on minor aspects of your life, it becomes easy to find small changes you can make to your everyday habits. Perhaps begin with having a look in your pantry and seeing which items of plastic you could reduce. Maybe you could buy certain things in bulk or even head to the zero-waste store where you can bring your own jars.
Some people may think it’s too much of a hassle to live sustainably. It’s true– to live consciously isn’t an easy feat. It’s hard, and often our efforts go unrewarded or unnoticed. You may find yourself unconsciously comparing yourself to others; “Why should I make such an effort when others don’t?” may pop into your mind.
Know that here lies a greater purpose, one which is beyond the individual and for the service of all living things. It is our responsibility to change. If this resonates with you, or if you care for our planet’s future, then you hold the power to contribute to our new Earth.
“We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.” — Barbara Ward
2. Be More Active
When you can, try to walk or cycle rather than drive. You not only get exercise, but you get to save the environment simultaneously (it’s a win-win). Plus, if you need to go somewhere far, see if it’s possible to car-pool with a friend!
3. Buy Second Hand
Each time you buy something brand new, think of whether you will actually use it or not.
Check the tag– has it been ethically made? How long will it last you? Enough to justify the price you pay and perhaps the child labour required to make it? Buying new items is feeding into the consumerism that drives our society today. Often, new clothes are overpriced and made unethically overseas.
To reduce our footprints, Gina suggests heading to your local op shop for new wardrobe ideas instead. Op shops and second-hand stores are often filled with a plethora of hidden treasures and for less than half the price!
4. Reduce Your Meat Intake
A largely vegetarian or vegan diet is not only better for your health but will also have colossal environmental effects.
Scientists have calculated that just one meat patty requires over 2,400 litres of freshwater for irrigation and drinking purposes. This doesn’t even consider the feed, transport and land usage necessary for production (The Game Changers, 2018).
Meat production is the root cause of many harmful environmental effects we are seeing on our Earth today. If the world suddenly went vegetarian, food-related emissions would drop by up to 60%, while up to 80% of land used for agriculture could be restored to grasslands or forests. Moreover, worldwide vegetarianism would decline coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers, thus lowering global mortality reduction up to 10% (Nuwer, 2016).
5. Reuse Everything!
Plastic is used as a convenience. Particularly in this time, plastic is used because we are often too lazy to think of other options. However, this sickness is easily curable with a little bit of awareness and a lot of commitment.
Gina advises us to be mindful of what we buy. If there’s an option to purchase an unwrapped item, then take that one. It may be worth paying a couple of dollars to reduce your impact on the planet. She recommends buying fruits and veggies from our local markets (not plastic-wrapped) and shampoo in bars from stores like Lush. Make the switch to bamboo toothbrushes, hairbrushes and buy drinks in glass bottles rather than plastic when possible! Importantly, when you do go shopping, bring your own mesh/tote bags and say no to plastic at the counter.
It helps to have a set of cutlery, tupperware containers and coffee cups that live in your bag or car. Not only will you never need single-use plastics again, but reusing your items also ends up being cheaper in the long-run (at most coffee shops, you can get a discount on your coffees if you BYO cup)!
Further, Gina advises us to avoid eating takeaway foods –not only is cooking at home much cheaper, but takeaway options typically come in unnecessary plastic packaging.
6. Girls – switch to the menstrual cup
As a modern woman, it may be time to rethink your feminine care options.
“Every single tampon is wrapped in plastic – that’s a lot of plastic used per year for one single woman,” Gina says.
One woman will use around 11,000 disposable pads or tampons in a lifetime. But today, there are new, eco-friendly alternatives. Consider the menstrual cup -a reusable, sustainable option that lasts for years.
So if you haven’t already, jump on the menstrual cup bandwagon and give one a try!
7. Share Your Knowledge
In telling your friends and family to change their ways, you have a more significant effect than you can ever imagine.
Lead by example; your conscious way of living will inspire those around you and have ripple effects on your wider community.
Remember that education is vital, and although you may sometimes feel like drowning in the abyss of mindless human consumption, know that people are awakening all over the planet. There are reasons to be positive.
Worldwide mindfulness is improving, and a green revolution has begun. Remember that the core of it starts with you. Even the slightest changes you make will have an impact.