Small Steps to Sustainability to #SaveOurSeas

the sea

Did you know:

  1. “Annual consumption of plastic bottles is set to top half a trillion by 2021” (A Million A Minute… by Sandra Lavel and Matthew Taylor, 2017)
  2. 60% of marine plastic entering our oceans comes from just 5 countries – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand (Stemming the Tide by McKinsey & Co, 2015)
  3. It was recently found that “the current estimate for the number of particles in the ocean – five trillion – is a major underestimate” (Microplastic pollution… by Damian Carrington, 2018)
  4. “A young male sperm whale that was found dead off the coast of Spain had 64 pounds (29 kilograms) of garbage in its digestive system” (Dead Sperm Whale Found…by Kristine Phillips, 2018)
  5. “Fertilizer run-off and 10 to 20 million metric tonnes of plastic debris enter the oceans each year and destroy biodiversity and ecosystems” (Why we need to save our oceans by Jose Troya, UNDP, 2017)

Why does any of this matter?

  1. At the rate we are going, “by the year 2050 the oceans could contain more plastic than fish, measured by weight” (Troya, 2017)
  2. “Oceans provide at least 1/6 of the animal protein we eat” (Why we protect our oceans by the Marine Conservation Institute, 2017)
  3. “The world’s oceans have an estimated monetary value of $24 trillion (£15.6 trillion), according to a report, but over-fishing, pollution and climate change are rapidly eroding its resources” (World Ocean Day, The Telegraph, 2016)
  4. “Fishing and fish farming support the livelihoods and families of some 660 to 880 million people, that’s 12 percent of the world’s population” (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2017)
  5. And if you’re still not convinced you can read 7 reasons from the UN here, and here.

Now, some people look at these statistics and they feel helpless. They think global warming’s just a natural phenomenon, and now that the plastic train’s gone off the rails there’s no turning back. But that’s just not true. We may be late to the game, but we can still act now if not to reverse the effects of the processes killing our seas, at least to arrest them. As someone who lives in one of the largest ocean polluters (Indonesia), and hails from another (the Philippines), I feel uniquely indebted to the ocean to do right by it. I love the ocean. As a (once) avid scuba diver, beach lover, and girl-from-the-tropics, the ocean has been my friend all my life in different capacities. From it I get some of my favorite food (tuna, seaweed), and with it I’ve shared some of my fondest memories (a beautiful octopus in Danang, on my first open water dive, manta ray and shipwrecks in Bali, snorkeling whale sharks in the deep blue in Donsol, and so many sunsets from shorelines with loved ones). But as working city folk, it’s sometimes easy to forget or else ignore that direct line to the sea that we all have inside of us. How it is connected to each breath we take, the food we eat, and even the water we drink in one way or another. The conveniences of modern life, packaged goods, disposables, seem almost indispensable now – especially as a mother with young kids (diapers, anyone?). But we have to be willing to sacrifice for the things we love. How does that song go, “we only got one world. It’s all we got.”? Well, it’s true. So what are some simple sacrifices you can make today to #SaveOurSeas? My mantra is to start smalland work your way from there. So here’s my advice for you. Just 8 simple steps towards a more sustainable, intentional way of life:

  1. SAY NO TO BOTTLED WATER. In some countries this is difficult particularly because tap water is not potable. But it’s not impossible to minimize your bottled water use. Step 1: Get a water dispenser in your home, Step 2: Order those large gallons of water instead that get sterilized, reused, and refilled, Step 3: Buy yourself a (preferably steel) reusable tumbler to take around with you everywhere you go. It is likely that at least one or 2 places you may go throughout the day (offices, hospitals, even bank waiting areas, etc) will also have a water dispenser, where you can refill if you must. (I use a 32-oz thermos that looks a lot like this)
  2. SAY NO TO PLASTIC BAGS. In Indonesia now, the popular thing is for stores to use Eco-bags. Many supermarkets and restaurants now give you your goods in cassava or oxo-biodegradable plastic bags (the latter of which are still made with metals and chemicals, but do biodegrade in the air around them over time). So that’s good. But not every store does this. Especially fast fashion stores, et al, still use your regular run-of-the-mill single use plastic, and your neighborhood hawker is likely not hawking their goods in (more expensive) biodegradable plastic. So to be safe, you should always bring 1 or 2 reusable shopping bags with you. My favorite ones are made of recycled plastic themselves, but you can also just as easily use nice canvas ones too. Your local grocery should sell these
  3. SAY NO TO STRAWS. I think by now everybody’s seen that terrible video of scientists removing a straw from the nose of a poor sea turtle (c. 2014/15). Buy yourself a metal, glass, or bamboo straw, some nice little pipe cleaners, and take them with you wherever you go if you’re into cold takeaway drinks. If you are in the Philippines, you can get your straws from (which also does lovely BYO-cutlery, and sells them in pretty cloth carrying cases). If in Indonesia, try Tokopedia. And if anywhere else, well there’s always Amazon. For glass straws, try Glassdharma
  4. SAY NO TO PLASTIC TAKEAWAY BOXES AND/OR SINGLE-USE FLATWARE/CUTLERY. You’re probably starting to catch my drift here and already know that I’m about to say: BRING YOUR OWN. Bring your own lunch box/Tupperware/keep cup/cutlery. It may be added strain on your handbag, but it’s a small sacrifice in the grander scheme of things
  5. SAY YES TO BAMBOO TOOTHBRUSHES. Slightly more expensive, but they are just as durable as your plastic ones, and don’t tend to end up in the guts of seagulls (who subsequently die) on accident. Check out Brush With Bamboo to shop/learn more
  6. SWITCH TO BAR SOAPS, SHAMPOOS, & LAUNDRY DETERGENTS. All that plastic every time you toss a bottle of shampoo in favor of a new one has got to end up somewhere, and that somewhere is often our oceans – especially in countries where collection, recycling, and accountability are very low (read: Indonesia and the Philippines). As such, a good fix is switching to bar soaps and shampoos. These usually come wrapped in paper (which biodegrades) instead of plastic, and often can last just as long as your shampoo (proportionate to your spend). (Admittedly this is something I have yet to do at scale because, WHO MAKES BAR SHAMPOO IN INDONESIA? If anybody knows, please tell me in the comments. I’d love to know. Otherwise, I have switched to bar soaps for the most part, and use the brand Nature’s Organics for our shampoos and laundry soaps for now. It’s a cruelty free, environmentally responsible brand that uses recycled plastic in its packaging)
  7. DON’T SUPPORT EXPLOITATIVE INDUSTRIES. The shark’s fin industry is worth billions of dollars, but is causing widespread devastation in shark populations. Simple fix: don’t eat shark’s fin soup, and don’t frequent establishments that serve it. The same goes for supporting any brands or businesses that profit from the sale of coral, hawksbill turtle shells, and so on
  8. STAY AWARE, AND SHARE. Continue to learn more about our oceans and marine life, whilst sharing what you learn and what you believe in with the people around you. I know someone who

If you want to go a few extra miles, I have a bonus 5 more points for you (only half of which I do myself):

  • If you’re kind of competitive and obsessive compulsive: use an app to track your usage. There’s a wealth of tally apps on the Play Store to choose from. I use ThingCounter, and with it a count how much plastic waste I generate (on one hand), but also how much I avoid (on the other). It sort of “gamifies” the experience a little bit, but is also a neat way to see what sort of impact you’re making. I have a friend who inspired this in me. Her name is Khee Shihui, and you can follow her zero-waste journey on Instagram with the hashtag #TabaoTales
  • If you’re a parent: switch from plastic storage breastmilk bags and disposable diapers to cloth diapers, and glass breastmilk bottles. I myself have not done this fully, and count these as my sins for which I will be repenting for many years to come
  • If you like to travel/live near the ocean: join a local clean-up initiative the next time you’re at the beach. I used to regularly join clean-ups with the Manila Ocean Park, WWF, and CAPoceans. Also, when we used to dive more, we’d “harvest” the plastic we’d see in the ocean and carry the trash in our BCDs back to the surface to be disposed of appropriately
  • If you’re hardcore and want to go a step further:
    • Read the World Economic Forum’s guidance here, and talk to your local NGOs, legislators, ministers, FMCGs, etc to try and influence much needed change and accountability in the system
    • Go down the DIY/make-your-own train with essential oils and castille soap and make your own errthang! (Cleaners, shampoos, soaps, toothpaste, etc, it’s all possible with a little bit of dedication and ingenuity)

If you have some tips on how to Go Green and Save our Seas, send me a note or a comment or whatever. I’d love to hear from you!

P.S. Special shout-out to my best friend, Berns, who is a Zero-Waste advocate and has a blog all about that here

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