The plastic problem……

I have decided to do something a little different with this blog and thought I would reveal my inner geek to you, a side that you may not have seen yet. It will be my first post where I have actively gone out and researched the topic I am discussing and not just written directly from the heart, and I am hoping you enjoy it and, learn a little something too.

So here goes…….

As a child I loved school, I was the child that in the summer holidays wanted to sit in libraries, surrounded by books, choosing the ones I needed to write my very own project book. Yep, I am a geek and proud! I loved researching, reading and I was a sponge for information, and still am. Recently one of the photos I posted on my stories on Instagram got a comment from a follower, which I loved, as it triggered me to write this blog and prompted some needed self-reflection. The photo in question was of my shopping trolley full of fresh imported fruit and vegetables that had just been delivered here in Beira. The comment observed how much plastic there was in the photo and how sad it made her feel. It stopped me in my tracks, leading to us have a quick chat about the current plastic problem in Africa. It in turn then forced me to look closer at my relationship with plastic, and the bigger issue of plastic in Beira and across the continent of Africa.

The photo in question that I posted on Instagram

I studied Environmental studies at University, and it is what I do, among other things, in the form of consulting when I am not running around after my children, and I am the first to admit that I don’t always practise what I preach. The idea of this blog is not to condemn anyone for still using or buying things that come in single-use plastics, but instead to make us (me included) take a moment to stop and think before we reach for that carrier bag or plastic bottle and reflect on whether there is another option. I for one could do better and to be honest, laziness tends to be the only answer I can come up with for not trying harder on the things I can change.

Single-use plastic is a worldwide problem and will continue to be well into the future due to the incredibly long life span plastic has; it takes an age to decompose. I found a great quote from a recent Greenpeace article that puts it into context beautifully, ‘if Leonardo da Vinci had drunk water from a plastic bottle when he was painting the Mona Lisa, that bottle would not have fully decomposed yet.’ Wow, yep that also blew me away….all plastic ever made is still around and will be for the next 500 years! Zipporah Musau highlights in a recent UN article, that “the world is producing 20 times more plastic than 40 years ago, with only 15% of it being recyclable”! National Geographic explains that plastic was only invented in the 19th Century with the production of it only kicking off in the 1950s, but yet we still have 9.2 billion tons of it to deal with. They go on to stress that 6.9 billion tons of that has become waste and off that waste, a staggering 6.3 million tons has never been recycled.

If your anything like me then these figures shocked me, they put into perspective how massive this problem is. The WWF wrote that even if you live miles away from the coastlines of the world, most of the plastic you throw out will end up in the world’s seas and oceans. This resonates with me on a personal level due to us living on the coast. I was discussing with my husband this post, and he remarked that when he is out fishing here in Beira, the amount of plastic he sees out at sea is shocking and drives home what a crisis it is. The problem with plastic is that once it gets into our oceans, it decomposes at a prolonged rate, breaking down into tiny pieces known as microplastics. It is these microplastics that are incredibly dangerous and damaging to sea life (WWF). I was walking along our beaches the other day and took a closer look at the sand, and I could see evidence of this microplastic along the whole beach. I also could not go far without spotting a plastic bottle or a plastic bag that had been washed up or just absent-mindedly thrown on to the beach.

I am hoping that you are starting to see that we have a problem, a worldwide problem, and not one that is going away anytime soon or going to be fixed overnight. Across the globe, countries have signed up and pledged to help reduce the amount of plastic and plastic waste that they are producing, and Africa has made some impressive headway in this. Some countries across the continent have started “adopting a total ban on the production and use of plastic bags. Cameroon, Egypt, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania have taken the lead, others, like Botswana and Ethiopia, are following suit” the UN outlines in a recent report. As individuals, we also have a responsibility to reduce the amount of plastic we introduce into our lives and actively seek out alternatives that are available. So what are the alternatives? What can we do in our everyday lives to help to tackle this ongoing crisis?  I have compiled a few hints and tips of things we can adopt here in Beira but also across the globe, to do our little bit. I am sure you are aware of most of them but perhaps need a friendly nudge in the right direction to take some action.

What can I do to help?

Plastic bottles. You can’t drink the water out of the tap here in Beira without the high risk of contracting a water-borne disease of some sort or the classic ‘Beira belly’. Mountains of bottles then mount up and eventually get washed up on the beaches. For the rest of the world who has safe and clean tap water, there really is no excuse for buying bottled water these days.  Maybe try the following alternatives:

  • Take a bottle of water with you wherever you go in the form of a reusable container, instead of buying a bottle while you are out. Beira is full of these cheap bottles that come in all shapes and sizes, including those that are insulated to ensure the water stays cold!
  • Switch to buying refillable 18L bottles of water for the home and office. Beira now has many different options for these and refill stations are at almost every fuel station.
  • If you have the means, perhaps think about investing in a filtration system for your house or business.

Upcycle your used water bottles into useful things around the house. Pinterest is full of ideas of what you can do with them from making plant pots to seats! An organisation called AMOR ( I will talk more about them further on) here in Beira, who promote and educate the local community on recycling methods, created beautiful Christmas trees around the city with old plastic bottles.

Plastic bottle Christmas trees around Beira, using recycled bottles

Plastic bags. Every street vendor and shop here offers a plastic bag of some sort to carry your purchases. Some shops now charge you a tiny amount for them, but they still flood Beira. Instead of choosing this option try these next time:

  • Woven baskets are sold on the side of the road everywhere here. Why not buy a few, support the local community by doing so, and keep them in your car for the next time you buy your veggies on the side of the road or at the market.
  • Invest in some ‘bags for life’, the street vendors sell plenty of them. Try to remember to keep them in your car and use when out shopping next. I know my problem is remembering to put them back in the car!! Another thing I often do is get to the till and realise I have forgotten my bags in the car, doh, so then end up buying plastic bags! But recently if I do this, I pack straight into the trolley and repack into my bags at the car.
  • If a shop offers cardboard boxes to pack your items, choose that instead of the usual plastic bag. K8Afrika makes the most beautiful bags from Capulana material, check out her website for more information (not an ad, just love her stuff!). Not only will you be reducing the plastic bag mountain by buying one, but you will also be helping local women of Beira who help make her bags.

Education. One of the most significant problems here in Africa is the lack of knowledge and understanding of the “Plastic Problem”. Setting good examples to our children and others goes a long way with spreading the message. There is a great organisation here in Mozambique called AMOR (Associação MOçambicana de Reciclagem), who I have previously mentioned. They work tirelessly across the country working with schools and local communities promoting recycling and educating on waste issues. If you would like more information on who they are and what they do visit their website HERE.

Recycling. As you know I am from the UK where recycling becomes second nature; the local councils provide you with separate bins to separate your waste and do regular doorstop collections. Here in Mozambique, it is a relatively new concept, and a minimal amount of waste gets recycled. I have recently discovered that you can take your recyclable waste to drop off points around Beira, managed by AMOR, who recycle or upcycle your items to help reduce waste. They will also do house collections for a minimal fee. More information on these collections and drop off points and can be found on their website in the link above.

I shall leave you here with a favourite quote of mine from good old Dr Seuss, who seems to have a quote for everything…..

”Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s NOT!”

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