Last year, I paddled 260 miles of the entire Cornish coast and beyond into North Devon, in overhead swell, gale force headwinds, driving rain and thick fog. Having never planned or executed an expedition before, I was driven by the desire to engage people with the issue of marine plastic. The campaign, Paddle Against Plastic, is about simple and positive solutions to one of the biggest problems faced by the oceans; single use plastic.
Paddle Against Plastic is by no means an exclusive club! It is about encouraging normal people, like me, to get out there, adventure, and make a positive change in their environment. I knew plastic in the oceans was a big issue, but paddling around Cornwall I wasn’t prepared for the sheer amount of plastic covering beaches which were only accessible by sea. I tried to remove as much of it as I could from the ocean environment so that it could no longer harm wildlife and leach chemicals into the sea. One of the simplest and most positive ways you can get involved is to do the same.
Here are five easy steps to do your own Paddle Against Plastic. Have fun with it – this is all about positive solutions!
Plan your paddle
Plan a route that suits your intentions – it doesn’t matter how far you paddle, or how many beaches you visit on route, as long as it’s safe, and you’re comfortable with what you’ve planned. Check your wind, tide and swell conditions and prepare your safety kit. Minimum safety kit for open water SUP is a leash, a life vest, and a phone or radio to call for help if needed. One option is to paddle from A to B, via a beach that you can only get to by water. Equally, it doesn’t have to be an open ocean paddle if you’re not comfortable with this. There are heaps of calm and enticing estuaries, or inland waterways, which offer a lot more shelter and a more gentle adventure. It also doesn’t matter what you paddle! Inflatable SUP, surf SUP, kayak, wooden raft – the choice is yours!
Pack some beach cleaning gear
If you don’t want to be strapping unidentified plastic objects to your board/boat with discarded fishing line you find on a beach (although, from experience, this can be a fun and creative task!) the basics you need are:
- Bags to put your waste into – I try to use reusable sacks which can be emptied out. If you are going to use bin bags, try recycled plastic ones!
- Gloves – this is a nice touch when picking up rank stuff on the beach. Bear in mind that there may be things you find that you really can’t bring yourself to pick up. That’s OK! Focus on the positive things you ARE collecting!
- Penknife – for rope that is stuck under big rocks. Again, remove what you can, don’t worry if you can’t get it all
Find some plastic
This one isn’t hard. Unfortunately, the oceans are FULL of the stuff. Your Paddle Against Plastic could be about removing dangerous waste from a beach; this could be the beach you start or finish at, or it could be a beach you stop at along the way that isn’t accessible by land. It could be about removing large clumps of fishing rope from in the ocean itself, or your paddle could be on a river or estuary, lined by plastic bottles. Whatever you choose to do, it’s going to make a positive difference.
What to do with the waste?
The ideal situation is going to be recycling all the plastic you do collect. Some beaches or public coastal areas do have bins, and recycling bins, but if your destination doesn’t then you need to be prepared to take the litter home with you, or to the tip. It is definitely more effort to separate the recyclables from non-recyclable stuff. Making sure that as much plastic as possible returns into a circular economy is going to reduce the need for creating virgin plastic from oil.
This is the most important part. Connecting with your environment should be a moving and positive experience. If for you that means paddling down the length of the beach then going for a swim, or having a beer on the beach, then that’s what you should do. If it means a marathon sweat fest from Blackpool to Bridlington, crack on! Similarly when effecting positive environmental change; its about what you DO, not the litter you left untouched. Each piece of rope, each plastic bottle, and each plastic bag you remove from the ocean or the beach can no longer harm our wildlife. Congratulate yourself – you’ve done a really positive thing. It’s important to paddle with other people for safety, and also it makes it more fun, so grab a group of mates, paddle with a purpose, and make your own positive difference.