Last year, I remember sitting on a plane and reading an in-flight magazine that featured Sri Lanka. From the minute I turned the page I was hooked.
As soon as the plane landed I began planning my trip, not long into this, however, I discovered the devastating effects the 2004 Tsunami, poverty and the recent civil war had on this little island...
It really upset me that this beautiful little island had been through so much hardship. So instead of travelling, I began to investigate volunteering in Sri Lanka. Volunteer work has always been something close to my heart: I had fundraised and volunteered in the UK but never had the courage to go global. A recent solo trip to Japan, however, had given me all the courage I needed to pursue something alone. Before I knew it, my flights were booked, and I was signed up for a month’s worth of volunteer work that consisted of English teaching and Marine and Wildlife Conservation.
During this month my days would be spent cleaning beaches, rivers and lakes, caring for injured turtles and planting trees for restoration of the rainforest that was destroyed in the colonial period for tea plantations.
Most of the beaches and flowing rivers were littered with plastic. On one day alone, 91kg of plastic waste was collected from a section of the beach in just one hour. It wasn’t just the locals that are leaving this plastic waste, it was the tourists and waste coming in from the oceans. I was informed of this fact on one of the Beach cleans when a local man invited us into his café for a free cup of tea to say thank you for cleaning the beach.
As I was drinking my tea, I got to thinking that if it wasn’t the locals leaving this plastic waste, then how was there this much plastic waste on this small section of a beach? And if there was this small section of the beach, then just how much plastic waste was there on other beaches – and worse, how much plastic waste was out there globally?
Prior to this trip, I always thought I was eco-friendly. But when I look back, my extent of being eco-friendly was just me doing the recycling and using a reusable shopping bag. In the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t a lot. So, upon returning to the UK I decided I needed to make a change.
I purchased a reusable coffee cup and water bottle for starters, and then I began to purchase all my fruit and vegetables loosely. One major change was stopping the usage of straws. I used to say that everything tasted better through a straw, but after seeing just how dangerous straws are to the Marine life, especially turtles, my thought process soon changed.
Much to the dismay of my flatmates and friends at university, to reduce my plastic consumption I also stopped providing plastic cups at social gatherings.
I’d rather be the one doing all the washing up after a house party than further contribute to the billions of plastics found swirling in the oceans each year. I know what I’m doing is nowhere near the levels of other eco-warriors out there, but if everyone makes these small changes we can really make a difference, or better yet resolve the whole plastic crisis together.
Looking back on it now, I am so glad that I decided to read that in-flight magazine. Without it, my eyes and mind would never have been fully open to the plastic crisis that we are now facing.
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