We love sharing beautiful places in Scotland but we also want to help protect them! While my own background is in nature conservation, I’ve started to realise that I really don’t combine my passions for the environment and travel writing enough. While I write lots about the fabulous places in Scotland you should explore, I often fail to highlight how you can ensure your visits are sustainable and the ways in which we can all help protect these beautiful places for years to come.
With that in mind, Andrew and I recently took part in a fantastic plastic pollution awareness day along with a whole host of fellow Scotland Content Creators. As Scottish Bloggers, Vloggers and Instagrammers (and some of us who do all of it) we often focus on the best bits about Scotland and forget to highlight the issues that might surround them! So with the help of Susanne from Adventures around Scotland who organised our day, we set about educating ourselves a little on how we can better promote responsible exploring around Scotland and where we can improve in our own lives as well as showing them to you, our readers!
So what exactly are those issues that we learned about?
While the range of damage that plastics in the environment can cause can sometimes seem never-ending, our Shore You Care event focused on a few different issues and one that until recently I hadn’t even heard of! We were lucky enough to have some fantastic experts on-hand to share their insights and wisdom with us, so here’s a quick recap of our day.
Plastic in the Scottish marine environment
Scotland has more than 10,000 miles of coastline but it sadly isn’t always as pristine as we’d like it to be. Sometimes it takes a little looking and sometimes it might be glaring you in the face but plastics are everywhere in our coastal areas and that’s certainly not unique to Scotland. We learned some more about these marine plastics with Catherine Gemmell from the Marine Conservation Society UK as well as some of the great campaigns the society is running to highlight these issues. A massive part of the work MCSUK do is beach surveying, so not just clearing the plastic on our beaches but recording types of plastic to allow them to determine the source. We got some insight into how this data can help organisations and charities in their fight against marine plastic and how useful it can really be in changing policies at higher levels.
Focusing on “nurdles”
If, like most of us before the Shore You Care day, you don’t really know what a nurdle is then you might be in for a surprise. Nurdles are one of the big issues in plastic pollution and the location of our event and beach clean was found to be the worst in the whole of the UK for these little things.
So… these are nurdles….
Nurdles are small plastic pellets that are essentially the raw material that are used in the plastic industry. Lots of our plastic items start life as hundreds of these little nurdles which are melted down and shaped into bottles, plastic cups, utensils, packaging, even kids’ toys. These guys didn’t make it that far and were lost along the production line and ended up on our beaches. They may only be small but they cause big problems from ingestion by sea creatures and carrying toxins around our oceans to ending up in our own food chain! It was so interesting to find out how much damage nurdles can actually do from Alasdair Neilson from Fidra and the Great Nurdle Hunt. These organisations, and of course, Alasdair himself, are trying to highlight the issue of nurdles throughout the UK, improve regulations on companies that use them and of course prevent the nurdle population explosion seen in recent years around our coasts.
Wider issues of environmental damage in coastal areas
While our focus of the Shore You Care day was largely on marine plastics, we also heard from Robbie Blyth from Fife Coast and Countryside Trust who gave us a much wider overview of the problems visitors can do to coastal areas. We love people getting out and enjoying natural areas but Robbie shared so many unexpected problems that people cause when they go out and about. We are always hopeful that people respect the areas they visit but sometimes we all need a reminder. Use bins, use paths and use your common sense.
Here in Scotland, we have a fantastic Right to Roam policy but with that comes lots of responsibilities and you need to look after the areas you are exploring. If you’re planing some time in the countryside then familiarise yourself with the Outdoor Access Code and check local trusts and conservation organisations to see if there are any specific things to look out for at your chosen destination.
Getting our beach clean on
The hard work and main photo opportunity for us Content Creators was the beach clean portion of the day based at Ferrycraigs. This spot is right under the Forth Road Bridge and has one of the best views of the new Queensferry Crossing but, as it turned out, isn’t the prettiest beach in town!
While it may have those spectacular views, Ferrycraigs also has the title of the worst nurdle beach in the whole of the UK so we had to get to work. First though was a general survey and clean up where we found all sorts of rubbish on the shoreline. In our small section of beach we found plenty of insulation foam, housing rubble and plastic wiring highlighting fly-tipping as another pollution issue that the marine environment needs to deal with. Of course, we also came across plenty of those plastic bottles and snack wrappers too! Our speakers were great and not only did we learn lots from their talks but they also spent the day with us and helped highlight different issues during our beach clean so we could all connect the dots.
After a while we narrowed our mission to the two of the big issues we had discussed during the day – plastic cotton buds and nurdles and they weren’t hard to find! Just looking at your feet you could realise the scale of the problem with endless plastic pellets and plethora of little plastic tubes.
On our short beach clean the Shore You Care team collected 12 kilograms of rubbish in a 100 metre stretch of beach with more than 1200 items. While there was the usual litter and all those little ear cleaners we all found things that made us question just how irresponsible people can be including brand new items still in their packaging!
Was it all study and hard work?
We learnt so much about the impacts of plastic on our marine environment and got to see first hand how devastating things like cotton buds and nurdles can be but of course it’s important to remember why we are doing this too.
We ended our day with a boat trip around the Firth of Forth to see the beautiful area that shouldn’t be drowning in plastics. After a short drive to South Queensferry we joined Forth Boat Tours for their last sailing of the day and got to see both the spectacular views but also the marine life that inhabits the Firth of Forth. From a whole host of sea birds (including puffins) on Incholm Island to the seals basking on the buoys out in the water, seeing the creatures who call this place home really put our day in perspective.
So what can we do?
It’s so important to point out that this is not a lost cause! Yes, there is A LOT of plastic out there but we can tackle it we just need to think how we can stem that flow to make these beach cleans worthwhile. We need to focus not only on clean up but on prevention. So what can we do about plastic pollution?
Don’t be a litterbug!
Scotland has great recycling facilities but people need to know to use them. Littering is sadly a problem in high tourist areas so don’t be that person. Carry your litter back to a bin or a recycling spot. If you carried your lunch along the scenic path then you’re certainly capable of taking the papers or wrappers back. Bundling things up or adding to overflowing bins isn’t really helping. While someone will come and empty it eventually, the chances are the rubbish will have blow away, been rummaged through by local wildlife or in some case become a fire hazard before they get there, so if you can, take it home or to an alternative refuse spot. If you are on a boat trip or a coastal walk NEVER use that water as a bin. I’d hope I wouldn’t have to say that but sadly some people just don’t think and if nothing else gets you motivated, here is Scotland you can be fined! If you drop litter on the street, on a countryside path or even into the sea you will be fined £80 if someone spots you. Anyone can report this so if you do see a litterbug and you know who they are, take action and maybe they will learn the lesson when it affects their wallet.
Learn how to use a toilet!
Lots of the plastic waste that ends up on our beaches is not from littering on site but from overflows in the water system. As icky as it sounds, if there is a blockage somewhere in the sewage line, to stop the whole system backing up, it’s just let out to sea through an overflow system. This is common in places all around the world. While it SHOULD just be human waste, it rarely is. As we mentioned above, the numbers of cotton buds we found doing our beach clean were unbelievable and they’ve all gone down the toilet instead of in a bin. The same goes with wet wipes and sanitary products – these are not flushable in any way! The best way to remember it is to only send the three “P”s down the loo – Paper, Pee and Poo, everything else bin or recycle.
Reduce you plastic use
Above all, the problem is we use too much plastic. There are so many things that just don’t recycle and much of it just doesn’t even need to exist – think single fruit and veg wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. WHY? We need to change the norm on plastic usage and reduce how much we use in our daily lives to help prevent how much ends up in our environment. One of the easiest things to tackle is single use plastic such as carrier bags, water bottles and straws. While these things are convenient, they are causing so much damage to our world.
Here in Scotland, we are doing lots to tackle parts of the plastic problem. In 2014 we introduced a plastic bag charge so if you don’t bring your own bag to a supermarket or high street shop it costs you 5p per bag. Since it started, it has reduced the amount of single use plastic bags we used by 80%! That’s amazing but we have to keep going. The latest widespread issue being targeted is straws. Do we really need a straw? Straw campaigns such as #NaeStrawAtAw and #StopSucking are important and are leading to localised change but we all need to think bigger and take on more. Try to bring your own water canister to work and fill it up through the day rather than buying a plastic bottle, pick supermarket vegetables which aren’t in 3 layers of unnecessary plastic wrap and avoid the plastic cutlery – bring your own or eat in.
What if I want to do more?
Fantastic! We all love you for wanting to help. Want to commit to a plastic free lifestyle? A great place to start is to reduce plastic where you can but if you want a challenge then this July why not sign up to the Marine Conservation Society’s #GOPlasticFree campaign? There will be lots of help and a big community atmosphere to help us all achieve a plastic free month and hopefully life! We’ve signed up too though we know it is going to be difficult we’re going to try out best!
If you want to get hand on in beach clean up then check out the Great British Beach Clean taking place across the country in September or the #2MinuteBeachClean campaign but there are lots of marine organisations world wide tackling these same issues so you’re bound to find something local to support.
What ways do you reduce you plastic use? Do you try to be sustainable on your travels?
We want to thank all the speakers at Shore You Care for giving up their time to chat to us, the Double Tree by Hilton at North Queensferry for hosting our event and to Forth Boat Tours for our end of day trip. Of course, a massive thanks to Susanne of Adventures Around Scotland who organised the whole Shore You Care day and brought so many issues into the spotlight for all the Scotland Content Creators! Look out for more on the day across social media on #ShoreYouCare.
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