• Nathalia Murillo

Let’s Talk About Plastic Pollution

Updated: Jul 13, 2019

In 2015 a video moved the world. For a bit more than 8 minutes, we watched what seemed to be the endless endeavour of two scientists trying to get a plastic straw out of a sea turtle’s bleeding nostril. In fact, we didn’t only watch — we were there, we struggled, we cried.

I was fifteen years old when that video came out, and it marked the beginning of my journey as an advocate for the ocean and a sea turtle enthusiast. However, four years into that journey I wonder if anything changed. Better yet, if I did anything to make it change.

From the “invisible” but imminent threat that microplastics pose to animal and human health, to the Great Pacific garbage patch that hangs around our waters like it can’t be tamed, there’s no doubt that plastic pollution is a pressing issue nowadays. And if the issue has only been growing since most of us became aware of it, dear, it’s time to talk about plastics.

About Last Night

Lush Singapore, a handmade, fresh and organic cosmetic store, and Seven Clean Seas, an international beach clean-up organization, partnered up to create the #WeCleanSeas campaign, to raise awareness about plastic pollution in Singapore.

As a pre-launch event, they co-hosted a panel discussion at WeWork Funan last night. The panellist included Tom Peacock-Nazil, founder of Seven Clean Seas; Stephanie Dickson, founder of Green Is The New Black; Emily Curren, Ph.D. student at NUS; and Rachel Tan, climate activist, and undergrad.

I’ll be honest, I was a bit pissed off when I heard about the panel. Why is plastic pollution all we can talk about? Bring your own cup, don’t get straws, try to take-away less, get your bread without bags. What about deforestation due to agriculture or ocean acidification due to exorbitant amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere? If we really understood how interconnected these issues are and the impact they have on our oceans, running away from plastics shouldn’t be all we think about.

But once you think you are ready to move beyond this topic, plastic pollution comes and kicks you in the as— gets stuck in your nose, let’s go with that line. The truth is there are too many problems in the world to digest them all at once. So, we might as well start addressing the one that is already on our plate —literally.

The panel moved smoothly and like any other. Sharing about their journeys, the challenges they’ve faced and their goals for the future, the panellists attained to paint an accurate picture of what plastic pollution in Singapore looks like. But among the sharing, the questions, and the after-panel talks, the following three main points stuck with me just as fishing gear to marine life [Okay, enough with the plastic jokes. Are people even laughing?]

Diversity of voices

If there’s a talk, I’m your girl, I’ll go. That’s why I feel confident to say that the panel really provided an opportunity to have a genuine and fresh discussion between the parts. Science, youths, corporations, start-ups, education and individuals like you and I, all had a voice last night.

Sometimes events like this have too much of something, whether it is scientists or activists or the same 5 people that always sit at the front. But by diversifying the voices in the room, we really take a step forward into breaking the environmental bubble we often find ourselves trapped in.

As Rachel said, by diversifying the stories around us, we not only encourage more people to join the conversation but push change forward in a non-intrusive way.

More importantly, by inviting everyone to eat at the same table, even if one of them dared to drink tea from a plastic cup, we move a step forward towards breaking the plastic chain.

How small is too small?

This is one of the things I struggle the most with. If you ask me, I refuse to believe that switching a plastic straw for a metal one is the best someone can do. But then I go back to the turtle and the straw and ask myself: “didn’t you start from that?”

Stephanie said the journey will never be perfect because it’s not meant to be that way. Instead, as Rachel likes to put it, it’s about getting the ball rolling with every small change we make. For Emily, for example, publishing a research paper on plastic pollution would be her way to keep it rolling. As a scientists wannabe, this would be my ultimate goal. But until I reach that point, there are so many other changes that can keep you and I going. In the end, as Tom mentioned, it’s not about becoming perfect environmentalists, but about engaging everyone in their own capacity and way.

MeshMinds using VR Technology to raise awareness about microplastics.

Have you signed to the beach clean-up?

Have you?! Advertisement aside, this is my personal invitation to act. More often than not we attend this kind of talks, eat the vegan chips they offer and leave so inspired we could change the world with a clap. And then, nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling you out. Instead, I think that in a society where you just need to take a look around to see how plastic dependent we are, going to a beach clean-up really counts. People say this kind of event doesn't really tackle the root of the problem, and that big corporations should be the ones we address first. I don’t disagree. But until I hear that suddenly Seven Clean Seas and other beach clean-up organizations had to shut down because there was no more trash to pick up, I will wake up early on a Saturday morning, put my gloves on and trash it out.

Let’s fight mindless consumption, and plastic waste. Couldn't help to buy that bottle? Make sure to dispose it well. Want to do more? Clean up some beaches, vote, speak up, and create awareness along the way.

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