It's been just over a year since I went on my first beach clean. I think I've been on roughly 10(?) in total in Singapore, not counting the impromptu ones I do when I'm on holiday or even when we picked up 5 pieces of trash a day every day for 5 days a few months ago (follow us on Instagram to see more of what we get up to day-to-day). And over this time, I've learned a few things that I wanted to share here.
Lesson #1 - Doing one beach clean and never doing another one, is not good enough
I, like many others I think, need to be constantly reminded of the issues that we are facing as a planet. Beach cleans are a very confronting way of seeing for yourself the effect that us humans are having on the natural world. The first time you walk onto a beach and you see the sheer volume of rubbish that has washed up, it can be quite emotional.
Lesson #2 - The more you go to, the more you learn
In Singapore, there is a fantastic organisation called Seven Clean Seas who organise monthly beach clean-ups all over the island and if you've been to one or more of these, you know how passionate the co-founders Tom and Pam are. I learn something new every time I'm around them, and when you surround yourself with like minded people, it pushes you even more to want to make changes in your own life - especially when it comes to plastic consumption.
Last weekend SCS organised a weekend trip to Bintan to spend some proper time on two beaches on the island that were in desperate need of help. These areas don't get government funding and rely solely on private investment or volunteers. Spending time with the local children and seeing them literally right before your eyes start to understand why we were there, why plastic is bad, and then to watch them initiate picking up trash around them was incredible.
It was an absolutely amazing experience, so massive shout out to the team for putting some a great weekend together, and one that I won't be likely to forget. If you are looking for a way to get involved with the amazing work that the SCS guys are doing, please go follow them. You can get in touch at email@example.com or slide into their DMs 😘
Lesson #3 - Nothing is a surprise to see
You will find the weirdest things washed up on the beach; and after a while the shock-factor does soften. In many ways, to remove the emotion (or even just diminish it, however slightly) can be a good thing because it forces you to start thinking more practically and with more purpose - instead of feeling hopeless or sad about the situation, you become more resolution-focussed. And we probably need a bit more of that.
I don't get (as) sad now when I see a plastic bottle covered in live shellfish. Or when I see a turtle caught in ghost netting. Or when I see a mangrove biome absolutely strangled by plastic bags. It, frankly, lights a fire up my ass, instills me with purpose, and ultimately reminds me why The Eco Expats is such an important project for Lizzy and I.
Lesson #4 - All the 'stuff' you *think* you need, you don't need.
I have never felt more anxious about the sheer volume of crap I must have accumulated over the years. I grew up in the south of England to an amazing family with lucky circumstances and, being completely honest, I don’t think there were many things that when I asked for them, I didn’t get them. I loved owning things. It could be any ‘thing’ really, as long as it was what everybody else wanted, then I wanted it. But I’ve realised that all of that ‘stuff’ is actually just trash. And it’s trash that ends up here, washed up on a beach in an under-developed corner of the world where nobody has to see it.
Lesson #5 - It's better with friends!
Going along to organised beach cleans, and inviting a friend or two is where it's at. They are so much fun, its a great activity to start your weekend off with (you can feel v smug and productive), and of course there is always the promise of brunch afterwards - you've earned it!
I found also that one of the most important parts of these clean ups is spending 5 minutes after discussing what you just saw, what you picked up, and saying out loud how the last 1-2 hours effected you. Are you sad? Angry? What does it make you feel? These ideas are always much better shared, no matter how silly it might feel - and no matter what comes out from it. It's all valid. Compare this conversation to how you feel after your second beach clean, and then third. Does anything change?
Let's do the next clean up together?! Let us know if you're going to any beach clean up soon (although with Covid19, a lot are on hold for a while) - maybe we'll see you there!
Until next time!