It’s not just in Singapore, but globally, we have a huge issue with plastic pollution. I’ve written about it a tonne, developed infographics and ebooks, but I’d never gotten involved from a practical standpoint, until now as a coastal cleanup volunteer…
On Saturday, 18th January 2020 I took part in my first ever beach cleanup event, hosted by Trash Hero Singapore. It was their 51st cleanup event in Singapore.
I decided to embark on my first beach cleanup event. I loved it. Don’t get me wrong, it helps that the beach is in Singapore, so you can get a tan while you’re at it! My respect and admiration go out to a coastal cleanup volunteer, especially those who do them in damp, cold countries like Scotland.
Anyway, this particular cleanup event was on East Coast Beach, within Parkland Green, which is a lovely place to chill, have coffee, eat pizza, play beach volleyball, and much more. Furthermore, I even saw Thaichi classes, meditation and a beautiful Chinese choir in a small 1 km-stretch of the beach.
Check out their Facebook page here, and their website here. They have a specific Facebook page for each country they operate in to organise events, for example, Trash Hero Singapore, Trash Hero Thailand, and Trash Hero Switzerland. The latter being where they were founded and headquartered.
So Trash Hero has done a phenomenal job promoting eco-friendly living with these cleanups. I’ll give you some stats on their efforts, as of the end of 2019, globally:
- 9,447 cleanups
- Gathered 1.54 MILLION kgs of plastic
- 314421 volunteers, of which 80537 were kids
- Saved 44.2 million plastic bottles and bags from entering our environment
- Distributed 96479 reusable bottles, avoiding the sale of 35.2 million single-use plastic bottles
- Installed 556 water fountains in SE Asia and distributed 24,660 reusable bags, which avoids 9 million single-use plastic bags being used
Amazing stuff, right? They’ve been able to do this whilst operating in 15 countries: Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Serbia, Romania, Polland, Netherlands, Germany, Georgia, USA and Australia. So they mainly operate in Asia and Europe.
Are beach clean-ups worth the effort?
To show you how much fun I had, I recorded a good chunk of my plastic pickup activities in the video below. I was on the hunt for microplastics primarily and found huge amounts of tiny shards of plastic by myself.
You could probably tell from my fascination with picking up tiny bits of plastic that I was having a lot of fun. I got fresh air, exercise and sun (although the UV rays are very strong in Singapore so always wear suncream). From a health and wellbeing perspective, it’s great. But does it make a difference to the plastic crises? Well, we produce 381 million tonnes of plastic per year, globally. Of which, it’s estimated that 8 million of it enters our oceans every year.
I think it’s apparent that beach cleanups present little in the way of removing significant amounts of plastic litter from our terrestrial environments. After all, goodness knows how much plastic sinks to the bottom of the oceans, how much has been loaded into the waters since the 60s, or that’s floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Also, Here are some details below…
But it’s crazy to neglect the beach cleanups. And suffice to say, there’s no stopping the movement. SO MANY people care about rectifying the plastic crises that they’re willing to give up their free time to partake. They’ll gather as much plastic, big or small, that they can find in a couple of hours. This positive message is passed onto their children, and heck, children make up a large percentage of the demographics of cleanups anyway! I’d say about 25% of the attendees at the Trash Hero Singapore cleanup were kids.
This creates a mindset in the youth of their responsibilities to take care of the planet. To neglect single-use plastics as much as possible. They can tell their friends and teachers in school, teenagers in attendance can post on social media, and all of a sudden, you have this positive proliferation. It’s not so much the volume of plastic recovered that deems the overall success of a cleanup. Its the mindset instilled in all of us. The efforts in the cleanup are certainly NOT for nothing.
This brings more attention and pressure on the manufacturers upstream, which means we tackle the problem at the source. This is what will truly make the biggest difference.
Although I would like to mention a case study in Mumbai Beach, India, where a stretch of beach has been transformed. 12,000 tonnes of plastic has been removed by volunteers, by HAND! Check out the video here.
That’s an awesome commitment for a coastal cleanup volunteer.
Plastic pollution upstream
Even engineering miracles that can remove plastic from inaccessible locations like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the efforts will be in vain if we don’t address the source. This concerns the policies. Let’s face it, your country of residence needs to have the proper waste management infrastructure in place, otherwise, it doesn’t matter what you do. You could compartmentalize your household waste all you want, but if there are no kerbside pickups, recycling facilities or programmes that make manufacturers responsible for their waste, such as the Green Dot Programme, very little can be done. The waste will end up in the ocean again and again…
As a result, 50% of all marine plastic pollution comes from just 5 nations surface waters, wastewaters and wind:
China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. If you look at the Human Development Index score, they record the following:
- Sri Lanka: 0.770
- China: 0.752
- Philippines: 0.699
- Indonesia: 0.694
- Vietnam: 0.694
The United Nations regards developed nations to have scores of 0.8 and above. All of them are still considered developing countries. Although developed nations produce more plastic, they have far better recycling networks and it’s developing countries that require assistance.
Types of incentives
We can tackle plastic pollution with the following:
- Bans – a flat out ban or sale for the likes of plastic bags and straws
- Taxes – we could have larger taxes on virgin materials. Now in developed countries, we already have fees for waste disposal that is based on volume/mass of waste
- Subsidies – an incentive for manufacturers to change their processes. For example, a local manufacturer could get a government grant to invest in on-site recycling machines. A similar thing applies for individuals, for example, a free coffee with your KeepCup
- EPR – extended producer responsibility: this makes manufacturers responsible for their waste and the best example is the German Green Dot Dot Programme, which is adopted across Europe
- Campaigns – change consumer behaviour with more social media campaigns from governments and television ads showing the plastic pollution landscape. It’s going to hit home
How to become a coastal cleanup volunteer
This is super simple. All you need to do is:
- Make a Google search for the following: “Plastic beach cleanup in [country/area of residence]”. For example, I typed “Plastic beach cleanup in Singapore”. You may want to type your city/county, as Singapore is slightly different because it’s super small and easy to get around the entire island
- Click on one of the websites from page 1
- Either sign up directly on the website or find their Facebook page to do the same. Here’s a quick search example I made…
After you sign up to an event via Facebook you’ll get an email confirmation with Eventbrite, an event organising software integrated with Facebook. You can’t go wrong! You can even get the Eventbrite app to keep track of all upcoming events.
Coastal cleanup volunteer checklist
Reduce your plastic consumption by…
I’ve written an in-depth article here on how individuals and households can reduce and eliminate sources of plastic in their life. Check it out here, as well as the human health effects of plastic.
Resources for a coastal cleanup volunteer
Find the references I used to compile this article here
Grab a free eBook on mitigating plastic pollution here