Household chemicals and marine toxicity

lanka kade dolphins and grimms

David Atttenborough’s legacy will be huge.

The Blue Planet effect has made the whole world sit up and pay attention to the plight of our marine life. There really is no defense left for humanity’s reliance on single-use plastics purely for the sake of convenience. But there is another inconvenient truth that we’re all ignoring, and that is that it isn’t all about plastic. Sure, plastic bags, plastic bottles, disposable nappies and santiary products are a threat. But so too are microplastics in our bathroom products, and the chemicals we clean ourselves and our houses with every day.

So what can we do? It comes down to our choices.

Problem #1: Disposable nappies

Disposable nappies are made using an assortment of natural and chemical components. Petrochemical plastics (polythene and polypropylene) and wood pulp (bleached) are the main components: although the majority of manufacturers are pretty cagey about much else, typical listings include  sodium polyacrylate, dyes, perfumes, and dioxins. Dioxins are a by-product of the pulp-bleaching process that the World Health Organisation identifies as extremely toxic. TBT (Tributyltin) found in some nappies on sale in the UK and the US, is identified as extremely harmful to aquatic life and does not degrade. These chemicals may not be dangerous to our kids on a single nappy basis – the TBT found in a single nappy may not be harmful to ocean-life either – but the 8 million nappies sent to landfill EVERY SINGLE DAY in the UK alone might add up to something substantially more dangerous…

Solution: Choose real nappies

Problem #2: Laundry

Laundry is one of those daily chores we’d all rather have less of (although I may be one of the few people who finds hanging out the washing a great opportunity for a moment of mindfulness and folding laundry strangely therapeutic!) For some of us, the search for laundry products that don’t inflame sensitive skin leads us to natural alternatives early on. But even those of us who can cope with more synthetic chemical formulas could take into account the effects of those chemicals on the environment. According to the FPS for Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, detergents are at least partly responsible for eutrophication of rivers; the decline of coastal plants subjected to polluted spray; and the disturbance of aquatic organisms. As a result of detergents released into the waterways, fish and invertebrates can’t find adequate oxygen and die by asphyxiation. When not treated fully in water treatment plants, the surfactants in detergents affect the natural defences of these organisms (their skin, scales, shell, walls of the plants or the bacteria) against chemical substances and pathogens. And some surfactants such as ethylene glycol disrupt the hormonal system of aquatic animals.

Solution: Buy natural laundry and detergent products

Problem #3: Laundry again

Laundry again because it is actually a major issue: beyond the effect of our detergents on the oceans, there’s the effect of all those microplastics released in every load of synthetic clothing. Research from Plymouth University in 2017 suggests that washing 6kg of clothes can result in anything between 137,951 fibres (for polyester-cotton clothes) to 728,789 fibres (for acrylic clothes) released as oceanic pollution. These microfibres are too small to be caught in the sewage treatment works, and usually end up ingested by fish larvae and ultimately in our food chain. Yum!

Solution: Buy organic clothing

Problem # 4: Microbeads

Microbeads were banned in the UK in January of this year, meaning that we can rest assured we are no longer releasing microplastics into our oceans when we scrub, clean or exfoliate, right? Well, sort of… the UK, like the US, introduced a ban of microbeads in “rinse-off” products. That means that they are still used in products that are NOT expected to be rinsed off – including suncreams, where they act as barriers to reflect harmful rays, and make-up, for their light-reflecting properties. Nano-particles are also exempt from the ban and remain present in household cleaning products, amongst others. “Sunspheres”, particles of 0.0003 mm that are put in sunscreens, can be present in quantities of between 10 and 100 trillion particles in one single product.

Solution: Avoid products containing microbeads

Problem #5: Sunscreen

Sunspheres aside, sunscreen is a major player in marine pollution on a chemcal level too, to the point that many coral reef parks, eco-resorts and swin-with-the-dolphins aquariums now insist on reef-friendly sunscreens from a pre-approved list. An estimated 25 per cent of the sunscreen ingredients we apply end up in the water. Chemicals including oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, octisalate, avobenzone and homosalate have been identified as especially harmful for eco-systems, making coral more susceptible to bleaching, deforming baby coral (causing it to encase itself in its own skeleton and die) and degrading its resilience to climate change. Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3), found in over 3500 sunscreens, is also harmful to algae, sea urchins, fish and mammals, showing amongst other things to disrupt their hormones.

Solution: Buy marine-friendly sunscreen

Paradise Lost

I’m from the Midlands and absolutely love the sea. I think living in one of the furthest places in the UK from the coast means I can get a little over excited when I see it! As a child I spent most school holidays on the North Wales coast with my Nan and Grandad. We spent nearly every day on the beach come rain or shine – it was North Wales, so it was more often rain! Whatever the weather, it was beautiful – crashing waves, rippling rock pools and stunningly beautiful sands.

beach seaside family paradise

In April this year our family had a lovely long weekend in Ilfracombe, Devon. We arrived later in the afternoon and of course headed straight to the beach. It was just as I remembered and whisked me right back to my childhood as it always does. It was the first time taking our daughter to the beach and I couldn’t wait to share the joys I recalled from when I was little with her. There’s something so freeing and relaxing about looking out at the ocean as it laps against your feet, brushing sand across your toes. We had a wonderful afternoon and planned to head to the beach early the next morning.

paddle sea beach

My little one Floss woke up very early the next morning. We decided to head straight to the beach. We walked down the same path as the afternoon before, eager for another beautiful adventure. As we walked onto the beach I could not believe my eyes. The beautiful beach had turned into something akin to a landfill site. Across the whole of the beach, as far as I could see, there was a sea of rubbish. What had happened? I couldn’t let Floss take off her shoes, her feet would have been cut by the debris. There were so many pieces of plastic; lots were tiny splinters, but some were still whole, and you could make out exactly what they were. In the distance I saw a tractor and as we walked, aghast at what we saw, I began to realise that the tractor was cleaning the sand. The realisation that this happens every day, that every day this natural beauty is ruined by our pollution really shook me.

beach plastic paradise lost

That morning and for the rest of that day we carried on with our holiday, but my mind was pre-occupied with what I’d seen. I kept thinking of my unspoiled childhood adventures on the beach and how it was unfair that Floss didn’t also get to have that perfect image. I wondered what my grandchildren would see when they went to the beach. Would they even be able to go? Would the pollution be so toxic that families could no longer holiday on the beach and play in the sea? It was a devastating thought. I started to read articles and blog posts about pollution on our beaches and learn what things I could do, even in the Midlands, to help to reduce the waste consuming our beaches.

bucket sand beach

I think for changes to be lasting they have to be manageable. Here are some of the changes we’ve made as a family to help reduce our waste:

  • Stop buying small plastic drinks bottles
  • Using cloth wipes to reduce the amount of disposable wipes
  • Buying shampoo and conditioners that can be refilled
  • Choosing wooden toys over plastic
  • Taking cutlery sets with us so we don’t have to use disposable when we’re out and about
  • Take reusable bags when shopping
  • Shopping at our local farm shop so things aren’t packaged in plastic and we only buy the quantity we need
  • Stop using kitchen roll

This is just the start of what we are doing as a family. Next on my list is reusable straws. I’d never really considered these before as I didn’t use them, but my little one needs to use straws to help her drink, so I want to make sure they are with our cutlery stash.

What do you do to reduce waste? What will you do in future?

Non-plastic = ocean fantastic

  • Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic leaks into the oceans each year
  • By 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight
  • Those who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic a year

(Source: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

We all know plastics are bad for the oceans, and we all know that refusing a plastic bag at the checkout or a straw at the bar can help us do our bit for marine life. But what if we want to do more? Here are some simple swaps to help you save even more plastic from going to landfill…

Plastic-free bathroom:

plastic-free, deodorant

Deodorant

Organic Confidence deodorant shuts down odor causing bacteria with baking soda and organic coconut oil. It is gentle, effective and made using USDA-certified organic ingredients. But most importanty, it comes in a recycleable paper tube. No more plastic containers going to landfill, breaking down into microplastics and leaching into the water table, and eventually polluting our oceans.

Bamboo toothbrushes 

Did you know that every plastic toothbrush you have ever used still exists somewhere? It’s a horrible thought! Bamboo toothbrushes like those by Hydrophil are far better for everyone. For the little ones, these biodegradable and compostable Jack N Jill toothbrushes are a great alternative. For plastic-free floss, give Georganics a try.

plastic-free periodCloth Sanitary Protection 

Approximately 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet in the UK every single day. (Statistics from in the Journal of the Institution of Environmental Sciences.) When you consider that each pad can take 500 years to break down – and by “break down” we mean disintegrate into microplastics – and the average woman will use 11,000 in her lifetime, you get an insight into just how big a problem this is. It’s now easy to have a plastic-free period by opting for eco-friendly alternatives.

Plastic-free nursery:

Cloth nappies and wipes

baba + boo tree frog nappyIt is true that the laundering of cloth nappies has a carbon footprint. But it is now widely acknowledged that this is a drop in the ocean when compared to the environmental costs of producing and disposing of disposables. The production of disposables alone uses 3.5 times more energy, 8.3 times more non-renewable resources, and 90 times more renewable resources than real nappies. The average nappy takes between 250 and 500 years to degrade, all the while seeping microplastics, bacteria and harmful chemicals into our earth and oceans. As for wipes – which also contain plastic, by the way – in 2017 they came in at #7 in the top ten items found by beach-cleaners. This is a very real problem.

All seem like good reasons to invest in real nappy alternatives!

plastic-free badger balm

Plastic-free nappy changes

Badger Balm Chamomile and Calendula balm contains no  harsh chemicals, synthetics, fragrance, parabens, GMOs, or anything else you wouldn’t want on a baby! AND it comes in a tiny tin with a cardboard sleeve – no plastics in sight!

Plastic-free toybox:

More and more of us are switching to choose open-ended wooden toys, and for good reason – they are better for our children’s development, encouraging imaginative play and discovery through exploration, building resilience and critical-thinking. But there are also environmental considerations at play here. In North America, 90% of toys are plastic and the majority are simply not recyclable, so destined for landfill. There are exceptions to these: Green Toys are made from 100% recycled plastics with replacement parts readily available to ensure your already-recycled toys will last as long as possible.

Wooden toys are often more costly than plastic toys, but in my experience, they also last longer on two levels: 1) As heirloom pieces, that can be boxed up and kept for future generations without any fear that the plastics will be degrading when they are next put to play; and 2) As cross-age, even cross-generational pieces that can be played with by, for example, my 1-year-old, my 5-year-olds, my teenaged niece and myself, alike! While I found our plastic toys were quickly boxed up and put away as soon as they were “no longer age-appropriate”, our Grimms, Grapat and Raduga Grez are permanently out and consistently played with. So many brands  – Ocamora, Black’s Toys, Gluckscafer to name a few – produce amazing open-ended toys that won’t lose their play value as long as your children have imagination. Even my autistic spectrum son, who has struggled in the past with “imaginative” play loves the order of creating a mandala with grapat pieces, or building with the rainbow pieces, and now creates whole playscapes with boundless imagination. SHOP TOYS

Plastic-free everywhere!

BYOB: Reusable drink bottles

The average person in the UK will use 150 single use water bottles every year – that’s 13 billion each year to be chucked away. But how do they end up in our oceans? Well, they are quite light, so often get blown into streams and rivers, which naturally lead to the sea. Our landfills are overflowing, increasing the potential for lighter plastics to “escape” this way. Much of our plastic used to be shipped to China to be recycled in poorly-organised recycling plants, providing opportunity for yet more “lost” bottles, either on the open oceans or into the waterways at the far end, where it is now thought much of the plastic sent to be recycled was, in fact, incinerated or dumped.

That’s where reusable drinks bottles can really make a difference. There’s one for every pocket and one for every style, and if you are looking for an entirely plastic-free option – there’s one for you too!

A Letter to My Unborn (In the Bath)

In celebration of Ocean Week 2018

 

ocean

Dear Fidget,

As we lie silent together with acknowledgement of one another in this body of water, wishes, memories and questions ripple in my mind.

I think you can hear me.

I hope you can hear me.

Flutter.

Punch.

Wriggle.

Flutter.

Kick.

The water soothes my body and mind as I lay here, soon to meet. Memories seep back of the Ocean. Valentines week. Nine months before, by the aquamarine sea of Zanzibar, news of your coming quickly came. A knowing shock. Bliss.

My mind swells further to the past when the Ocean became my friend a year before. A Christmas honeymoon in the Indian Ocean welcomed my first and true strokes out at sea. My first snorkel. My first true underwater experience. A late attendee to the party of swimming (in my late twenties I finally learnt to swim, better late than never I guess) the Ocean scared me with its great expanse and unknown.

One day, I swam a little bit further from the protection of the beach. The gentle and beautiful coral opened up. Suddenly. Into a black abyss. And my heart soon dropped out of sheer fear.

Retreat.

I’ve come out too far!

Had I indeed reached the end of the world?

I can’t do this!

What was I thinking? Take me back to the safety of the beach. Now!

The Known. The Ordinary. My Familiar. Quick!

My husband led me by the hand and introduced me, regardless.

Me: Hellooooooooooo?

The Ocean: ….. …. …. …. …. ………  ………  ………. …………………. …… … … … … … … …. …      ….      ….      ….      ….      ….

Me: .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. …. …. ………  ………  ………. …………………. …… … … … … … … … …      ….      ….      ….      ….      ….

Indeed, I did lose my heart to the Ocean that day. It welcomed my fumbling and ignorance. And without saying anything but everything, my questions were answered. My fear was enveloped and sealed with love. Never had I seen such beauty all at once. Life was all around me. Hidden all these years. Silent All These Years*. Tori Amos style – Don’t know her? Look her up – Exacting sense and beauty, without the ordinary. A song that took on a new meaning as I became acquainted with the Ocean. The magic of music. And yes, I truly did sing this song in my head as I investigated underwater life with my new found friend.

‘Excuse me, but can I be you for a while?

My dog won’t bite if you sit real still…

But what if I’m a mermaid

In these jeans of his with her name still on it

Hey, but I don’t care cause sometimes

I said sometimes I hear my voice, and it’s been

Here, silent all these years.’

 

Guilt creeps in as I swim back to the shore, The Familiar. What took me so long to appreciate and understand this natural phenomena that is the Ocean? Nature’s best kept secret.

 

‘Years go by, will I still be waiting

For somebody else to understand?

Years go by if I’m stripped of my beauty

And the orange clouds raining in my head

Years go by, will I choke on my tears

‘till finally there is nothing left?

One more casualty, you know

We’re too easy, easy, easy.’

 

Transported two years later. My bathtub, Fidget and I. As we lie silent together with acknowledgement of one another in this body of water, wishes, memories and questions ripple in my mind.

I think you can hear me.

I hope you can hear me.

Flutter.

Punch.

Wriggle.

Flutter.

Kick.

One day I would like to introduce you to my friend The Ocean. I hope it is not too late for either of you. I hope its waters rise up to meet you and laps you with wonder and delight. Soothes and ails your body, mind & soul.

‘Well, I love the way we communicate.’

Yours Truly,

Mummy in Waiting.

My firstborn was delivered by water birth at 12.15 on a Monday weighing 5lb 6oz. He was 10 days early, unexpected but expected. It was just the two of us, as Daddy was caught in traffic from the airport. A quick, early Monday morning call to the wilds of Africa hurried him home back to us. I like to think the Ocean heard my call that day and helped to carry me once again through the unknown and my husband was leading me by the hand.

 

Behind the Scenes – David Attenborough Style

If we are to preserve the Ocean and its natural beauty, drastic measures have to be taken to combat the pollution and keep what we hold most dear.

  • Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse marine areas on the planet, housing hundreds and even thousands of species.
  • Corals are not plants. They are marine invertebrates – They’re actually animals, relatives of jellyfish and anemones.
  • Coral reefs are one of the world’s most colourful and diverse ecosystems, and although they only cover about 1 percent of the ocean floor, they have a huge effect on the health of the rest of the world.
  • Coral bleaching – when corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. Not good.
  • “Did you know that approximately 1.4 billion pounds of trash per year enters the Ocean?” Source: www.noaa.gov
  • More facts on Ocean pollution can be found at www.conserve-energy-future.come   

* Silent All These Years – Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes 1991 www.toriamos.com    http://smarturl.it/4nsxct     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSYr0etDzRM

Coral reefs: the rainforests of the ocean

coral reefs marine life

This vibrantly coloured coral reef is one of the many reefs that in total cover less than 1% of the ocean floor. Yet, this fascinating organism is home to 25% of all marine life in our oceans.

What’s all the fuss about coral reefs?

Coral reefs are able to support an extraordinary biodiversity of fish (including certain species of fish that may end up on your dinner plate!), invertebrates and sea mammals. They also have the added importance of acting as a natural breakwater- protecting coastlines from wave impacts during cyclones, hurricanes and storms. The splendor of the reefs makes them a hugely popular tourist attraction and if well managed could lead to a sustainable means of earning foreign currency. Their benefits do not end here- certain coral reef organisms have also been used in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and HIV. Thus, living up to their name of the rain forests of the ocean.

How are we destroying them?

Unfortunately like most eco systems on our planet today, coral reefs are under serious threat; and like it or not, we humans are to blame for the degradation of this enthralling organism.

The most serious stressor to coral reefs is the warming water of the oceans. Climate change has resulted in an increase in seawater temperatures globally, and this is having adverse effects on the coral reefs. A process known as “bleaching” has been observed to occur in reefs that have been exposed to higher water temperatures whereby, the symbiotic relationship between the coral and its algae (which give coral reefs their vibrant colours) break down resulting in the corals appearing white.

Destructive fishing methods are another stress to coral reefs. Fishing using cyanide, dynamite and other damaging methods can destroy entire reefs and are completely unsustainable.

Pollution of course is also causing destruction to reefs globally. Corals need clean water to flourish, something which is seemingly hard to stumble upon in our oceans today. Every year 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans. Much of the discarded plastic over time breaks down into micro plastics. These tiny pieces are tragically mistaken by coral polyps as food and are then ingested, which may impede their digestion of normal food.

How can I protect them?

Even though you may live miles away from a coral reef you can have an impact on their conservation. Here are a few simple steps you can follow to ensure that you play your part in protecting the reefs:

  • Choose sustainable seafood (https://www.mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/search)
  • Conserve water- the less water you consume, the less wastewater that eventually finds its way back into our seas.
  • Make the switch to energy efficient light bulbs- they release less greenhouse gases.
  • Litter picking along beaches- ensure that when you visit the sea side you don’t leave litter behind and that you try to remove the litter left behind by others.
  • Swap over to reusable products instead of relying on single use plastics.
  • Educate yourself on coral reefs so that you can spread the word on the significance and value of these amazing organisms.

Now go forth and save some reefs!