Blogs

10 Tips for getting started with SUP

By Cal Major

Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), is the fastest growing watersport in the world, and for good reason – it’s super accessible, anyone of any age, size and ability can give it a go, and you can use it to explore some pretty cool, otherwise inaccessible places.

There are many sub-disciplines within SUP, including racing, surfing and my favourite, exploring – officially known as touring. I’ll be focussing here on exploring, giving you some top tips to get you started.

1. It’s just like riding a bike… but it takes time! Persevere.

Stand up paddleboarding, like anything, takes time to get used to. At first it’s a bit tricky to get your balance, but once you’ve cracked it, it becomes second nature. I am quite honestly now more stable on the board than on dry land, but it wasn’t always that way! To start with it can be helpful to paddle on your knees, until you get a feel of the board and are ready to get up onto your feet.

2. Look at horizon and bend your knees

If you think you’ll fall off, you’ll fall off. However, if you bend your knees, focus on the horizon and believe, you’re much more likely to stay on! SO many times this has proved true to me – if I think I’ll fall, I invariably do. Get your centre of gravity low, stare at the horizon and firmly tell yourself you’re staying on your board. And if it’s really getting wobbly, drop down to your knees for a bit of extra stability.

3. Find a club

There are loads of SUP clubs all around the country. Finding a club near you will give you people to paddle with, to ask questions of, loan you a board and help you to find one of your own once you’re ready. Check out this UK clubs directory.

4. Buying your first board

There are SO many different styles, lengths, brands and qualities of board available, it can be a little bit intimidating choosing your first board. Generally speaking, the longer and narrower the board, the more glide it has. Narrowness and a pointy nose however make it generally less stable. You can get a hardboard or an inflatable, depending on your storage and transport situation, and what you’re wanting to use it for. It’s worthwhile trying out a few boards first, which is where paddling with a club can be really helpful. Supboardermag has loads of reviews of boards. I’d recommend looking on the second hand boards pages on Facebook too for your first board, to keep costs down. I am an ambassador for Starboard, who make really amazing boards, fun to paddle, durable, and with a very strong environmental stance.

5. Clothing choice

What to wear when paddling?! Everyone has their own preference. When you first start out, it’s worth wearing a wetsuit for the inevitable dips. However once you get your sea legs you can choose to wear anything from shorts and a t-shirt in summer, to full waterproof kit in the winter. Check out the Palm Equipment website for SUP-Specific kit. My favourite paddling kit is a windproof jacket, with either neoprene leggings or fully waterproof trousers, depending on the time of year and the weather. For short paddles it’s really nice to be barefoot in the summer; however I almost always wear booties for long distance paddles, and always in the winter and would recommend booties to start with to protect the tops of your feet if you’re kneeling a lot.

6. Safety

It’s really important to respect the water at all times, even if you consider yourself a competent water user. I would always recommend paddling with a buddy when starting out, and letting someone know where you’re going and how long you’re likely to be out. Safety equipment you should always carry includes a life vest or personal flotation device, always wear a leash to attach yourself to the board, and carry a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch. It’s also worthwhile considering taking a warm layer, food and water if you’re going out for a longer paddle.

7. Where to paddle

This comes down to both personal preference and experience. Generally canals require the least planning to paddle on, as there are no tides to consider, and they’re usually quite sheltered from the wind. Rivers need very careful consideration, as there are often strong currents, hazards in the water, and sometimes tides to think about. I would recommend that your first trip onto a river be with an instructor or experienced paddler who knows the local area well, and can talk you through planning future excursions. The ocean can be an absolutely wonderful place to paddle, my favourite for sure, but conditions here can change at the drop of a hat, even if it looks flat calm. Always make sure to check the tide times, local rips, surf forecast and wind forecast. A good rule of thumb is not to paddle in an offshore wind unless you want to end up out to sea! It’s really worth getting some local knowledge at the beach you intend to paddle at – I’ve always found talking to the RNLI lifeguards at the beach to be really valuable for this, or an experienced local paddler or paddle club. Always respect the water.

8. Doing good while you paddle

Exploring the local environment can bring enormous benefits. For years, stand up paddleboarders have been leading the way in picking up plastic from waterways, and highlighting the damage it does. When a place you love, your playground, is being damaged by human activity, it naturally follows for you to want to do something to protect it. So when you’re out on a paddle, don’t be afraid of picking up a few bits of litter. The positive effects of this are far reaching – highlighting it to people who see you, inspiring others to do the same, and helping connect the dots between the litter that’s damaging our environment and that which we’re using in our everyday life. Check out my blog and video on ‘Why Bother With a beach clean’ here – the ideas can be extrapolated to rivers and canals too!

9. Being a responsible paddler

It’s important not to cause any damage to the environment you’re paddling in, and to make sure you have the appropriate permission. People wishing to paddle on canals and rivers in the UK will benefit from having British Canoeing membership: most canals require you to have it. It’s also important to be mindful of any wildlife that may call the place you paddle home – particularly nesting birds. It always amazes me the amount of wildlife that can be found in our waterways.

10. Green tips

As a stand up paddleboarder, consider yourself a waterways advocate. You will have choices, and where you can, it feels awesome to make the one that benefits the planet best. Firstly you vote with your wallet every time you buy a bit of kit – check out brands like Starboard who have partnered with Parley and Sustainable Surf to make boards with bio-resin, and organise worldwide paddle clean ups. Share lifts where you can to reduce your carbon footprint – or even better, 10 eco points if you can get there on the train with an inflatable SUP! (I know people who do this – shout out to SUP North!) And finally, always, always choose reef friendly sunscreen. Even a drop of oxybenzone in the ocean or down the drain can kill vast amounts of corals.

Sunfish, Cornwall UK

Adventuring with less plastic

By Cal Major

As adventurers, we are in a privileged position of being able to act as stewards of our environment. We see first hand the problems the natural world faces, and can do something to help protect it.

But first and foremost, our responsibility is in not adding to the destruction of the environments we love.

During my Land’s End to John O’Groat expedition, while looking at the incredible, dedicated individuals and communities the length of the UK tackling plastic pollution at source, I attempted to complete my expedition using as little plastic as possible too. I felt particularly passionate about this when paddling through waterways choked with single use plastic wrappers. Spending time in these places and seeing how affected they are really does make you want to change your ways!

Plastic bottles collected from a canal in Wigan

However, in an industry geared towards lightweight equipment, speed and ease of food preparation and preserving rations, plastic is inevitably a very useful, and widely used, material.
It wasn’t always easy, and there were still some things I couldn’t seem to find without plastic, but there are lots of things that were really quite easy to do.

So how can we use less single-use plastic when on expedition?

  • Snacks. I survived on flapjack. My mum and I both made several big batches of this, and by steering clear of butter, the flapjack lasted for ages. Packed with calories, nuts, seeds and dried fruit, I regularly had flapjack for breakfast. We used porridge oats bought in paper bags, and wrapped the flapjack in greaseproof paper and reused packets we found in our kitchens.
  • Dehydrating fruit. I bought a second hand dehydrator and used it non stop for about a week. I dehydrated everything from banana slices, to apples, kiwis, vegetables, even cooked rice (see below). I absolutely love doing this, as you can make cheap, plastic-free fruit snacks that aren’t going to get squashed or bruised in your bag. The apples are blooming delicious too!
  • Trail mix. I am fortunate to have a bulk buy COOP near me, where I can buy dried fruit and nuts straight from a container, with no plastic packaging. However if you don’t have one near you, try your local Lidl. They often have big tubs of help-yourself nuts – cashews, almonds and pistachios. You can buy them in massive quantities, without plastic (just remember to take an alternative bag with you. I use Refuse and Reuse bags made from recycled plastic).
  • Expedition meals. Having a hot, easy and quick to prepare meal at the end of a tough day is a huge relief. However, these are the worst for plastic, as they often come in multilayered bags which are impossible to recycle. I found an amazing company called Outdoor Food, who make ‘Firepots’ (delicious expedition meals), in compostable packets! They last for ages (I just ate my last one a year after it was made), the packaging is really durable, and I’ve even reused the packets. I have also dabbled in making my own expedition meals by dehydrating vegetables and cooked rice, and adding nuts, seeds and seasoning. This was delicious and easy to cook up. I also have uncooked rice and quinoa and dehydrated vegetable mix, which takes a bit longer to cook, but when I have a good water supply and time this works just as well.
Outdoor Food meals in compostable packaging. The packaging still needs to be brought home with you!
  • Water. I always have a massive Klean Kanteen water bottle with me, that I fill up whenever possible. When there isn’t any tap water, I use a UV water filtration device.
  • Tea and coffee. Having your own coffee cup with you for takeaway coffee is ideal. But even better is being able to make your tea or coffee in the morning when your stove is out and you’re making your morning brew, and then making enough to last you the day. Particularly for when out on the water, when brewing up isn’t really an option! I always take my Klean Kanteen insulated bottle with me on the water, with either green tea or strong coffee depending on the stage of my expedition. Then I know I at least have something to keep me warm and give me a caffeine hit during the day.
I always have a flask of tea or coffee with me on the water
  • Lunch. It’s difficult to take fresh stuff with you for lunch. I did make some oatcakes, but they fell apart and were difficult to transport. So what I started doing instead was making twice the portion at dinner time, putting one portion into my insulated Klean Kanteen food canister, and that would form my lunch for the next day. These canisters are awesome, they keep your food hot for hours, and it meant no faffing the next morning, I could just get up and go and know that my lunch would be ready and waiting for me when I needed it.
  • Storing rations. I use a mixture of Klean Kanteen single-walled canisters and bottles to store dried rations. They make a range of sizes and they’re very durable, keeping food fresh for months.
  • Protein. I used Vivo Life protein powder; they are just setting up a crowdfunder campaign to make it in compostable packaging, which would be so great!
  • Be careful with what you’re buying. You can often buy chocolate out of plastic (e.g. Green and Black’s), and if you’re buying fresh or takeaway food, please do ask for it out of plastic. I’ve even used one of my food canisters at a fish and chip van before so I didn’t have to use their polystyrene tray. And remember, this isn’t just about the plastic we’re using, it’s about trying to cut back on unnecessary packaging where we can full stop, as all of it has an impact. When reusable alternatives are available, it’s a much better option.

As with any time spent outdoors, never leave anything behind. Take everything away with you, even compostable packaging which often needs specific industrial conditions to decompose quickly. Please leave any tips you have too in the comments below!

How to do your own Paddle Against Plastic

Paddle Against Plastic is a platform to do good. A way to take positive action to protect the places you love.

Think your actions can’t make a difference? Check out “Why Bother With A Beach Clean”.

What is a Paddle Against Plastic?

Paddling is a really wonderful way to experience the outdoors – the waterways and coastline which form the arteries and beating heart of our country, and indeed our planet.

Your Paddle Against Plastic can be a number of things, but essentially it is paddling with a purpose. It could be:

  • An expedition, adventure, or paddle where you collect plastic as you go
  • A paddle where you talk to people about the plastic you’re finding, raising awareness of the problem and its locations, e.g. connecting inland waterways to the oceans
  • A vehicle with which to discuss the positive things we can do to tackle this

Paddling Against Plastic can be done on any suitable waterway, or even on the sea – although do have a look at my top 10 tips for SUP safety if you’re planning an ocean adventure. It can be as long or short as you like, from an afternoon jaunt to a month-long expedition. It doesn’t just have to be on a SUP either – kayaks, canoes, even waterbikes – whatever takes your fancy!

You can Paddle Against Plastic alone, or as part of a group. If you haven’t already, please join the Facebook Group, a place where you can ask advice, find people to paddle with or join an already organised clean up. Remember that the main objective should always be to enjoy yourself – paddling is such a great sport and having fun will inspire you and those around you to take further action.

Here are some tips for creating your own Paddle Against Plastic:

  • Decide on somewhere to paddle. Is this going to be the sea, which will make it very weather dependent, or the canals which are suitable in most conditions. To paddle on some canals you’ll need British Canoeing membership, which also provides you with public liability insurance.
  • What are you going to be doing on the paddle – collecting litter? If so you’ll need a receptacle such as a bucket, and a litter picker is really useful for picking things out of vegetation or at the side of a canal. If you’re going to use the paddle to highlight the issue to people, do you have a waterproof camera or phone that you can use to document it?
  • Are you going to paddle alone or with a group? A great way to get a group together, or to join a group, is to check out the Surfers Against Sewage beach and river clean ups which run in Spring and Autumn each year. If you’re looking for people to join you, please post on the Paddle Against Plastic Facebook group!
  • If you are going to be collecting litter, what is your plan for it afterwards? It’s worth having a plan in place, as often you’ll collect more than expected. Is there a local council that can collect the litter from you, or do you have the ability to transport it to a recycling facility nearby? It’s worth making a few phone calls here to ensure you have plans and timings in place so that you’re not left with a car full of litter afterwards.
  • Where is your nearest pub/cafe for post paddling tea/beer?

Paddling Against Plastic can be really fun, really engaging for those who perhaps haven’t been looking for litter before, and will give you a real sense of having done something positive. Thank you for doing so, and please let us know how you get on in the Facebook Group!

Are compostables better than oil-based plastic?

By Andrew Cross, founder and director of Earth Friendly Foodware


Compostable materials are increasingly popular. From magazine coverings to crisp packets to coffee cups, the promise of a single use item being returned to Mother Earth as organic compost is quite compelling isn’t it?

When compared to oil-based plastic, compostable products are a hands down winner. The bio-plastic PLA used to line coffee cups and formed into cups or containers is made using the same process as oil-based plastic but uses plants not finite fossil fuels.

Crystalise that PLA and you have a heat resistant material used for coffee cup lids and cutlery. The NatureFlex food bags/wrappings increasingly used in retail is made from wood cellulose. Good stuff!

Even better are the bagasse box alternatives to the polystyrene containers so popular with takeaways. Bagasse has a super story! Being made by crushing the sugarcane fibres left over after the sugar extraction process is complete puts bagasse streets ahead of its oil-based plastic counterparts. The same can be said for the mushroom based product packaging replacing Styrofoam or recycled cardboard replacing protective polystyrene blocks.

We even have an official accreditation that meets British standards known as Vincotte. You may know it as OK Compost. Two standards exist, home and commercial. You will see it proudly displayed on the magazine wrappings and increasingly on other products too. But this is where the challenge starts!

Just because a product is compostable, it does not mean that breaks down into compost if littered. It needs to be in a compost heap or composter! Sounds obvious but many assume because a product is compostable it just breaks down into compost regardless of where it ends up.

But it will break down into compost in landfill right? NO.

For the composting process to happen, you need water and oxygen along with carbon (leaves, wood, etc) and nitrogen (vegetables, fruit, plants). If a compostable product finds its beneath the surface of landfill it is highly unlikely that will be subject to the stuff it needs to compost. In 1995, a Chicago municipal dug out a landfill site and found hotdogs still intact from 20 years previously. The assumption that compostable products break down in landfill is just wrong although I will highlight that these products remain inert in landfill not releasing any nasties. How could they, they are made from plants?

So if we accept the scientific advice that our soils are in a poor state, why do we not have formal composting waste streams so we can help Mother Earth? The simple answer is BSE or Mad Cow Disease. Up until 31st July 2018, both Animal Health and the Environment Agency had banned the compostable products from entering green waste streams. The milk residue found on food/drink packaging was deemed a risk to UK health through the possible transmission of BSE. Strange but true! (Did you know that as a British citizen you cannot give blood in many countries for the exact same reason?)

So, with this roadblock removed those promoting composting waste streams are seeing progress. The largest manufacturer of compostable food and drink products, Vegware, launched its Composting Collective which offers a composting waste stream for their products. The service, as of April 2019, covers 38% of all UK postcodes. Quite an achievement in such a short space of time.

But there is greenwash and there are limits to what compostables can do. Because a product is certified compostable, this does not always mean they are made from plants. TIPA make award winning packaging that meets the Vincotte accreditation but is not 100% natural. They do not hide this fact and clearly state the % of non-bio materials used on their web site. Very clear and very honest. Oil- based plastic reducing but not oil-based plastic free.

Compostables made from plants have limitations with their use. For example, the boil in a bag foodstuffs used by our intrepid explorers cannot be produced, yet, in compostable materials. They will disintegrate when boiled so oil-based plastic wins that battle.

So the environmental top trumps played between compostables and oil-based plastic has a clear winner; compostables. Sustainable materials and a potential to end its life as compost. A clear win.

With all this said it must be noted that compostables are only a winner against oil-based plastic. They are not the “silver bullet” to fix all environmental packaging ills.

As guardians of this planet we must reduce our current consumption levels and learn that reuse is better than single use. Mother Earth cannot keep pace with our consumption of her natural resources. We must learn that her resources are beautiful not bountiful. And we must act now.

Andrew Cross, Earth Friendly Foodware

Andrew Cross is founder and director of Earth Friendly Foodware, supplying compostable materials to businesses.

He is a passionate campaigner and member of the Plastic Free Torridge steering group. He has been instrumental in the success of the Plastic Free Westward Ho! movement, and is a loyal member of the community, speaking up to protect the place he lives.

This isn’t just about plastic…

By Cal Major

It’s not just plastic – we need to shift our entire attitude around Single-Use.

Plastic-free campaigns are taking off all around the country. Individuals and communities alike are making amazing positive steps in their local areas, both reducing the amount of single-use plastic used in the community, and organising clean-ups. It’s absolutely wonderful to see, and so reassuring that together we are actually starting to get our teeth into this enormous problem!

The beauty of the plastic pollution crisis, (if you can humour me for a minute by suggesting there is something good about it!) is that people can see it. They can see, touch and even pick up a piece of plastic littering the beach they love, and endangering the wildlife in the place they play or breathe. Beach cleans are so wonderful at helping people to connect the dots between what they’re using and what is ending up on beaches. People are angry at the pictures of it killing marine life, and being able to actually see and feel it is cutting through the apathy that campaigns on some environmental crises seem to come up against.

So people are dutifully switching from single use plastic all around the country, whatever the cost.
But perhaps this isn’t the only answer…

Plastic itself is an incredibly clever invention – durable, lightweight and tough. It has enabled us to create cars with a lower carbon footprint, advance medical and research techniques, and fly around the world (controversial!).

However, single-use plastic is a very dangerous product. It’s used once, for a very short period of time, before it is no longer deemed useful, or to have any value. It can usually be recycled, but sometimes not very easily, and only a finite number of times before the polymers are no longer useful for that product.

Plastic is particularly troublesome in that it releases harmful chemicals, endocrine disruptors and even carcinogens. It entangles wildlife, and once ingested can cause animals to starve.

But this it isn’t just about plastic. This is about our throwaway culture. It’s about the way we see the planet as separate to us; an infinite resource to be exploited, rather than our life force to cherish, a part of us and our health. It’s about our perceived entitlement to ease and convenience, and our lack of respect for the materials that we’re using. Whether that’s plastic with its aforementioned draw-backs, metal which has to be mined from the ground, often causing terrible ecological damage, or glass which is heavy to transport, emitting masses of CO2.

In terms of the long term effects of plastic in our environment, materials such as paper, glass, and compostable materials are clearly preferable; they don’t have the toxic by-products, don’t use crude oil to be made, and usually degrade much quicker, causing less harm to wildlife. But there is still an environmental impact of using ANYTHING, whether that’s the energy needed to produce and ship it, or the deforestation that comes with unsustainable forestry for paper. This feels particularly poignant if it’s something we just don’t need.

Perhaps there’s another way. Perhaps instead of just demonising plastic, and thinking that switching to any alternative means we have ticked the box, can we reassess our own attitudes towards our lifestyles, consumption and usage, and consider carefully what the other options might be? Can we just start by reducing the things we don’t need, and finding reusable alternatives to those we do?

Living with less plastic shouldn’t be about having to buy loads of new products to enable you to do so, it should start with using less, and seeing how freeing it is to be pushing back on the unchecked consumption that has led us to where we are.

I do think this is happening to some degree, and truly believe that more conscious consumerism has been a valuable side-effect of the nationwide plastic campaigns. I would encourage you to continue to think carefully and connectedly about the choices you make, and please have conversations about it too!

I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Cal x

Why Bother With a Beach Clean?

Plastic pollution is everywhere. It can be very overwhelming, and lead to a sense of feeling like we can’t make a difference as one person. But we can.

Beach cleans, and more recently river, canal and even park clean ups, have become increasingly common and popular over the last few years. And this has had more impact than ‘just’ removing tonnes of plastic from our natural environment.

I recently made a short video entitled “Why Bother With a Beach Clean”. Below it I’ve written out my top 10 reasons for bothering to pick up litter!

  1. It does remove that harmful substance from the environment. Each bit of rope can no longer entangle an animal, each piece of plastic can’t be ingested.
  2. It inspires others to pick it up too, and helps other people to understand there’s an issue that needs addressing when they see you doing it.
  3. Picking up plastic from an environment you love helps connect the dots between what we’re using in our everyday lives and that which ends up on our beaches. This helps create further change, reducing what we use in the first place having seen it damaging the environment we care about.
  4. Plastic pollution is a great starting point for people’s journeys into the world of environmental campaigning. You can see, touch and pick up a piece of plastic. You can see clearly how our actions are affecting the world around us. It might just be the first step to becoming interested in other environmental issues, such as climate change.
  5. It gets people outside, connecting to the natural world around them. This can only be a good thing!
  6. Being able to actually do something positive is very empowering, and helps to maintain forward momentum and a sense of hope. It’s a really easy thing that we CAN do, and we all need that.
  7. It feels good to give something back. Campaigns like the 2 minute beach clean give you something simple you can do to say thank you to the place you love.
  8. Clean-ups bring people and communities together. In North Devon, the Plastic Free North Devon team regularly have 100-200 people for their beach cleans! People get to know each other, have a laugh together, have a cup of tea and eat some biscuits together, and feel less alone in their fight to protect their local environment.
  9. Picking up marine litter has led to innovations through people having to figure out what to do with the stuff they collect, and consequently identifying it as a resource rather than valueless. For example, Rob Thompson created Odyssey Innovations, making kayaks out of recycled marine litter; Waterhaul is a UK company making sunglasses out of ghost nets, and brands like Finisterre and Fourth Element, amongst many others, are making swim suits out of recycled marine litter! This is closing the loop on what was once considered simply a waste product.
  10. It can actually be a lot of fun. I love the beach cleans in North Devon, we have a laugh, I see my mates and I meet new like-minded people. I also love the paddle clean ups I’m involved in. If you can keep environmentalism upbeat, and get people doing something they actually enjoy, that’s a lot less likely to turn them off than paralysing them with negativity.

10 Easy ways to Limit your Plastic Footprint when Travelling

The aim of this article is to empower you to limit your own plastic footprint when travelling, and to feel proud to do so, in simple ways.

A lot of countries I travel to for surfing are not equipped in the same way as the UK is to handle influxes of people, and in particular their plastic waste. As the local infrastructure struggles to handle the increased volumes of plastic being disposed of, it’s more likely to find its way into waterways and oceans.

Rivers overflowing with plastic, beaches covered in plastic straws and waves tarnished by plastic bags are an all too familiar site.

P1070806.JPG

The 10-step guide below contains simple things that can easily add up to a massive reduction in our plastic footprint when travelling. Although the global solution to the marine litter crisis has to be collaborative, I do feel that it is our responsibility to do our best to limit what harm we do by travelling consciously. I hope this can ultimately increase your enjoyment of a trip in the knowledge that you’re not contributing to destruction of the place you’ve fallen in love with!

  1. Limit your plastic water bottle usage.
    This can be one of the most daunting, especially in countries where the tap water isn’t safe to drink, so I’ll break this one down further into a few points:

    a. Take a reusable bottle with you regardless – You never know where you’ll find refill points. Which brings me to my next point:

    b. Airports – In the UK you can take an empty refillable bottle through security in your hand luggage, then find somewhere on the other side to fill up – a coffee shop/bar or water fountain (a lot of airports have these now!)

    c. Check the country you’re travelling to re water safety – the NHS fit to travel website is a good resource for this: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk. Some countries’ tap water can be safely navigated by using water purification tablets or a filter.

    d. If all else fails, and bottled water seems to be the only option, investigate if there is a deposit return scheme in your chosen destination. In Indonesia I was thrilled to find that the water came in massive gallon bottles which could then be returned to a local shop when empty, to be refilled.

    Cal.JPG

2. Refuse straws in your drinks

Last time I travelled to Indonesia, I took my own reusable straw with me. I worked out that over the 6 weeks I was there, I saved over 300 straws by using my own. Imagine the impact we could have if every tourist did that! You can also revolutionarily just use your lips too! You have to be fairly on it with this one, as in a lot of places it’s second nature for bar staff to shove a couple of straws in your drink, so remember to start the order with, “no straws please!” I lost track of how many times I was gently reassured that the straws were free, and had to explain my reasoning for not wanting one.

3. Take your bag for life

Take a couple of cloth bags with you – they’ll be just as useful for shopping abroad as they are in the UK; they can also be washed out if they get a bit mucky. Try and buy your fruit and veg out of wrappers too, straight into your bag for life.

4. Coffee cup

I have an amazing insulated Klean Kanteen coffee cup that keeps my hot drinks hot for hours, and keeps my cold drinks cold too. I’ll use it not just to get coffee in, but takeaway juices and beer in bars that are otherwise serving it in a plastic cup. You really will save on so much plastic by religiously using it at every opportunity. You can also use it on the aeroplane instead of the million plastic cups the lovely hostesses seem determined to give you.

IMG_5229.jpg

5. Cutlery

This year I travelled with bamboo cutlery. I’ve used it up mountains with my rice, on deserted beaches on SUP expeditions and in airports. It’s super light and durable and can save on a lot of unnecessary plastic cutlery that’s used for a matter of seconds. You can buy it at the Surfers Against Sewage shop. Alternatively, steel cutlery from your drawer at home will do just as well.

6. Shampoo and soap bars

Check out Lush’s range of shampoo and soap bars – these take up a lot less space and weight than traditional bottles too. They also make deodorant bars which are lighter and less bulky, and plastic free!

7. Beach cleans

On one beach in Indonesia last year I collected over 100 straws in under 20 minutes, along with plastic toothbrushes, water bottles and sanitary products. Not only does cleaning beaches physically remove that waste from the environment and limit the harm it can have, but this particular clean up got the attention of locals, some of whom joined in as well. I find beach cleans always re-stoke my plastic-free fires as well; after a few minutes of picking up unnecessary single use items in areas where turtles hatch in Barbados, I suddenly wanted a straw in my drink even less.

8. Bamboo Toothbrush

This is a good one for every day living, but particularly for travelling if you normally have an electric toothbrush and are looking for something smaller. Be aware – Bamboo toothbrushes often have nylon bristles which aren’t compostable. You can get one on the  Surfers Against Sewage shop.

9. Sanitary wear

One of my favourite topics of conversations! Much to the dismay of pretty much all my male friends. Ladies – get a Mooncup. For the love of all things convenient, safe and empowering, get a Mooncup.

IMG_2277.JPG

Travelling light is such a joy; having half your backpack stuffed with bulky sanitary towels or tampons is not. Having to pay £10 for an imported pack of tampax in a foreign country is not cool, nor is finding yourself in a country where tampons are just not used and being unable to surf for a week. Menstrual cups eliminate all plastic waste from your periods, are incredibly convenient, and save a heap of money. They can be understandably a little daunting at first, and I would really recommend trialling it a few times before relying on it to travel with (took me 3 months to get used to mine; I’m so glad I persevered), but now I don’t even have to think twice about travelling or surfing with my period abroad. Total life changer, and no toxic plastic waste to try and dispose of in a country that isn’t set up to deal with that. Mooncup have excellent support if you’re struggling to get the hang of it, please ladies, give it a good go at least.

10. Sun protection

Buy sunscreen in bulk and choose reef-friendly varieties. There are a some ingredients in certain sunscreens, including oxybenzone, which bleach coral reefs even in small amounts. Alternatively, opt to cover up every now and again instead of slapping on the sunscreen – it’s better for your skin, wallet and the planet. For some of us paleys, sunscreen isn’t even an option: I regularly have to dress head to toe ninja style when surfing to avoid the burn. And I mean socks too. Make sure you wear a decent UPF 50 rash vest or similar – check out Finisterre’s range of gorgeous Econyl recycled fishing net swim tops. There are some beautiful sea leggings out there too – check out Olas Leggings, UK-based and made out of recycled plastic bottles.

JamesAppleton1.jpg

Have a safe trip, have all the fun in the world, and I hope you feel happy and proud to be actively protecting something that is giving so much back to you. Thank you for doing so!

The unexpected effects of plastic on animals

By Cal Major

I became a vet to protect animals; to improve their health and take care of their wellbeing. My passion has always been in marine conservation and aquatic species, but I love domestic species no less.

In July 2017 I set off on a solo circumnavigation of the Isle of Skye, Scotland, on stand up paddle board.

I had expected to see beaches covered in plastic, as they are almost worldwide now due to the 8 million pieces tonnes plastic that find their way into the ocean each year. I even half expected to come across sea-life affected by it. But I hadn’t expected the biggest heartbreak of the trip to be witnessing first hand the impact our plastic obsession is having on… cows.

Cow Nose 1

Cows are brilliant. They are unassuming, stoical and beautiful. I worked closely with them for the first few years of my career as a vet, and so have a love for them that runs deeper than just their beauty; for their strength, loyalty and resolve. Having been thrown over a fence by an angry beef cow with calf at foot, repeatedly kicked in my shins, sat on by a calving cow, charged at by a herd of new mothers and told where to go by these powerful creatures more times than I care to admit as a newly graduated vet, I also have a deep respect for their power, and the ease with which they could seriously injure a human if confronted or threatened. For this reason, standing back and watching this beautiful animal, unwittingly vulnerable, chewing on a discarded fishing rope broke my heart. The beach in question was piled high with plastic. But also visited by sheep and cows, lambs and calves, picking between the plastic for seaweed and edible goodies, and inevitably ingesting the plastic waste too.

I was unable to get any closer to this cow than you can see in the following clip, an excerpt from Skye’s The Limit, the film documenting my expedition. I was completely alone, out of signal and miles from any roads or people on land. The cow and her bovine mates could have seriously injured, even killed me if she had felt threatened by me approaching any closer.

This story has a happy ending. But for how long? How long before she finds more plastic to eat, or her calf does, or the next cow does, or the next sheep? How many innocent animals are we going to subject to this before, as a human race, we say “enough is enough”?

Launching 2

Later in the week I met a pair of farmers with a herd of prized white Highland cows. These cows were their pride and joy, the farmers knew them each individually, and even cared for the geriatrics of the herd.

Cal bottles 3

They had experienced this problem in their own cows. They had had to have several of their beautiful cows operated on, their stomachs cut open, to remove plastic that they had eaten off the beach.

We have a responsibility to ourselves, our own health, the animals in the ocean, but also our four legged friends closer to home. All of our health is linked – humans, animals and the planet, after all.

RH 22.jpg

10 Easy switches to cut down on Single Use Plastic

By Cal Major

In our culture it isn’t easy to live without single use plastic – that’s the stuff that is used for a matter of minutes and then discarded. Go into any supermarket and notice what most of the packaging is made of, and you’ll find it all over the shop, literally!  I’m not going to focus on the negatives here, but on positive solutions.

IMG_3233

By refusing single use plastic where we can, we are acknowledging that we don’t want to be a part of the damage that it is causing. This will inspire those around us too, and put pressure on companies to use less plastic in their packaging. It’s not about shaming or feeling guilty for the products we buy that are packaged plastic, it’s about being proud of the choices we make that do reduce the amount we use. We’ve a long way to go before plastic free living becomes commonplace, but as a wise man once said:

“Be the change you want to see in the world”

Here are ten really simple switches you can make to reduce your plastic usage.

1. Ditch the plastic water bottle.

IMG_1169

Lets start with the easiest and most obvious. Single use plastic bottles are one of the most common items of marine litter we find on beaches – over 150 litter each mile of UK beach! And yet with the safe drinking water we have in the UK, plastic water bottles are one of the simplest things to live without. Get yourself a reusable bottle, and get into the habit of filling it up before you leave the house, and refilling it when you’re on the go. It can be daunting at first, but I have never been refused a refill in pubs, shops, cafes, even the airport. There are also some great refill schemes around the country.

For places that have signed up to give you free refills, check out Refill

2. Take a reusable bag with you wherever you go

Since the 5p plastic bag charge was introduced to England, the number of plastic bags being used has reduced by 80%! But I reckon most of us now have been caught out and had to balance our shopping precariously and waddle to the car when we’ve forgotten our bags. Remember to take one with you for shopping, or keep one in the car if, like me, you’re prone to forgetting it.

3. Buy a reusable coffee cup.

Did you know, single-use coffee cups have a plastic lining? They’re really difficult to recycle as a result.

There are some really lovely reusable coffee cups out there for sale. My favourite coffee cup is a Klean Kanteen double layered vacuum cup, which claims to keep drinks hot for 4 hours. I can attest to this – I’ll sometimes forget I made a coffee, return to it 3 hours later to find it still piping hot. No posh coffee goes to waste on my watch!

IMG_3237

4. Microbeads

Microbeads are the ninjas of the single use plastic world. If you haven’t yet heard of them, they are tiny bits of plastic that sneak their way into some cosmetics such as scrubs. What’s particularly dangerous about them is that they’re washed down the drain, and eventually into the ocean, where fish can ingest them. They’re really tricky little bits of plastic because once they’re in the ocean, they’re impossible to remove. So how do you know if the products you’re using contain microbeads? Get the free Beat The Microbead app. You can scan the barcode on a product and the app will let you know if it contains them or not. Super easy. Then don’t buy it. There are plenty environmentally friendlier alternatives.

5. Sanitary products

This is often a tricky subject to broach. Ladies, I know as well as you do that compromising on sanitary care is simply not an option. It’s bad enough feeling that many emotions in the space of 24 hours without having to use something we’re not used to or not comfortable with. Well. Despite remembering very clearly my opinions on Mooncups when I first saw them advertised, I started using one a few years ago, and it has changed my life. We have periods for about 20% of each month, which is a fairly big chunk of time, so finding a product that works for you is really important. Not only has the mooncup meant I can be proud to have plastic free, and indeed completely waste free, periods, it also lets me surf longer without thinking about my period, travel without worrying about where I’m going to be able to get hold of tampons, and, in an unexpected twist, reconnect with my body and what’s normal for me with no unnatural products causing it harm. It’s a fluster-free period, and for adventuring, long periods of time out at sea, and comfort, for me it’s the only choice. If Mooncups really aren’t your gig, there are reusable sanitary towels too. If tampons are your go to and you’d rather not change that thank you very much, then there are plenty out there with cardboard applicators rather than plastic ones. If we think about how many we’ll use in a lifetime, making this simple switch can reduce plastic consumption a whole lot. And whatever you use, please remember not to flush any of it down the toilet. Even tampons can block drains, cause sewage overflows and end up in the ocean. And quite frankly, I get a bit squeamish picking up plastic applicators off the beach.

6. Fruit and veg

It can be a little bit tricky to find all the fruit and veg you would normally eat unwrapped. But there are ways! I’ve found an amazing farm shop in Halberton (Devon) which has loads of unpackaged fruit and veg including… drum roll… farm grown kale! Those of you reading this who try and live plastic free will, I’m sure, understand the significance of this: it’s really hard to find non-plastic wrapped kale. There are heaps of farms around the country that will deliver you a fresh, local veg box, and you can always ask if they’ll bring their produce to you without plastic wrapping. If your only grocery shopping opportunities come in the form of a supermarket, which is unfortunately often the case, then choose the loose items where you can and don’t take one of those little plastic bags too put them in – it defeats the object! Most supermarkets have at least some fruit and veg that’s unwrapped.

7. Straws

IMG_2898

I was recently in Indonesia, and in 20 minutes on one beach I collected over 100 straws. All probably used for a matter of minutes, then to persist in the environment, causing harm along the way, for upwards of 200 years. We just don’t need straws most of the time! There are medical conditions which require certain exceptions, but generally we can manage just fine with our lips. If you really love to drink through a straw, you can buy reusable straws which are really nice to drink from.

8. Meat and bread

I appreciate how hard it can be to source meat safely without plastic wrapping. A lot of butchers now will let you take in your own tub for meat to be put into. This includes the deli counters in Midcounties COOP stores, and in Morrisons! Buying from local butchers means you can also be more discerning as to where your meat is coming from, its welfare standards and the quality.

Similarly with bread, a lot of supermarkets have bread out of packaging, or better still can you find a local bakery to support?

meat in tupperware

9. Shower gel

There are lots of home recipes out there for making your own shampoo and conditioner, and even toothpaste, so if that’s your thing, give it a google. A bit of advice from personal experience: if you’re planning to make your own conditioner with apple cider vinegar, just read the instructions properly and don’t get too excited like I did and pour the vinegar straight onto your head if you don’t want to smell like a bag of crisps for a week. Shower gel was, for me, the easiest product to switch. There are some lovely soap bars out there, check out Dr Bronners, or find a local producer – there are loads of places making soap bars now with no plastic packaging. They are more natural too and eliminate the chance of accidentally buying a product containing microbeads.

10. Household cleaning products

I use Ecover because you can refill the bottles at various places across the country, hence not buying any new plastic bottles. Their products smell lovely and are natural too, so you’re also not washing harmful chemicals down the drain to harm the environment. Ecover are also recycling marine litter into their washing up liquid bottles! Check out their website for more info.

IMG_3232

Remember – using less plastic in your life shouldn’t be a chore, nor should there be guilt for the plastic you do use. It’s about the empowerment and pride that comes from choosing to make positive changes in your life that you know safeguard the environment, both locally and at large. And the more important this becomes for individuals, the more pressure there is on companies to make it easier for us to live without single use plastic.

Thank you, and keep up the good stuff! We’re all in this together – collectively we can really make difference.