Plastic is Choking our Oceans

I recently spent a week’s holiday in sunny Santorini, and while I was there I was hit with the serious reality of plastic pollution. Although Santorini is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I have travelled to, the amount of plastic that washed up on the beaches shocked me.

It made me more aware than ever of how important it is to drastically reduce our plastic consumption. The impact that plastic pollution is having on the environment and marine life is devastating. Our excessive waste is not only impacting Greece. The whole world is at risk.

I found myself swimming amongst plastic bags and I spent a lot of time fishing plastic and pieces of abandoned fishing net out of the water. This took away from the beautiful, carefree atmosphere of Santorini. It also made the seriousness of the issue even more real for me.

We are recklessly filling our oceans with plastic we don’t need.

Around 570,000 tonnes of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year – the equivalent of 33,800 plastic bottles every minute. It is choking ocean life and birds. The pollution is so dire in some areas that wildlife can no longer thrive. Species are dying out, with deadly implications for our environment. Every species is vital to the health of the whole ecosystem.

Why is there so much plastic in the oceans?

First of all, because of the amount of single-use plastic we consume. Plastic bags, water bottles, milk cartons, etc – all of these products take hundreds of years to break down. When we throw them away, they often end up in the sea because there is not enough space in landfills.

Secondly, when we discard non eco-friendly products down drains and toilets, such as cotton buds, face wipes, tampons, etc, they eventually end up in the sea as microplastics. These are tiny pieces of plastic that result from plastic that has broken down but not decomposed. Unsuspecting animals swallow the tiny pieces and the toxins kill them over time.

80% of microplastics come from land-based sources such as plastic bags and bottles. These are things that we can easily and quickly cut out of our lives with just a little bit of thoughtfulness.

It might seem impossible to escape plastic but more and more alternatives are becoming available.

The reduction of single-use plastic is vital to our planet and people are finally starting to get the message. Organisations such as WWF and Greenpeace are encouraging people to ditch plastic straws, cups, packaging etc to reduce the waste that ends up in the sea.

There are also many shops and businesses going plastic free. For example, where I live in Edinburgh, zero-waste shops such as The Eco Larder are doing their bit for the environment by cutting out all plastic. As an alternative, they use glass jars and recyclable fabric bags to store and package products. There are plastic conscious shops like this all over the world and it is easy to find one local to you online. Supporting sustainable shops will help them to grow, and it will become more of the norm for a shop to be plastic free.

Small changes are vital.

We can all make small changes in our lives, such as using a reusable bottle, a reusable coffee cup, or reusable pads to remove makeup. Not only will you reduce your plastic consumption and live a more sustainable life, you will also save money. Businesses are also making big changes. This year, Glastonbury music festival made the decision to go plastic free. McDonalds has also announced that as of September 2019, they will be scrapping the plastic lids that come with McFlurrys.

Decisions like these must continue. Becoming more sustainable is extremely important and sometimes we need a reminder. The ocean makes up two thirds of our planet. Reducing our plastic waste is one small sacrifice we can make to keep it alive.

We can all help our planet recover from the damage we have inflicted on it – while there is still time.

Sustaining Breastfeeding for our Environment

The health of our planet is affected by the way babies are fed. We know that breastfeeding has overwhelmingly positive impacts on both mother and child – with long-term health effects that last a lifetime. Yet, safeguarding women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding and providing necessary support for women is also of incredible importance for our environment and in tackling climate change.

To break it down, there are a few noticeable impacts that breastfeeding has on combating climate change – when put in contrast to the use of breastmilk substitutes:

  • Reducing waste in your home from breastmilk substitutes
  • Reducing methane gas from cows that produce milk to make formula
  • Reducing industrial waste and pollution from production of breastmilk substitutes
  • Reducing fuel consumed to transport products to market
  • Reducing use of energy to heat formula and sterilize equipment
  • And in the long term – reducing energy use and waste associated with ill health and deaths of children and mothers

Yet, aren’t these points just a necessary evil for women who are not able to breastfeed? For some, yes. David Clark of UNICEF puts it into perspective for us:

“Entire sections of society mistakenly believe that large numbers of women cannot breastfeed and that formula is a necessity, and that any harm caused to the environment is a necessary evil. The breastmilk substitute industry (estimated to be worth $41.5 billion in 2012 and forecasted to double in size and reach $63.6 billion in 2017) has played a significant role in idealizing the use of their products and persuading women that they are either as good as, or better than breastfeeding.”

Like in so many other areas of our lives – especially as women – we are bombarded by marketing telling us how to look, how to behave and what life-changing decisions to make. Breastfeeding is not excluded from this. The detrimental environmental impact of breastmilk substitutes is a responsibility for all of us to bear – not mothers alone. We need to provide enabling environments, supporting policies and changed attitudes that give women the freedom to choose to breastfeed, as part of our efforts to combat climate change.

The biggest task ahead is communicating the important linkages between breastfeeding and the environment – taking the conversation about breastfeeding beyond nutrition to the impact on sustainability and women’s rights, and putting it into practice.

An example of how this is being done is through the work of Pan Asia Pacific. Their work focuses on creating a just and pesticide-free future with strong partnerships at the grassroots level – including with agricultural workers, indigenous peoples and rural women’s movements. They acknowledge that poor women from poor communities are more susceptible to pesticides, which further puts their babies at risk during pregnancy and breastfeeding. They promote women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding – yet they do so with caution, as they know the implications of working in polluted environments.

Safeguarding breastfeeding is an essential step in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals – including the targets related to climate change and our environment – and requires us to collaborate across sectors and at multiple levels. One such partnership is the Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative (BAI), which aims to raise awareness of the contribution breastfeeding can play in combatting climate change.  

“Through the Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative, UNICEF is reaching out to partners beyond the world of infant and young child feeding and this must include allies in the field of environment and climate change,” Clark explains. 

Let’s increase action by ensuring that groups working on environmental issues understand the linkages between breastfeeding and combatting climate change – making this a central part of our advocacy strategies. Advocacy must also include the normalization of breastfeeding as a sustainable way to feed babies – including the message that breastfeeding contributes to reducing our carbon footprint. New mothers and the younger generation need to be informed of the environmental impact of formula feeding in addition to receiving the support they need to choose to breastfeed.

To ensure that sustainability and environmental protection is a central part of breastfeeding advocacy we must broaden our messaging to include environmental and climate change arguments, like curbing the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers. To protect mothers and children that are the most vulnerable, we need to partner with grassroots organizations that work among poor and marginalized groups.

Lastly, the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes creates a framework for us to limit the formula feeding industry and thus safeguard our environment as well as women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding. Let’s ensure that The Code is fully implemented and monitored regularly.  

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy. 

Why there needs to be a gender aspect in climate negotiations

When floods strike or droughts persist, women are among the first to feel the impacts on their livelihoods and daily lives. (UN Women, COP17)

As the COP17 negotiations are undergoing in Durban, reaching its last day tomorrow, I thought it would be good to send a reminder of the importance of discussing climate change with a gender aspect. Women are demanding inclusion, reports show that women and children are more vulnerable when hit by a natural disaster. Women are at a greater risk of disease and violence, they have a heavy burden to secure the household livelihood, and are usually counted higher among deaths (UN Women).

Those who work on climate change and those who work on reproductive health and rights have much in common and much to learn from each other. To paraphrase Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya, there is unlikely to be climate equity without gender equity. And as the world’s Governments noted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), there is unlikely to be gender equity until all women, men and young people have access to a full range of reproductive health services, from voluntary family planning to safe motherhood and the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (UNFPA, State of the World Population 2009).

Current links on gender and climate change:

http://www.cop17-cmp7durban.com/

http://unfccc.int/2860.php

http://www.unwomen.org/focus-areas/climate-change-and-the-environment/

http://www.genderlinks.org.za/article/women-demand-inclusion-in-efforts-to-save-forests-2011-12-07

http://www.mrfcj.org/