Summer is well and truly here and what better place to spend it than at one of the UK’s incredible beaches. The South West, home to some of the UK’s most stunning beaches (though we might be a little biased) is a particularly popular tourist destination. Last year summer visitors to Dorset alone exceeded 400,000 while the population of Cornwall jumps from 555,000 to 850,000 each summer.
While the impact of tourism might annoy some locals, there is no doubt that it brings a lot of money to the local economy; 1.8 bn of Cornwall’s 9 bn economy comes from tourism alone. In recent years, a new downside to summer tourism has come to light, that is - plastic pollution.
The fact is that things that we buy for a spot of summer holiday fun are not so great for the environment. Each year, for example, 16,000 plastic body boards end up in the UK’s environment, and in 2016 BeachCare collected over 600 of these boards from just three Cornish beaches! That’s an enormous amount of pollution, and it doesn't take into account the carbon generated by the production of these boards, typically in Asia, and the transportation of them across the oceans to our seaside shops.
It’s not just the bodyboards that are to blame though. Lines and buckets bought for crabbing end up discarded and washed into the ocean (let’s not even talk about the distress it causes the crabs); buckets for sandcastles are left behind; spades, inflatables, cheap pop-up beach tents, disposable cutlery, plastic bottles, plastic cups; all temporary entertainments that contribute to the eight million metric tonnes of plastic that end up in the ocean each year.
What can be done?
Designed for fun, but not to last
Summer holidays at the beach are loads of fun! No one wants them to stop. Ultimately, the problem is not children (or adults) building sandcastles, people playing around in the surf or families enjoying a picnic on the beach. The problem is bigger, and hard to tackle. It’s really another aspect of our disposable culture.
Bodyboards, buckets, plastic cups and bottles, low-cost beach tents, you name it - none of it is designed to last more than the summer - some might not even last that long. Rather, it is designed to be made cheaply, exported on mass to seaside shops where it is sold at affordable prices to visiting tourists. Unconsciously perhaps, neither the buyer or the seller expects the bodyboard, bucket or inflatable to last and neither party mind as it is easily and cheaply replaceable. But together we can change all of that.
Read on to discover our top tips on how to reduce the amount of plastic on your beach holiday.
Realistically, with our culture the way it is at the moment there is always, unfortunately, going to be an element of plastic involved in our holidays. From sweet wrappers to the packaging on your veggie sausages for the BBQ plastic is going to creep in somewhere. There are steps though that we can take to reduce the amount of plastic we are putting into the environment, while still having fun on the beach. Like most things we do to avoid plastics, this one is going to take a bit of planning.
Look to hire longer lasting surf or bodyboards rather than buying them. This might be more expensive than buying a disposable bodyboard so why not club together with other families on holiday and hire one or two to share? If hiring or sharing is really not an option then why not improvise? Forget the bodyboard all together and enjoy diving under the waves. Break out your artistic side and build sandcastles using your hands, not pre-shaped buckets - that’s cheating!
Look for alternatives to activities that are designed to be throwaway. Rather than buying a crabbing bucket and line for example, why not invest in a snorkel and mask and see what you can spot on the ocean floor.
As well as improvising the fun and games that you might have at the beach, look around for alternative plastic-free products that you might need for your holiday. Rather than buying sun-cream which comes in a plastic bottle (and pollutes the ocean when it washes off) for example, look for zero waste, reef friendly alternatives such as those from Shade. Rather than buying Tupperware to take your food in, treat yourself to a long-lasting, plastic-free Elephant Box.
All that playing at the beach can build up a serious appetite, but being hungry doesn’t have to mean plastic pollution. With a little bit of planning ahead, you can bring your own picnic to the beach to enjoy without having to unwrap anything. What’s more, the days of sandy cucumber sandwiches are long gone; check out this veggie Tex Mex salad or this Rainbow Pie - how delicious do they look!
Long hot summer days (and summer nights) mean drinking plenty of fluids. Forget the plastic bottles though, bring your own water bottle and refill it at will. Not only is it much better for the environment it is also much cheaper in the long run. If you are worried about being able to refill your bottle then download the Refill app to find a Refill Station near you.
Top tips for a low-plastic beach holiday