We discovered Alice Forrest at an Op Shop in Byron Bay, literally. Well not in person, but when we came across an amazing print publication called Micro Plastics Massive Problem created by Alice and her friend Harriet, we instantly fell in love. The book was packed with insights into the microplastic pollution problem that we're faced with and provided some practical solutions to tackle the issue, together with other resources and words from the wise.
So for Plastic Free July 2021 we reached out and asked Alice, as a conservationist and marine biologist, to talk to us about marine plastic pollution and her passion for protecting what she loves.
And as an added bonus follow the link at the bottom of the article to download a digital version of the book that started our beautiful relationship. Enjoy!
This month for Plastic Free July, Arnhem asked me to share my story and some of the science behind marine plastic pollution. You’ve probably seen the images of turtles entangled in trash, or picked up pieces of plastic from your local beach or waterway, and you know that plastic is a HUGE problem for our oceans and our entire planet. But just how big is the problem really? And most importantly, what can I do as an individual to make a difference?
To start with, why am I here talking to you about trash? I’ve studied marine plastic pollution for the last decade, documenting plastic on the most polluted beach in the world (Henderson Island) and inside commonly eaten fish. Right now I’m based in Coral Bay, on the magical Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, where I work as a guide taking people to swim with manta rays, whale sharks and humpback whales. For me, this is the perfect platform to communicate the magic of the ocean, connect people to it, and inspire them to live more sustainably. When I’m not under the ocean, you’ll find me giving lectures about ocean conservation, driving boats as a guide in Antarctica, or living in my off-grid tiny home in the hills of Byron Bay. I believe in protecting what I love, and that everyone can be custodians of this incredible ocean planet we live on.
So, how big is the plastic pollution problem?
In a nutshell, this is an absolutely massive problem. Plastic has been found inside creatures at the bottom of the deepest ocean, raining down onto mountains, blowing onshore in sea breezes, and frozen into sea ice in the remote Arctic. It’s unlikely anywhere on our planet is untouched by the stuff. And while awareness is growing fast, unfortunately so is plastic production - it’s projected to triple by 2040 without urgent action.
Here’s a few quick stats to sum it up:
- Around 11 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year - at least 10% of this is fishing nets, and over 80% comes from land-based sources (every river leads to the sea).
- 95% of plastic packaging is single use or throwaway products (like chip packets and other food wrapping) despite being made of a material which can last forever.
- One fleece jacket, in one wash cycle, can shed 250,000 synthetic fibres - these microfibres usually aren’t caught by wastewater treatment plants and can flush straight into the sea.
- There’s over 236,000 tonnes of microplastic floating in our oceans - the equivalent of around 8000 humpback whales.
- The average human eats and drinks about a credit card worth of plastic a week along with their water, shellfish & salt.
What can I do about it?
The great news about this problem is that we already have all the solutions we need to make a huge positive difference. This is NOT about feeling guilty every time you forget your reusable coffee cup, or wear lycra (in fact, that’s probably just how the plastic producing companies want us to feel, like it’s all our fault). This is about making changes in our own lives, in our communities, and on a global scale, that will reduce single use plastic.
So to get started: reduce plastic use wherever you can!
Start small if this seems like a huge challenge. You could do a plastic audit - what are the main things you find in your trash? And what can you switch them to that’s reusable & sustainable? Some easy places to start are getting reusable cups, bottles, bags & takeaway containers. From there you can think bigger - bulk shops, microbead-free face wash, clothing made of non-synthetic fabrics, shampoo bars, the possibilities are endless (and a quick google will give you a solution for whatever you want to switch). We don’t need a handful of perfect plastic-free people, we need millions of people doing this imperfectly.
From there, we need to think bigger - how can we transition our communities, even our countries, to drastically reduce plastic use? You could start a local group to do cleanups or education nights. Chat to local cafes & businesses about plastic alternatives. Talk to local council members about their policies for waste. Support businesses that are actively reducing their waste (and tell companies who aren’t doing it right exactly why you aren’t buying their products). Vote for politicians who endorse legislation like banning single use plastics (this is happening right now in Australia, where many single use plastics are being phased out by 2025, but this won’t happen without our continued support).
We all have something to offer - a skill, passion, something you’re good at - now find a way to use your superpower to make a difference. The Japanese call this your ikigai - using your talents to provide what the world needs. So whether that’s illustration, public speaking, product design or leadership, you have something unique to help us shift to a world without a throwaway culture or oceans filled with trash.
For me, this looks like sharing information through my work as a guide and empowering people to make changes in their own lives. It means writing articles like this one and starting conversations. It means sharing the science, alongside the solutions. It means partnering with talented friends like Harriet Spark to create a free book and sharing it around - you can download Micro Plastics, Massive Problem here.
Thanks for reading & thanks for being part of this huge movement to create a more awesome planet.
You can follow my journey on Instagram: @aliceforrest