The Tide of Plastic


I swam into a piece of plastic waste today.  There are often bits in the surf but this was way off the beach and an unusual event especially given the miles of open water swimming I do.

Plastic waste is everywhere, look around.  David Attenborough in the Blue Planet 2 series has undoubtedly brought to a wider audience the plight of the oceans, but it is something that some of us have been aware of and battling with for years.  Martin Dorey established the #2minutebeachclean some years ago and that provided a banner under which those of us who take an empty bag each time we go to the beach and inevitably return with it full could muster.

But are some people taking it too far with their ‘plastic free’ lifestyle claims?  No-one is plastic free.  You may go to the fruit stall and buy only loose goods and put them into your cloth bag, but how do you think they got to the store?  They were picked in the fields into plastic crates, shipped in plastic crates, delivered to the shop in plastic crates and very possibly along the way wrapped in disposable plastic covers.  That’s burying your head in the sand not living plastic free.  And please, please, stop taking photos on your phone (mostly plastic) and blogging on your computer (mostly plastic) and posting on the internet (down plastic phone cables).  Think it through!

Plastic is essential to the world in which we live though we do not value it sufficiently and should be more responsible especially over ‘single use plastic’.  However, the aim should not be to stop using single use plastics as, for example, hypodermic syringes are ‘single use plastics’ and for very good reason. Many ‘single use’ plastics offer significant benefits to our lifestyle.

If the fiscal value of plastic was adjusted in line with the practical value then plastic that is intended to be thrown away would decline.

Nevertheless we should stop throwing plastic away. There is a finite market for recycled plastic at present but only because people want shiny looks like new items and will not accept recycled which may not have the same presentation. If my PC was made of recycled plastic would it work any less well?

I am a fanatical beach cleaner, but it is like closing the stable door after the horse bolted. It would be far better to stop it getting in the sea / river / hedgerow / environment as a whole in the first place.

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall


A self defeating exercise.

Outdoor swimming has grown in popularity over the last 10 years and this outwardly appears to be a good thing, but I increasingly feel it is a self defeating exercise.  This suspicion has been amplified by recent events at Spitchwick Common on Dartmoor.

In the blue corner, all those who might not otherwise have seen a jellyfish or a kingfisher.

In the red corner, those who arrive with their instant bar-b-cue, cans, bottles and disposable lifestyle and think the beautiful place they just visited will be enhanced if they smash glass into the water, cut branches off the trees, burn the grass and undergrowth and leave their litter when they go home.

Thoughtless people insensitive to the environment and the wildlife and people they share it with are nothing new, indeed ‘smash, grab and trash’ seems to be an appropriate motto for the human race.  What the finish line of this race will look like remains to be seen, but I have an insight.

Yesterday I clambered down the river bank on the way to my swim, picked up the box neatly packed with the plastic and cardboard remains of someone’s day out and lifted it back tot he roadside from where I collected it on my return.  How is it, I constantly wonder, that people take all the packets to the picnic, eat and drink the contents and then find themselves without the strength to carry the empties back to the car?  Or worse still, do carry it back to the car but simply then leave it in a bush or behind a rock in the car park.

I read recently that the scientific name Homo stupidus was once seriously proposed for Neanderthal people.  I think I have identified a far more deserving people for the name.

Countless people have enjoyed a day out at Spitchwick, the main draw being that it is a great place to swim in the river, and yes there has always been some litter and a few fires, but the land is privately owned.  The litter and vandalism of the environment has however become unsustainable.  Car parks have been closed to choke the flow of visitors.  Double yellow lines have been painted on the roads for miles in every direction and a ruthless ticketing policy enforced.  And now the last car park has been closed, the next nearest shrunk in size and CCTV installed.  It no longer looks like a national park but more like a high street.

It seems unlikely to be effective.

I have heard it said that people park on the yellow lines and agree in advance to share the parking fine.  The litter won’t stop but now the roads are impassable too.

I have in the past contacted the park authority and asked why they do not empty the bins at the nearby New Bridge car park which spill over in a stinking mound all through the summer.  They assure me that the cost is too much for them to provide bins and that not providing bins makes people take their rubbish home again.  Looking at the abundant and highly visual evidence to the contrary I have to disagree.  The bins may not be theirs but they don’t know who they do belong to, they tell me.  But they are turning your car park into a rubbish tip, why not phone the contractors number on the side of the bin and ask who does pay the rental and cost of eventual emptying?  They don’t know why they don’t do this.

Ultimately the land owner may resort to a big fence, it is his land, he should not have to be constantly clearing the area and there is no more an open invitation to go and swim there than there is to all and sundry if you put a paddling pool in your back garden.

A fence in turn will simply displace the hordes to the next place and so on and so on.

As with the situation at Stonehenge I can see a time in the not too distant future when the closest you will be able to get to the river over there behind the barbed wire and attack dogs will be to have an interactive virtual wild swim where at the end someone tips a bucket of water over you which contains some crisp packets, a plastic bottle, soggy cardboard, a knotted dog poo bag and if you are going for the deluxe experience some broken glass and one of those razor sharp grilles from a disposable bar-b-cue.

Rather than being a part of and contributing further to this self defeating moment.  I cannot pick up any more litter than I already do so maybe it is time to hand back my goggles and swimwear and throw in the towel.


I Don’t Believe It!

People I know have started calling me Victor, a reference that will not be lost on anyone who ever watched the BBC sitcom ‘One Foot in the Grave’.

But really, I don’t believe it!

A week ago the river bank was almost pristine and litter free.  However, the school holidays are upon us and there have been successive days of spring sunshine and the undergrowth is blooming litter like damp forgotten swimwear in a plastic bag sprouts mould.  But this is to litter and beyond!

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

I passed the car parked in the designated turning space (selfish enough) along the narrow twisting lane on my way to the river.  And again on the way back.  A few minutes later and I’m driving down the lane heading for home and the car is just backing out into the road.  I pause and let them get underway.  And there, propped against the bushes is a metal framed, fluorescent pink canvassed folding chair.  The canvas hangs ragged and torn.  Those bastards have just carried it back from the river bank and rather than take it home in their car they have dumped it.

Why?  Why do people do it?  They carry full picnic baskets to the river bank and afterwards load up with the empty cans, bottles, plastic wrappers and then leave it the car park when presumably there is still room for it in the car it came out of in the first place.

Anyway, it’s now in my shed on its way to being recycled.

Wild Swimming
Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming Map: Devon & Cornwall