It’s time, let’s do it!

It really is an exciting and pertinent time to be delving into the world of plastics.  With the incredible Blue Planet 2 series, Sir David Attenborough has once again excelled himself.  In addition to capturing our imagination and interest by bringing the magic of marine animal behaviour into our home, he’s also brought the problem of plastics to our attention.  He’s shown us the plastic issue isn’t just the stuff of extremist rants.  It’s a matter that concerns all of us.  When marine animals suffer due to plastic pollution, it’s a concern.  When seafood contains plastic, it’s a concern.  When tap water in most countries contains plastic (and it does) it’s a concern.

With so much about plastic in the mainstream media right now, I feel like we are drowning in bleak articles assigning blame and instigating arguments about who should be making positive change… Plastic producers? Plastic consumers?  ‘The Government’?  It’s easy to think that someone else should be fixing the problem. But the truth is, we should all be makimg change – governments, producers and consumers. And we should be doing it right now. All at once: An individual action, multiplied by millions, creates global change. 

Luckily, we get to vote on this topic every day.  Every time we open our wallets, we vote.  Spending is how we cast our vote on whose ethos we support and how we want to treat the planet. 

So let’s think wisely about how we cast our votes and what other changes we can adopt in our everyday lives to help us tread lighter.   

Through 6 years of working in marine conservation and 5 years of teaching, I have bumbled along accumulating various bits of information and gathering strategies on how to tread lighter.  As you take on new habits and they become automatic, second nature, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that everybody knows about these little gems.  Recently I have been reminded that it’s really great to share ideas. 

Through facilitating solution thinking workshops with over 2,000 children, we have smashed out some great solutions to avoid using single use plastic.  By discussing the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), we have agreed that a 4th R should be added, as the first solution – REFUSE.  Refuse to use single use plastic

I focus on single use plastic because it makes up 75% of beach clean rubbish found in beach cleans (these stats differ slightly from country to country, but it’s usually around this rate).

So, enough of my waffling and here are some of the amazing ideas the kids have produced.  I hope you find some of them useful.  You might already be doing some of them, you might be doing all of them.  If you have any other ideas, please do leave a comment so we can share your brilliant ideas.  After all, the whole point of having wisdom is to share it and help others to be awesome too…

The products mentioned below are readily available online in most countries. And if you use the Ecosia search engine you’ll be contributing to reforestation just by searching the internet (that’s pretty awesome, check it out!). 

Instead of single use plastic straws… 

  • use your mouth (straws are for suckers)
  • use reusable metal straws
  • use reusable glass straws 
  • make straws from carrots (I would love to know if the pupil who suggested this ever tried to make some!)
  • or use  reusable bamboo straws. 

Instead of single use plastic drinks bottles… 

  • refill your own reusable water bottle (most cafes will refill your bottle for free, so it makes life cheaper too) 
  • or buy a can if you buy fizzy drinks. 

Instead of single use plastic shopping bags… 

  • use reusable cloth shopping bags
  • use cardboard boxes available in shops
  • or carry your shopping in your hands or pockets, if you don’t have much!

    Instead of single use plastic takeaway coffee cups

    • use a refillable coffee cup (your drink is usually cheaper when you use your own cup)
    • or take the time to sit in the cafe for a few minutes and enjoy your drink from a real cup

    Instead of single use plastic food containers

    • take your own reusable food container to the cafe or supermarket (again, you will often receive a discount for using your own container)
    • or again, take a few minutes to dine in using a real plate

    Instead of single use plastic cling film / glad wrap

    • use a beeswax wrap to wrap your food in – you can use small ones for covering the ends of cucumbers or lemon slices in the fridge and larger wraps for your sandwiches etc. 
    • or use your own reusable food container

    Instead of single use produce bags

    • take your own lightweight bags to the supermarket for filling from the food dispensers and the fruit and vegetable aisles

      Instead of single use plastic cutlery

      • carry a reusable spork in your bag, ready to use (some brands even provide a handy carry case)
      • or why not just carry a fork from your drawer at home?!

        For now, let me leave you with determination to use less single use plastic and one of my favourite quotes from the wonderful Dr Jane Goodall: 

        “We all make a difference. We have to decide what kind of difference we want to make.”

        Buses, reunions and steep hills

        I have sinned. And I don’t even really seek forgiveness. I am ok with what I have done and I might even do it again. My crime… well, it is considered gaspworthy cheating in bicycle touring circles…

        I mentioned that I went to see (and met) Jack Johnson right?! ūüėč Whilst there at the concert, I met some awe inspiring environmental champions doing brilliant waste reduction projects in Maori maraes, Para Kore, and others doing research in the ocean on plastics, Algalita South Pacific. Having exchanged mission statements and enthusiasm, I knew this was just the beginning and was flattered when they asked me to come join them for their Pure Tour of the North Island in February, where they will do a mix of educational workshops with kids and presentations to lawmakers and gamechangers. I laughed moments after hearing myself say; ‘oh, that’s a shame, I’ll be on the South Island by then.’ I gave myself a mental kick and almost instantly started plotting how I could turn my trip upside down to be on the North Island to join these amazing teams in February. 

        With almost nobody wanting to meet up over Christmas and New Year to discuss plastic waste (imagine the post Christmas guilt that might induce!), this would be the ideal opportunity to zoom down to Queenstown, my old home, and get stuck into friend reunions and adventures, free of guilt that I should be arranging talks and ‘doing more’. But I would have to cheat a bit with transport, given the last minute timings. Imagine the shame… cheating. Putting my beautiful bike on a bus to get from A to B. I can almost hear the tuts of cycle touring gurus…

        Flying was an option, and actually probably the cheapest. But I decided to travel by bus, ferry and car pooling. Getting into a metal tube and hurtling through the air to arrive for a couple of hours is all well and good, but it feels so disconnected, so generic. 

        And what an adventure the trip was. The ferry trip through the infamous Cook Straight was a veritable rollercoaster. The Captain’s understated, casual announcement that “the conditions are less than ideal” was shortly followed up by the sound of smashing plates in the kitchens, squeals and sickbags being used. 

        Although I kept my breakfast to myself and consider myself to be a fairly robust seafarer, there were a few moments where I did feel something aproaching fear, as the waves smashed us from the side and the boat tipped at an unnervingly unnatural angle. But after 40 minutes of sloshing around, we turned around the headland, life was instantly more pleasurable and we could get back to wildlife spotting and gasping at the approaching coastline.

        On the bus journey down the South Island, we saw seals, dolphins, penguins, seabirds, birds of prey, huge hares and stunning scenery. 

        Seals on the rocks, near Kaikoura

        We learned about the Kaikoura earthquake and the landslide that has resulted in the main state highway road closure for over a year. In fact it only opened a week before we drove it. Look, the road is even in a totally different place for some sections:

        I should pursue a carrer in graphics, right?!

        A few hours in Christchurch brought back memories of their big earthquakes in 2010 and 2011; feeling the rumbles all the way down in Queenstown and being shocked when the news showed us the devestation they endured. The city still has huge empty spaces and very few tall buildings. This bizarrely flat cityscape has given rise to some funky playparks, cycle path networks and graffiti and sculpture artwork. 

        Journeying by bus also gifted me the opportunity to suss out different routes and mentally prepare myself for future cycling days. I know the gradients, features and scenery that I might encounter later on in my journey. 

        The last leg of the trip involved getting a lift with a lovely and funny pair of Brazilian fellas, which gave me the chance to bust out some fairly dusty Portuguese. Every day is a learning day. 

        A bit tired after 2 days of travel

        And so finally, after nearly a year since deciding to make the trip to New Zealand and telling my friends I’d come back to see them, here I am, refalling in love with the spectacular scenery, having wheely fun reunions with friends (and their new mini people), cycling up ridiculously steep hills without any luggage on my bike (yesss!) and preparing for a Christmas filled with friends, carol singing, charity events, a pub quiz (oh yes, the reunion is on, we’re back again, team!) and huge smiles against a backdrop so spectacular that it attracts tourists and film makers alike. Lucky, lucky me. 

        And so, I wish you all a magical Christmas break surrounded by wonderful people, enjoying the company as much as the superfluous consumer ‘stuff’.  Huge festive love from Queenstown, catch you on the flipside… ūüėćūüėé

        It’s always better when we’re together…

        There is no combination of words I could put on the back of a postcard that would sum up the past week.

        I’ve just smashed through the 2,000 mark with the number of children I have presented to since starting out on my bike just under 4 weeks ago, which has been an awesome rollercoaster. ¬†But that is not the focus of this little snippet.

        This needs to be entirely dedicated to the magical madness of the weekend.  Saturday treated me to car pooling my way out to Piha beach to get to the big Sustainable Coastlines beach clean.  I had only seen glimpses of it on some reality TV show.  It is even more glorious in real life.  160 of us picked up over 2,000 litres of rubbish and left the place looking a little bit sparklier than when we got there.  Amazing juice people gave us free juice. Amazing hot dog people gave us free hot dogs.  It was pretty wonderful.

        source – Sustainable Coastlines – Piha Beach Clean

        But the adventure really started on Sunday morning. ¬†I was loving the solo cycling journey out to the Villa Maria Estate, the other side of Auckland. ¬†People looked at me like I was mad when I told them I was cycling the 25km to get there. ¬†But I had Jack Johnson singing to me at the top of my phone’s voice from my basket and life felt utterly fantastic (and maybe a tiny bit sticky, thanks to the factor 50).

        As I was cycling along the shoreline near some fishermen, I was struck by the irony of a sign declaring that any saline animals caught there would be toxic and shouldn’t be eaten. ¬†Boo hiss. ¬†Worth a photo, I thought. ¬†As I grabbed my phone out of the basket, a car passed me pretty close and my phone went flying into the air. ¬†It was one of those slow-mo moments where you look on, helpless to save the somersaulting phone in time. ¬†It hit the ground, bounced, tumbled a bit and finally landed face down. ¬†Jack was still singing. ¬†How lucky, I thought, it must be fine… Hmm… fine in that he was still singing, not so fine in that I could now only see the top 6mm of the screen. Mid journey. ¬†No maps. ¬†No stopping Jack singing. ¬†No control. ¬†No phone as I headed to see Jack himself in concert and hopefully in person, to talk to about my mission and my beautiful bike. ¬†For which I’d really love to have the ability to record photographic proof. ¬†What timing… I am still not sure what the Universe’s message was for me.

        Somehow I managed to laugh to myself about the situation. ¬†Life was still pretty awesome; this is a very first world worry; I can stop and ask directions. ¬†I have plenty of time. ¬†Luckily I always leave plenty of travelling time. ¬†I spied some friendly maori fellas outside the nearest dairy (corner shop). ¬†They provided much hilarity and a phone to consult Google Maps. ¬†One of them asked if I was from India. ¬†I’m not sure I look especially Indian so I asked why India. ¬†He said because of my accent… ¬†Brilliant. ¬†That’s the first time I’ve ever been mistaken for an Indian. ¬†More smiling material to ponder on my onward journey.

        I decided to swing by the airport, which was only 10 minutes past the concert venue. ¬†If they couldn’t magic my phone back into action, I had the luxury of throwing a few dollars at the problem and it’d all be ok. ¬†So much easier than situations that arose whilst living in Africa (but again, that’s a whole subject in itself, not for this post).

        The Vodafone people looked rather confused by a bamboo bicyclist turning up at the arrivals shop. ¬†Satisfied that my phone could be rescued at a later date, I decided to buy their cheapest little smartphone so I could still find my way around, find my friends outside the concert and find the schools that I needed to get to for the next few days. ¬†Mid purchase, I heard my name bellowed by a gaggle of giggling kids. ¬†I had spoken at their school several days earlier and they were excitedly telling their confused parents about how I made my bike, much to the equally confused salesman’s delight. Boom, a few minutes later, I was outta there, with a vaguely functioning $45 (¬£23) smartphone. ¬†Back on track and still running on time. ¬†Life was still good.

        I got to Villa Maria and met up with the most chilled out volunteer co-ordinator ever. ¬†An American surfer style dude named Kona, who was super lovely. ¬†And cute; which isn’t awful. ¬†Green Jack Johnson t-shirts were donned, we were prepped on the fellow conservationists represented at the Village Green stalls, and then suddenly up rocked Jack and Kim Johnson on the back of a golf cart. ¬†She told us that he’d messed up his knee (which was in a hardcore brace) and wasn’t even supposed to be walking around), but it takes more than that to stop Jack Johnson being awesome and talking to people. ¬†We waited whilst he made his way along the line of stalls and suddenly, there he was, asking if he could have a photo with us. ¬†Bike in hand, I asked if I could get a photo with him and tell him a bit about my mission.

        Jack, meet Sunny

        He seemed totally into the bamboo bike thing in itself, but when I told him about cycling to schools to talk to kids about alternatives to single use plastics, his face really lit up. ¬†His All At Once social action network supports oodles of awesome conservation projects. ¬†He told me about other people doing awesome missions who he’d met on his tour. ¬†What a wonderful way to tour around the world. ¬†He hasn’t let the fame go to his head. ¬†He uses his tours to turn his fans’ attention towards environmental causes and he gets to meet people who want to make a difference along the way. ¬†In awe.

        He very generously told me he loved my bike and mission, signed my bike to boot and left me feeling high as a kite.  What a guy.

        The concert was amazing. ¬†The other volunteers were amazing. ¬†I definitely made some lifelong friends, who I have already met up with to talk about what action we can take next. ¬†I have been asked to join some of the Village Green groups on a tour around New Zealand – because it’s so much better when we’re together, right?! ¬†I am still giddy. ¬†We danced and kept looking at each other laughing, totally present in the moment soaking up every wonderful second. ¬†“We’re here right now and this is happening” we kept saying, whilst dancing, jumping about, hugging. ¬†So much good energy.

        Heart filled and overflowing, here I am still basking in it, days later. Rock on.

        Come join me underwater

        When you get under the surface of the sea and share time with amazing creatures, large and small, you come back to land feeling fully recharged.

        I was lucky enough to visit the Poor Knights Islands last week with Dive! Tutukaka. Not only did they take us to some of Jacques Cousteau’s favourite dive sites (the stuff of dreams), but they also told us about the history and cultural significance of the islands.  ūüĎŹ‚̧

        Enjoy a couple of minutes of saltwatery  goodness!

        Poor Knights Underwater Magic

        The Force is strong here

        Arohanui – it is Maori for much love / deep affection, but goes deeper than just those words.  It’s right inside your soul.  I can’t think of a better way to describe the start of my plastic kaupapa (principles calling me to action) trip around New Zealand.

        Having lived here for 4 years, I am well versed with the kindness of kiwis, but cycling around talking to children has brought me kindness, generosity and arohanui in overwhelming abundance at an all together new level.  I know I am exactly where I am meant to be, doing exactly what I am meant to be doing.

        It’s kind of a funny way to travel around.  I am not a cycle tourist – they are far more impressive in the distances they cover and how tough they are.  I am not a teacher, I rely on kind schools allowing me in when they can squeeze me in.  I am a jumble of trying to cycle from A to B without scaring passersby by looking like a heart attack victim, trying to talk to as many schools as possible along the way, trying to get some press coverage to make it easier to get into schools and get friendly with local community groups, trying to plan ahead, trying to enjoy the moment, trying to get to some beaches to do beach cleans, trying to get some quiet time in nature.  It’s a lot to fit into the little 24 hours we get each day.  So I am fudging my way through for the moment. Hopefully I will refine everything and it won’t be so hectic feeling for the whole 5 months I am here in New Zealand.  It’s a bit like learning how to juggle – what comes first?  It feels like it all has to come first.  And so, I have found myself on numerous days, running about like a headless chicken, realising at 3pm that I haven’t had lunch.  I am getting better at that part, at least! (don’t worry Mum, I am eating plenty!)

        I have been blessed with plenty of thinking time on my bike (when not checking and rechecking Google Maps!).  I am trying to absorb the enormity of the arohanui that New Zealand is showing me.  I have long been a believer in the Universe providing in abundance when you need something, and this trip has taken that to another stratosphere.

        One of the less wonderful aspects of bringing a bamboo bike to the other side of the world with you on a plane, is the most miniscule weight allowance left for personal belongings (yes, I flew here, with a huge carbon footprint, to talk to people about lessening their impact on the planet.  I’ll probably come back as a toilet brush in my next life).  So, I had to leave most of my things behind in the UK and rebuy them out here.  Which is heartbreaking when you’ve only just scraped a few savings together for the trip.  So, I thought I’d fire out an email and see if anyone wanted to help me out – producers of natural fibre clothing, protein powder (to keep a vegetarian going up the hills!), sunscreen maybe… the things that I really need! 

        Icebreaker, who make the most wonderful merino clothes, came to my rescue exactly when I really needed their help, just as if the Universe was listening.  When I lived in New Zealand previously I had 1 Icebreaker jumper which was amazingly cosy in winter.  It turns out that they, being particularly good eggs, love my mission.  They have treated me to more clothes than I can really carry on my bike and I have been thanking them every day since.  They have kept me warm when I need to be warm and cool when I need to be cool.  For that, enormous gratitude.

        I was sitting at Matapouri Beach one day last week, after giving a presentation at Ngunguru School, wondering which campsite I would get to that night.  Suddenly, I heard “that’s the bike that was at my school!” I turned around to see one of the Year 2 pupils and his family out for a ride on their beautiful cruiser tandem bikes.  After a brief chat they told me there was no way I was staying in a campsite, I must come and stay with them.  Just wonderful.  The next day, whilst at the Kamo Christmas Parade with them (best Moana float ever!) I tried to take a photo with my phone, and made the 100th exasperated exclamation as my old phone turned off when I asked it to take a photo. Andy, my host, muttered something about a phonecall and wandered off.  When he came back, he told me he knows the man who owns the Kerikeri Vodafone store and I should stop in and see them when I was in town.  Great, I thought, they might be able to help me reset my phone and not lose all my data – see if that fixes it.  I walked into the shop with my bike, and was waiting, staring at all the fancy phones.  Blow me down if the manager didn’t come out, introduce himself with a big smile, say that they love what I’m doing and announce that they would like to give me a new phone to help me on my way and keep me able to write to you here now.  Like, for real and everything.  They just gave me a phone.  I was gobsmacked.

        I have also been given 2 very generous write ups in a local and national paper here this week, and already my trip is changing beyond my wildest dreams.

        The Northern Advocate article

        At the start, I was phoning up schools and begging to get my foot in the door, explaining that I will talk to any aged class, any size group and stay all day if they’d like.  Now, thanks to the New Zealand Herald article that came out yesterday, I am now starting to receive offers by email.  Schools wanting me to visit them, people offering me a place to stay, communities wanting to meet up for beach cleans, safety lights to cycle with, examples of sustainable packaging to talk about in schools.  To those people, I will get back to you and so very much appreciate your time and positive energy.  I just have to cycle to the next place so I’m all set and in place for tomorrow’s school visit! Right now the juggling must switch to getting from A to B.

        So, I think back to when I was sitting back in the UK wondering how I would make it all work.  It has just all happened in a wonderfully chaotic, dashing about, excited frenzy sort of a way.  And that’s ok for now.

        P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney

        With all the planning, trip admin, bike making, networking and leaving parties that I have recently been doing, I was starting to feel a bit like Dory. There was a hazy memory that I was going somewhere, but I got so caught up in all the jobs I had to do and enjoying my time with friends, that I kept forgetting that I was Sydney-bound.  Continue reading P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney

        I love it when a plan comes together…

        It was winter 2016 and it was dark, cold and rainy.  I needed little encouragement to start making travel plans when I walked into the Royal Geographical Society‚Äôs Explore weekend. Two days of roaming around historically charged rooms listening to incredible humans share tales of their studies / endeavours / adventures.  Perfect. Continue reading I love it when a plan comes together…