Ocean Heroes features stories of people from all around the world who deeply care about our nature, our health, and our planet's future. Down-to-earth people who decided to change the way they do laundry not because it's easier but because filtering microplastics is the right thing to do.
Carol is the founder of the ‘One Bag Beach Clean’ community, which she runs in Cornwall, UK. After moving to the south of the UK, she was devastated to realize how full of plastic Cornish beaches are. It was something she never noticed on holidays. But once she did, she was unable to ignore it. Carol’s life now revolves around sustainability and the difference every one of us can make. Read on to hear her thoughts on hope, the power of community, and creating a better world.
PlanetCare: Why have you decided to live sustainably?
Carol: It was my move to Cornwall (which has been my life-long wish) that truly set me on the sustainability path. I did always love nature and made sure I was planting bee-friendly plants and gardening without chemicals but I wasn’t doing much more than that, to be honest.
When we moved to Cornwall and I was out walking my dogs I noticed how much plastic and rubbish there was on the local beaches, I was shocked and I knew I had to do something about it.
I joined many local groups, Plastic-free Falmouth, Falmouth Marine Conservation and Clean Ocean Sailing. I also became lead coordinator for Plastic Free Helford River, part of the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Communities project.
I was very inspired by everything the individuals running these groups were doing and I am now so grateful and honoured to work alongside them. It’s a very collaborative community down here in Cornwall and I love that. We all inspire and support each other, which fills me with hope.
Around the same time we moved, my daughter, who studied environmental sciences as her undergraduate degree completed a Masters in biodiversity and conservation. We have really been encouraging each other, both always wanting to know more, to do better, and sharing what we’ve each been learning. Our lives revolve around nature and the environment and I love it! I love that we share this interest and have a truly wonderful relationship.
I feel I have come to living sustainably quite late in life but it really doesn’t matter. If I look back at what I’ve learned and achieved in only five years… I think it’s inspiring and I encourage everyone to do the same. It is never too late to make a difference and don’t forget when you start, you will immediately be a part of a wonderful global community. You’re never alone.
PlanetCare: What do you do to lower your environmental impact?
Carol: I really try to do as much as possible. I have been running beach clean events for 4 years now and also started my own initiative, ‘One Bag Beach Clean’ in 2017.
When I was out walking the dogs I started picking up a bag of rubbish, this is something everyone can do. I used to collect the rubbish in plastic bags but this just seemed wrong! So I decided to design a reusable, washable, cotton bag using ethically sourced cotton and environmentally-friendly dye. The bags are sold very cheaply at only £3 with all the profit going to support a local group, Clean Ocean Sailing, who are doing amazing work in Cornwall.
The ‘One Bag Beach Clean’ community is very active, which makes me so happy, even during Covid and lockdowns, we were all out doing beach cleans individually, we never stopped.
I also take part in beach cleans that I am not organising myself, Beach Guardian’s cleans are great fun. I lead the plastic-free committee at the local Women’s Institute and I am so happy to see how far everyone in the group has come. They’ve been swapping their single use plastic items for reusables and just living more sustainably in general.
"I’ve come to living sustainably quite late in life. But it really doesn’t matter. You can always start."Carol, the founder of the ‘One Bag Beach Clean’ community
Other than the beach cleans, I am re-wilding one whole part of my garden and building a wildlife pond. I drive an electric car. I also shop as locally as possible, I have two shopping lists, one for a small local store, where I get all my fruits and vegetables from local farmers, loose, without plastic packaging. The same for cheese and milk - I bring my glass milk bottle and refill it in the store. Then, for things I really can’t get locally, I go to the supermarket. I’ve also managed to find the most amazing shampoo bar on Etsy and I recommend it to everyone.
PlanetCare: How did you find out about the microplastics pollution problem?
Carol: It definitely was a bit of a process. Because at first you notice the big pieces, the microplastics are easy to miss. Then, by going to Beach Guardian’s beach cleans I learned what nurdles are, the more I knew, the more I wanted to learn. What I love about our community is there is always someone you can ask. And that’s true for anyone, anywhere. If you want to know, there’s always people to talk to and information to find. Don’t ever be afraid to ask.
I also think it is much more obvious if you live close to the coast; it’s harder to miss and ignore. I don’t think I would have noticed it if we stayed in the north of the country. Which is definitely a shame and a problem we need to address. We need to raise awareness. My daughter told me there are more pieces of microplastics in the oceans than there are stars in our galaxy. That’s just wrong and we need to change it.
PlanetCare: What are you doing to stop microfiber pollution?
Carol: As soon as I learned about the PlanetCare filter, I got one. It was a no-brainer for me. Why wouldn’t I want to stop the harmful plastic microfibers leaving my washing machine when I so easily can? I had the chance to go microplastics sampling out on the sea with Emily from the Beach Guardian once and it shocked me. It is difficult to see it, yes, but it really is everywhere. And since there’s a way for me to stop contributing to this pollution I definitely want to do it and keep it out of the environment.
My daughter told me there are more pieces of microplastics in the oceans than there are stars in our galaxy. That’s just wrong and we need to change it.
PlanetCare: How do you choose your clothes? What materials do you wear?
Carol: I really like cotton, I hate synthetic clothes. But it is sometimes difficult to find a natural fibers alternative; take fleece for example. Nowadays, a lot of clothes are also a mix of both, natural and synthetic fibers. Once I choose the clothes, I take good care of them and wear them for a really long time. My daughter and I also go to second hand shops together to search for some good pieces. As with everything else, I really try to lower my impact when choosing pieces for my wardrobe. My husband on the other hand still has a bit of a journey to do, but I am making sure he gets better and better with his clothes choices every time.
PlanetCare: Besides using a microfiber filter, what else is in your sustainable laundry routine?
Carol: We wash at lower temperatures and we don’t use the dryer if we can avoid it. I much prefer to leave the clothes to air dry. It does get tricky sometimes in the winter, but in general, we use the dryer as little as we can. We also use a biodegradable, chemical-free detergent from Splosh. I especially like that you can order refills and send the pouches back for reuse.
PlanetCare: What's your advice for someone who is just starting to live sustainably?
Carol: Take it one step at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed and give up. Find one small thing that you can easily do and once you get used to it, move to the next easy thing you can improve. Living more sustainably really isn’t hard or difficult and you will get there, even if you only do one thing it will make a difference.
And don’t listen to naysayers. Sometimes, people tell me there’s no point in doing the beach cleans. But there is a point, actually. If there were six of us on the beach and we cleaned 20 kg of rubbish, that 20 kg isn’t in the sea anymore. And yes, there is another 20 kg in the sea, but at least that 20 kg isn’t there. What you do matters and makes a difference, don’t ever forget that.
PlanetCare: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Carol: If you’re interested in anything, go and find out all about it. It’s amazing how much information is available and how many people you can talk to. Talking to like minded people will make you realise you are a part of a community that cares and you will never feel alone. Also, you’ll inevitably get inspired by other people. I know that I do.
Follow and Support Carol and the 'One Bag Beach Clean' on Instagram at @onebagbeachclean
Photo credit: Carol and @onebagbeachclean