My cruise-writing travels take me far and wide, witnessing the most stunning destinations in the world – but they also expose me to seeing the uncontrolled pollution of our seas.
To me, the ocean is our biggest garden, but the problem of First World plastic and waste has grown in front of my eyes.
This year I have watched barefoot children walk on broken glass that has been washed up onto the shores of their remote villages, seen piles of plastic containers on tropical islands and plastic bags caught round birds’ necks.
It has kept me awake at night.
At RHS Chelsea Flower Show my two favourite pastimes, gardening and ocean sailing were brought together in a lightbulb moment.
I’m no eco-warrior but I realised, after visiting the Pearlfisher Garden, that I am in a ‘Lightweight lifecycle’ – I am someone who has become aware of plastic pollution and is now actively reducing the impact I make by, where possible, not buying plastic.
One third of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging that is produced every year ends up in our ocean – the equivalent of pouring one rubbish truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
I had felt helpless to do anything – it's almost impossible to shop without a product having some plastic packaging – but at RHS Chelsea I came away with some inspiration and signed up to the charity Plastic Oceans Foundation.
I am now part of the #lightweightchallenge!
The Pearlfisher Garden at RHS Chelsea has given me a focus, so I will continue to refuse plastic bags, straws and cups. I will start to use foil and baking paper instead of clingfilm.
I have already begun to buy most food from local shops and have returned to using glass milk bottles.
Yes, I have double standards because I drive a car, I travel on cruise ships, planes and trains. I use gas and electricity but probably like many others I can’t always stay indoors.
The answer is just to make a start.
So now, when buying plants I will ask my favourite nurseries to keep the pot and re-use the ones I already have. Not much, I know, but Lightweighting is about making more of an effort. We can all do that.
Former Tonbridge School student John Warland’s Pearlfisher Garden showed our planet drowning in waste. On first sight it was all glamour, colour and movement, but on closer inspection it told the story of the destruction in our oceans.
Set into an underwater world, the garden was made up of below-water level aquatic tanks that transported visitors into a unique underwater world. Beneath a 3D-printed sculpture of a Pearl Diver – or Japanese Ama – made from recycled plastic, there was plenty of specimen planting including cacti, succulents and exotics.
The garden also contained 500 water bottles which filled the boundary walls of the installation, representing how much plastic packaging is thrown into the oceans every 2.5 seconds.
John, who I got to know when he was creating his RHS World Vision gardens, always has his eye on the environment and he said that when he entered the Pearlfisher Garden for RHS Chelsea last year, plastic pollution was not high on the agenda.
He said: “Mother Nature is the ultimate designer and we should all be thinking about the impact we are making and how we can work with nature to create a better, more beautiful and more sustainable world for us all."
John is also calling on the RHS to push home the message. He said: “This garden is a wake up call, drawing a line in the sand. Hopefully the RHS will now lead from the front with the demographic they have."
The Chelsea show banned plastic straws but the RHS could go further with a restriction on plastic bottles, cutlery, plates, cups, packaging and plant pots etc. I am sure show visitors would buy into having no one-use plastic items at shows, that would be a good start.
With 27 million gardeners and garden visitors in the UK we can all help reduce our environmental impact. I have written to RHS Director General Sue Biggs CBE and I am sure she will be offering me a positive update for my next blog.
As for cruise lines, a big link to my working life, I have already seen improvements but the companies, led by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) need to go further.
Firstly though, well done to Hurtigruten for banning all single-use plastic on its ships.
Many ships such as those run by Pandaw and Uniworld also give passengers metal containers to carry water and Saga Cruises’ executive chef George Streeter has made all sort so improvements with fresh water in jugs replenished everyday in the cabins and he has invested in a yoghurt maker, thus dispensing of thousands of plastic pots –and the yoghurt is far superior! Small steps and there's much more to come.
CLIA officially recognises that proper waste management is fundamental to the protection of the environment and there is a code of practice; members are encouraged to manage their waste in accordance with sound environmental principles and expand their waste reduction strategies while increasing environmental awareness by educating crew, guests and the communities in which they operate. I've also written to CLIA's UK & Ireland boss to get updates for my next post.
I would love cruise lines write to me about the improvements they are making so I can highlight their efforts.
Plastic Oceans Foundation
Supporting the Pearlfisher Garden at RHS Chelsea was Jo Ruxton, CEO and founder of the Plastic Oceans Foundation. She features in the alternative Sunday Times Rich List of people who bring great wealth to our world. She is truly inspirational.
Film producer Jo’s work A Plastic Ocean (you can see it on Netflix) highlights how eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea every year, killing marine life and entering our food chain.
She has seen the issue at first hand and showed me two jars of albatross stomach contents including an ink cartridge, toy soldier and sink plug among the dozens of items.
Jo told me: “Whoever in the 1950s said plastic was recyclable was completely wrong. We all need to make a change – and we can all make a difference if we believe in something.”
A Plastic Ocean has been shown in more than 60 countries and Sir David Attenborough says it is “one of the most important films of our time” so that's it. If Sir David says so, he has to be right.
More from me again soon, meanwhile do visit plasticoceans.org; www.pearlfisher.com; http://rhs.org.uk and https://www.netflix.com