The Irony of Pollution

What do you like to do on a hot summer’s day? The ideal situation is to be on the beach and swim in the sea. I’ve visited five coastal Cities/Towns in Spain this summer and each beach has been packed. So it’s safe to say that this is a common activity amongst humans.

One sunny evening on the beach of Valencia (Spain) the time was getting on, the sun going down and people, here and there, were beginning to pack up their things.

This time of day at the beach is the best. The hustle and bustle dies down and you can hear the waves against the shore. It invites a reflective mood, you could say.

As usual, the beach was scattered with cigarette butts. This is common in Spain (and globally).

Cigarette butts contain hazardous chemicals such as cadmium, arsenic and lead which are carried to the water supply by wind and rain.

To my right were a group of young women, one of whom was smoking a cigarette.  To my dismay she stubbed the cigarette out in the sand. I wondered if she knew how much harm she had just caused. Was she even conscious of her action, or was it automatic? Whilst travelling I’ve met and seen many smokers who think it’s completely normal and okay to throw cigarette butts anywhere. I don’t think people do this maliciously. In the end it boils down to a lack of education and awareness.

The chemicals found in one cigarette butt can leach out and contaminate approximately 7.5 litres of water within one hour.

Something urged me to approach her on this but I felt uncomfortable. Isn’t it funny? Despite my knowledge of how harmful her actions were, I still felt that I would be out of place to ‘tell her what to do’. Truth is, we are sharing this world and we have a right to protect it.

I regret not saying anything because a few moments later, she stood up and unknowingly  ground the butt deep into the sand. A symbolic moment. Now it would be even more difficult to approach her as I would have to dig the butt out of the sand. I decided that would make me look a little peculiar and perhaps make everyone feel uncomfortable. I wanted to inspire these women to look after the beach, not alienate them. I took the experience as a lesson and remained calm.

It was what happened next that was truly an eye opener. The same girl (the stubber) turned back on herself to pick something up from the sand. What is it? I wondered. Did she drop something? Had she mistaken a cigarette butt for her own? Is she in fact conscious of her actions?  I looked closely and saw she had collected a pretty little shell: a piece of the beauty of the beach she wanted to cherish.

THIS is what should be scattered across a beach

How ironic. With the very same hand that she had used to pollute the beach, she used to preserve a token of its beauty. If we appreciate the Earth, why don’t we make an effort to look after it?

There are small changes you can make to be kind to the Earth:

  • carry a portable ashtray (or put your butts in the bin)
  • invest in a reusable bottle and move away from throw away plastic bottles
  • invest in a ‘bag for life’
  • buy or make period panties
  • print less or double sided (the trees give you oxygen people!!)
  • make more and buy less