Plastic is a Climate Change Problem

Plastic is not just polluting the ocean, it’s polluting our climate too

When we think about the problems of plastic, we often think about ocean. We see marine creatures suffering from plastic pollution. We see surfers riding waves, surrounded by the waste of their fellow humans, and to be honest with you, these were the issues that originally raised the problem for Mathilde and I. We have always been strongly connected to the ocean and the Great Barrier Reef is a very special place to both of us. However, it is not often that when we think about plastic, our minds turn to the climate and the climate crisis that we are currently facing.

Plastic in our oceans is only one small part of a whole system of pollution which begins at extraction, then goes to transport, refinery, manufacturing, distribution, waste management, and last but not least unintended pollution. Over the last 10 years we have been successful in bringing plastic to the forefront of many people’s minds, by talking about marine pollution. Now we have plastic on the agenda, we need to start talking about what the whole system actually means and how we address plastic as a problem at a systems level.

Just now I mentioned the link between plastic and climate change. I imagine that most of us could take a guess at how plastic contributes to anthropocentric climate change, but probably like me, you will be shocked to learn how much. So just for a moment, let’s examine the problem.

 

The following information is sourced from a comprehensive, multi-party report lead by the Center for International Environmental Law. 

If plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2030, emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.”

“In 2019, the production and incineration of plastic will add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere—equal to the emissions from 189 five-hundred-megawatt coal power plants.”

That figure was not unexpected to me, and probably not to you, and we can’t ignore its significance. I am going to quickly break down the different parts, and then we can get into solutions.

Extraction and Transport

The extraction associated with plastic production is in the process of drilling and fracking for gas and oil. Methane leakage, flaring and fuel combustion all result in emissions. Which is also intensified by the carbon released from land disturbance and clearing.  In the U.S in 2015 9.5–10.5 million metric tons of CO2 we released in association with extraction for plastic manufacturing.

Refining and Manufacture

According to the report written by the Center for International Environmental Law, Plastic refining is among the most greenhouse gas – intensive industries in the manufacturing sector—and the fastest growing. The complicated chemical refinement of plastics is responsible for a large amount of emissions associated with plastic production.

In 2015, 24 ethylene facilities in the US produced 17.5 million metric tons of CO2e, emitting as much CO2 as 3.8 million passenger vehicles. 

Waste Management

Believe it or not landfill emits the least amount of carbon, but obviously presents significant other risks. Many landfills were built in coastal areas and are being exposed due to erosion. Recycling has a moderate emissions profile and can replace the need for new plastics on the market. Incineration is a waste management option that is often used for plastic waste management and rarely spoken about.

Use of incineration in plastic waste management is poised to grow dramatically in the coming decades. US 2015 5.9 million metric tons

Plastic in the Environment

I don’t think I need to talk at length about the harm to flora and fauna that plastic in our environment presents. However I do want to mention recent research on the impact that plastics in our ocean has on contribution to carbon sequestration and emissions.

Sarah-Jeanne Royer and her team demonstrates that plastic at the ocean’s surface continually releases methane and other greenhouse gases, and that these emissions increase as the plastic breaks down further. Current estimates address only the one percent of plastic at the ocean’s surface. Emissions from the 99 percent of plastic that lies below the ocean’s surface cannot yet be estimated with precision

Earth’s oceans have absorbed 20-40 percent of all anthropogenic carbon emitted since the dawn of the indus-trial era. Laboratory experiments suggest this plastic pollution can reduce the ability of phytoplankton to fix carbon through photosynthesis. They also suggest that plastic pollution can reduce the metabolic rates, reproductive success, and survival of zoo-plankton that transfer the carbon to the deep ocean. 

In recent conversations, a lot of people have concerns about focusing on plastic and that climate change is the most important problem that we need to be talking about. Don’t get the wrong message, that is true, climate change is the single biggest challenge we face. However there is not one single cause for this challenge. Climate change is multi-faceted and we need to be looking at so many different problems and solutions if we are going to create the change we need to see in the world. That is something we can not achieve unless we seriously change our plastic consumption and production.

The same report I have referenced today, also talks about what we can do to address the problem.

 

  • ending the production and use of single- use, disposable plastic;
  • stopping development of new oil, gas, and petrochemical infrastructure;
  • fostering the transition to zero-waste communities;
  • implementing extended producer responsibility as a critical component of circular economies;
  • adopting and enforcing ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors, including plastic production.

 

 

You may feel that you don’t have the power to change these things and one person alone doesn’t. We need everyone making an effort. It could be changing your plastic consumption, or helping your community transition to a waste free environment. Or it could be talking to your elected politicians, or pressuring industry to change.

A Long Haul to Tribune Bay

Lucy & Mathilde are on the final stretch of their expedition, having recently arrived on the north of Vancouver Island.

The last couple of weeks have involved overnight flooding of the kayaks, calm waters and warm days, strong rapids and alot more sightings of people and boats!

They were very excited to be welcomed by Mathilde’s parents and locals at camp near Cluxewe.

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Rapids through the narrow channels around Vancouver Island were a fun but nerve-wracking novolty to begin with. But the ocean showed whose boss when slight mistiming meant the girls were at the whim of the ocean as they were forced to a different camp than they were aiming for at Big Bay.

On Hornby Island, The Tribune Bay Outdoor Education Centre held a camp for Young Women in Ocean Literacy & Leadership, where 45 young women passionate about the ocean attended. The Passage Adventures duo were set to hold a workshop at this camp, but due to delays throughout their expedition, 8 days out from the camp they were still 290km away!

But they were more determined than ever, with so many eager young girls to hear their story, and they pumped out a massive average of 36km per day to make it to the camp on Hornby Island for their workshop. Their seaside welcome looked like this:

 

The workshop followed, whereby Lucy & Mathilde educated and inspired the girls to use their power to create change. The young women blew them away with their enthusiasm, ideas and intelligent questions.

10 year-old Straw No More advocate, Molly Steer, from Lucy’s hometown of Cairns, also featured at the camp. She is a living example of the power of the youth voice. Check out her Tedx talk here

The camp was coordinated by Oceanwise and the Comox Valley School District #71 – Check out Their Facebook page for more interviews, photos and videos of Lucy & Mathilde.

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Today Passage Adventures are headed on a little 2 day trip to the remote North West Coast of Vancouver Island with the Living Oceans Society and 6 volunteers for a beach clean up. It will involve driving access via logging roads and a hike to the remote area, where they’ll collect garbage and camp for 2 days. The garbage is then heli-lifted out. Volunteers are transported and fed during the weekend trip, and helicopters aren’t cheap! This is why Passage Adventures needs your help in supporting them – half of their fundraising money is going to the Living Oceans Society! You can still Donate here

 

THE JOURNEY IS ALMOST OVER!!!

The girls have planned to finish their paddling adventure At 12PM on AUGUST 4TH at CADBORO BAY, VICTORIA, VANCOUVER ISLAND. They would love for anyone and everyone to join them in celebrating at a nearby restaurant/bar that evening. More details to come on social media!

The Cross to Canada

 

The Passage Adventures pair have crossed the border from Alaska, USA to British Colombia, Canada and have now passed the 1000km mark!

The halfway point and border crossing has had the girls reflecting on their time so far and excited for the warmer weather through the Canadian part of the Inside Passage. They have nothing but warm words for the people of South East Alaska, who have welcomed the strangers with open arms and big smiles, helped where they could and generally been inspiring, wonderful people.

Crossing the invisible border line on the water from USA to Canada went like this:

 

An online video webinar, delayed by days of bad weather and illness, finally came into life when the girls arrived in Prince Rupert, Canada. They shared their experience so far, challenges, inspirations and stories paired with photos. They answered some questions from curious followers too. If you missed it, you can watch a recording of it here: Webinar recording

In Prince Rupert, word had quickly spread that the adventurers were in town and with many things to do like interviews, meeting new people, the webinar and replanning their route, they extended their stay to 3 nights. The local newspaper The Northern View wrote a wonderful article about Passage Adventures here: Pair kayaking from Glacier Bay to Vancouver Island

As mentioned in their Webinar, the girls have come across huge amounts of marine debris – mostly plastic bottles and fishing gear. But car tyres, huge styrofoam pieces, as well as hundreds of tiny plastic pieces have been found on the shore and in the water of this middle-of-nowhere wilderness. Lucy & Mathilde are sorting, counting and recording the rubbish they encounter to help collect data for Tangaroa Blue & Living Oceans Society, which in turn aim to stop the problem at the source.

Plastic Free July is an Australian initiative to encourage people to refuse single-use plastic in order to protect our oceans and avoid landfill waste. It is held during the month of July, but ongoing plastic refusal is obviously the aim! If you’ve been inspired by Lucy & Mathilde, it’s a great opportunity to get onboard and pledge to go plastic-free >> Plastic Free July

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Prior to their launch the girls were interviewed by Ocean Wise– A not-for-profit with headquarters at the Vancouver Aquarium, who are helping to make our oceans cleaner and flourishing. The footage is of their actual journey, and highlights how Lucy & Mathilde are creating change: Ocean Wise Interview

The girls are 53 days in now, past the halfway point and still going strong! You can keep tracking their daily progress here:

https://aus-share.inreach.garmin.com/PassageAdventures

Stay in the loop..

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/passageadventures/

On Instagram: @passageadventures

When the Whales Outweigh the Wet

The past 2 weeks have involved kayak repair work and some very cold, very wet weather for the Passage Adventures duo. They’ve had to bunker down for a couple of days (twice!) to avoid battling 24mph winds and rain. Of course the highs have been equally memorable, with many more close wildlife encounters.

Let’s start with that Steller sea lion footage I promised in the last blog, en route to Auke Bay:

Curious Steller Sea Lions

 

Their time in Auke Bay was used to repair their kayaks, which had both had the rudder foot pedals break off the sides of the kayaks. It wasn’t long until the boats were up and running (swimming?) again.

Wonderful photographers/videographers Mikko Wilson & Sarah Moore took some footage of the girls departing Juneau (for the second time). Check out Facebook for the full drone video: Passage Adventures departs Juneau

 

 

 

 

The girls were excited for a new mode of transport at their next stop: a tram portage! Initially it was a hard to find, but once they did, they unloaded their kayaks and made use of the old tram track to take them to a warm cabin with a fire!

 

The next week brought both sunny skies with glassy waters, as well as wind, rain and challenging tides. Humpback, orca and sea lion sightings did not waver though, and they kept the girls spirits high, even on the dampest of days.

Marine debris has been recorded and charted. Even in these pristine, virtually untouched parts of the world, rubbish is still so common.

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Lucy & Mathilde are over one quarter into their 2000km+ adventure now and recently celebrated with a stop over in the beautiful town of Petersburg, Alaska. They have dried out, rested and reset for the next leg of their journey, getting closer to the milestone US/Canada border.

Are they boats on the horizon? Nope, icebergs!

Next week the girls are hosting a Webinar from the Ocean! From 6am – 8am Thursday June 7th AEDT, Passage Adventures will be online to give an update on their journey – from marine debris, how they are tracking without single-use plastics, and the amazing wildlife encounters. Get more info and tickets here: Webinar from the Ocean June 7th

You can keep tracking their daily progress here:

https://aus-share.inreach.garmin.com/PassageAdventures

Stay in the loop..

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/passageadventures/

On Instagram: @passageadventures

The Adventure Officially Begins

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They’re now 11 days into the trip they planned for so long, and Lucy & Mathilde have been in contact and reported alive and well. Despite all the planning, the hiccups started early in their trip and they are currently 3 days behind schedule. But don’t worry – they havent run out of food and turned on each other due to being ‘hangry’ just yet. Read on to see how the launch and first 11 days of Passage Adventures panned out.

Juneau brought the sunshine for the official launch day on May 7th which saw the girls buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Hear from them yourself here:

 

 

Day 1 involved some improvisation and route changes due to a certain ferry not running that day. They took it in their stride and found a helpful Alaskan man by the name of John to hitch a ride from Gustavas to Bartlett Cove. They even managed to find the humour in the situation:

 

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Mathilde & Lucy with John, the generous Alaskan who gave them and their kayaks a ride

So launch they eventually did and were happy to be out on the water. The first 4 days involved paddling North from Bartlett Cove to Beardslee Islands, then up into Adam’s inlet. They reported many dolphin and whale sightings along the way. Traveling back down South towards Bartlett Cove again, they encountered some problems. Unfortunately mother nature can’t be planned or tamed, and they were battling both strong tides and windy weather. This meant they had to stop, camp and wait out the unfavourable weather.

But time wasn’t wasted as they ended up doing an impromtu talk at Sunnyside Market & Cafe in Gustavus. Lucy & Mathilde had met these inspirational women a week earlier and this time the women were intrested in hearing more about Passage Adventures’ cause and how they can minimise their impact.

Eventually flat, calm water made it possible for a 41km haul towards Couverden Island. Tail winds allowed them to use their Wind Paddle Sails for the second time and they were even followed by some curious Stellar sea lions, a threathened species in the Northern Pacific.

But another difficult section awaited them – the crossing of Lynn Canal to Point Louisa, Auke Bay. Stay tuned for how they got on, and footage of the seals that followed them, in the next blog!

You can still follow their location (2 recorded per day) here: https://aus-share.inreach.garmin.com/PassageAdventures

Stay in the loop..

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/passageadventures/

On Instagram: @passageadventures

 

 

 

Pre-paddle Prep Ramping Up

It’s been a long time between blogs and boy, have we been busy! Preparation is in overdrive as our launch date quickly approaches – only 4 days to go! In the last month we’ve traveled to Canada, tackled logistical obstacles, mass food preps, as well as holding a clean up, a school talk and a workshop. We could not have accomplished so much in the lead up without the help of wonderful, generous family, friends and complete strangers.

Mathilde arrives in Vancouver

Mathilde traveled solo to Vancouver 3 weeks ago to get the logistics sorted – starting with the pick up of our brand new Boréal Design kayaks from Vancouver, USA – a confusingly named suburb across the border near Portland, USA – 5 hours drive from Vancouver, Canada. Thanks to the help of friends and a specific friends of friends of friends, Martin, our shiny new boats were safely delivered to our launching location.

Lucy’s Brisbane Clean-Up

Meanwhile, Lucy was still working and planning from Brisbane. She co-ordinated a clean up with Tangaroa Blue and Kathmandu. With the help of 37 volunteers, we cleared 237kg worth of rubbish from Brisbane mangroves and waterways! Sorting and counting the debris creates data that we are then able to act upon specifically.

Mathilde’s School Talk

Back in Vancouver, Mathilde was invited to Anne-Hebert French School to talk about Marine Debris with some of the most impressionable, curious minds – primary school kids. They were so engaged, with lots of questions, which gets us excited to educate the adults of the future.

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Lupii Cafe Mass Food Prep

Words can’t express how great Lupii Cafe has been to us. Together with the help of volunteers, they have cooked, dehydrated and packaged copious amounts of nutritious, vegan, waste-free meals for us for our 12 weeks away – that’s over 500 meals, including desserts!! We’re currently packing the last of the food and gear resupply boxes to go out to the pick up locations along our route.

Lupii Cafe also generously hosted a fundraising community dinner for us, raising more money for Vancouver Aquarium and Tangaroa Blue.

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Plastic-free Living Workshop

Together we hosted our first Waste-free Workshop, educating 40 keen participants on how to reduce waste at home, as well as make their own waste-free products. We made deodorant, moisturiser, toothpaste, wax wraps and boomerang bags!

Check out how to make your own products at home: Going Plastic Free

4 Days Until Launch!

In the final preparations before we set off, we’re figuring out the last of logistics, flying ourselves and our gear to Juneau to meet our Boréal Design Kayaks and getting ferried to our exact departure point near Mt. Wright in Glacier Bay National Park. And that’s when the fun really starts!

Thankyou again to all of our supporters – we couldn’t do any of this without you 💙