Single-use plastics & birthday suits at the beach

Was that a dude walking butt-naked that I just saw out of the corner of my eye? Oh, and another one spread-eagled on the sand turning pink from the sun… oh and an entire nude family. Low and behold, I believe I just stumbled upon a nude beach! I knew they existed somewhere but it was a first that I actually bumped into one. And of course there’s no signs on Highway 1 that advertise, “Nude Beach Here”. But it wasn’t the nudity that caught my attention first, it was those waves as I hiked down the many wooden steps to reach Gray Whale Cove Beach. They were even more big and dramatic than the ones I saw at Montaro State Beach, less than a mile down the road.

Gray Whale Cove State Beach is located off of HWY 1 south of the Devil’s Slide tunnels. Parking is on left going south.

My new roommate shared that Gray Whale Cove was his favorite beach but he left out the part that one-half of it is officially designated as, “clothing optional”. That’s fine with me – not exactly a prude here – just a little afternoon “surprise!” is all. Before I learned that the section of the beach on the right of the stairwell (north end), is for nakedness, I headed that direction first. Where the waves meet the rocky cliff are striking – it drew me in. The turquoise color glimmering through the water hitting the side of the yellow ochre-colored cliff wall, was for picture-taking.

I just so happened to (and for the first time), bring my fancy camera while on my mid-week beach cleanup excursion. Here I was hiking through the sand in front of naked people with hefty camera and pronounced lens. I’m sure I caught their alarm just a little. I made sure I peered westward, transfixed by the waves and glanced downward for the litter, but whatever I did, I did not turn and look right.

Single-use plastic utensils litter at Gray Whale Cove Beach.

Being that it was the ninth beach cleanup trip I have made in a month-and-a-half, I have developed somewhat of a routine and begin to think about the focus of what my next journal will be about. After being at the location for a half-hour, it usually becomes apparent. By the time I reached the south end of the beach, I noticed a pile of single-use plastic utensils relatively close to the water’s edge.

Single-Use Plastics

Single use plastics: straw litter on beach.

Single use plastics: straw litter on beach.

It has been quite the journey doing this cleanup project; I have learned so much about waste, recycling and pollution and realize that I have been just as guilty as everyone else, purchasing single-use plastics. It’s so heavily tied into our worlds in so many ways. Examples of single-use plastics are water bottles, straws, zip-lock and garbage bags, coffee cup lids, balloons, plastic Q-tips and flossing implements and the long list goes on. Seeing so much of this type of litter on beaches, has urged me to pay attention to what I bring home. I am now conscious of purchasing products that I can use repeatedly and better yet, that are biodegradeable or compostable.

Plastic takes hundreds of years to photo-degrade. Since this is the case, you would think the developers of single-use items would have thought twice about producing them. But as always, the dollar has been more important that the health of our planet, humanity and animals. It’s coming back to bite us now.

I envision a future where we have refill stations. Instead of going to the store and buying shampoo [insert any single use product] and the bottle ending up in landfill, we will go to the store and refill the shampoo in the same container. I actually know of a business on 24th Street in San Francisco where people can refill their environmentally-friendly housecleaning products. So, they are starting to pop up! It will have to be our future; so why not start now?

Single-use water bottle litter at Montara State Beach.

Boycott Plastic

One of the most effectual methods humanity can do to drive change, is through spending power. Essentially, boycott single-use plastics – don’t buy them and tell your friends and family to stop buying them. It doesn’t look like humanity is slowing down on population growth and planet earth is not exactly expanding its real estate for landfill sites everywhere. Quoting environmentalist, Lester Brown of Worldwatch Institute, “Continuing with business as usual … is no longer a viable option.” With that said, the time is now to take into consideration what you are buying and ask yourself if the product will end up in landfill after only using it once.

Biodegradable Plastics Are Here

There is some good news however. There are plastics being produced that photo-degrade faster. HowStuffWorks states, “One solution to this environmental disaster is biodegradable plastic. There are two types currently on the market — plant-based hydro-biodegradable plastic and petroleum-based oxo-biodegradable plastic. In the former category, polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic made from corn, tops the list as the most talked-about alternative. PLA decomposes into water and carbon dioxide in 47 to 90 days — four times faster than a PET-based bag floating in the ocean.” With that said, keep your eye out for these types of products and purchase them instead.

The companion by my side at all times - the trusty metal water bottle for 7 years.

My companion with me for 7 years – the trusty and durable metal water bottle!

I’ll share some of the changes I’ve made over the past few years:

  • I use a chrome water bottle that I wash and reuse every day
  • I bring my own coffee thermos to cafes
  • I use biodegradable garbage bags and use paper bags for trash
  • If camping or picnicking, I use compostable plates and utensils (better yet is bring metal utensils from home)
  • I use Q-tips that are not plastic
  • I use tote bags for grocery shopping (single-use plastic bags are banned in San Francisco)
  • I shop at farmer’s markets as much as possible as the fruits and veggies are not wrapped in plastic
  • I recycle as much as possible including items such as shampoo bottles

Litter collected at Gray Whale Cove State Beach.

Anyway, I made my way to the southernmost end where I met a young man and his pit bull named Mary Jane. It was then I was explained that the other end of the beach is the “clothing optional” portion, and about his concern that the water color at that end of the beach didn’t look quite right and his fear that El Niño storms will not develop due to chemtrail weather modification. It was definitely an interesting visit to a Northern California beach to say the least. Unfortunately some litter made my Jerk Awards page on this visit (disposable diaper thrown in unreachable location), but that paled in comparison to the beauty of this Cove. I now understand why it is my roommate’s favorite beach.

Stay tuned for my personal garbage challenge soon: I am going to collect my recycling and landfill garbage to get clarity on what it is and how much of it I end up with over the course of a week.

Please do share your comments below on changes you’ve made to reduce, reuse and recycle!

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