How did it all begin?
David and Theresa Wernery both grew up with a love of nature and the outdoors. Theresa loves to be on the ocean, and David feels most at home exploring the deserts and mountains of the UAE and Oman.
Both harbour a deep rooted desire to promote the preservation and protection of these treasured environments, which have unfortunately come under increasing threat from carelessly discarded refuse and waste. A large proportion of this refuse is made up of single use plastics.
What effect does this plastic waste have?
Shown on the left is the post mortem room at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (“CVRL”) in Dubai, where Dr. Dr. habil Ulrich Wernery (Dr. Ulli), is the Scientific Director (pictured).
He is holding an accumulation of rope and plastic in his right hand and a gastriclith (gastric meaning relating to the stomach, and lith meaning stone) is his left hand. Both were extracted from the remains of the camel laid out on the operating table behind him.
The jumbled mass of plastic and rope is a precursor to the gastriclith, which takes time to calcify in the animal’s stomach, eventually resulting in the animal starving to death. Dr. Ulli has found gastricliths of a weight up to 58 kilograms.
Finding such accumulations of plastic waste in the digestive systems of animals on which he operates is unfortunately no longer an unusual occurrence. As a result, Dr. Ulli coined the term “Fatal Pollution” to describe this type of pollution, which is primarily plastic based, and Theresa and David founded the PlasticNotSoFantastic (PNSF) campaign in order to spread the Fatal Pollution message to the widest possible audience.
Why does it matter?
While the ingestion of pure plastic is relatively harmless from a toxicity perspective, as shown above, the accumulation of plastic waste in an animal’s stomach has fatal consequences. The death of productive animals, such as goats, cows and camels, has an immediate economic impact for the owner and the community.
Furthermore, there are a vast range of chemicals which are added to plastics, in order to achieve malleability, temperature resistance, texture and colour changes. These chemicals can leach from the plastic into the consuming animal. It is for this reason that plastic pollution is fatal not only to the animals which directly forage on the plastic waste, but also for us humans who consume the meat and milk from contaminated animals.
However, we are even more directly exposed to these plastic chemical additives due to the fact that single use plastics are extremely widely used in the pre-packaged readymade and fast food industries. Studies have shown that chemicals in the plastic can leach into the food it packages, given time or an increase in temperature.
My supermarket has biodegradable plastic bags, so what’s the problem?
Plastic bags are a huge part of the single use plastic problem, and it is tempting to think that biodegradable bags are the solution.
However, no studies have been undertaken to determine the effects of biodegradable bags in an animal’s stomach. We do not know if they harmlessly degrade in the digestive system and pass through the animal, or if that process is impeded due to the fact that the chemical processes of digestion create an environment which hinders or prevents the degradation of the plastic bag.
Biodegradable plastics require controlled environments in which to degrade, only achievable in controlled composting facilities, where they are exposed to the correct levels of moisture and oxygen. There is no guarantee that your biodegradable plastic bag will be placed into the correct waste management chain, and if these bags are placed in a normal landfill site the lack of correct exposure to oxygen and moisture will mean that the bags will not degrade, and will remain in existence for as long as a normal plastic bag.
Oxo biodegradable plastic bags degrade in sunlight and oxygen, but require the addition of metals such as cobalt, iron or manganese which remain after the plastic has degraded. Incorrect waste management of these bags also prevents them from degrading.
Even biodegradable plastic bags take energy and oil to make, so using a biodegradable bag means you are essentially throwing away these resources, rather than not using them to begin with, reusing them or recycling them.
What is the PlasticNotSoFantastic Campaign?
We believe that making people aware that there is a plastic pollution problem is a vital first step. Whilst the problem may be obvious for some, there are many people who are not conscious of the effect that their consumption habits have on the environment. We believe that we can change people’s habits by showing them the evidence of the effects of plastic pollution and the chain reaction of pollution which is a direct consequence of their actions.
We believe that the choices we make as consumers are powerful drivers for business; however, there are also many companies who should be aware of the consequences of their actions, but choose to continue to use single use plastics in their business activities for reasons of expediency or economics. We intend to engage with companies to encourage them to seek alternatives wherever possible, and provide the consumer with the option to choose products which avoid the consumption of single use plastics.
Identifying and making people aware of the plastic pollution problem is extremely important, but we believe that providing solutions and seeking alternatives is also essential. We intend to highlight companies and individuals who provide products, systems and solutions in relation to the single use plastics consumption chain, from production to pollution.
What is the PlasticNotSoFantastic Expedition?
The PNSF Expedition is an expedition to raise awareness about plastic pollution from the UAE to the rest of the world. The Expedition intends to highlight the fact that the consumption of single use plastics on a regional level has global implications.
We will be leaving the UAE in early summer of 2012 and will spend a total of 18 months on the road. The general direction is eastwards, through Iran, Turkey, Eastern Europe, Russia, Australia, South America, North America, Africa and the Middle East, returning to the UAE having completed approximately 160,000 kilometers. Although initially planned as a continuous journey, we are now looking at splitting the world expedition into stages, returning to our home country of the UAE every couple of months. Reason being the current lack of financial sponsors, and our desire to continue our awareness campaign among schools, universities and corporate entities in the United Arab Emirates and region.
Our primary goals and activities en route will be to:
- show that our consumption of single use plastics in the United Arab Emirates has not only regional, but also global implications
- document instances of plastic pollution, and meet with the community in order to explore the causes, effects and methods of prevention. Many communities and regions, such as the Midway Atoll, are subject to severe plastic pollution problems which are not a result of their own actions. Other instances of plastic pollution are as a result of a lack of understanding of plastic as a material, and the fact that it does not biodegrade in the same manner as other materials which might previously have been used within a community.
- document “best practices” in the utilization of alternatives to single use plastics by corporations, communities and individuals
- meet with experts in the field of plastic pollution and disseminate in greater depth the effects of plastic pollution on human and animal health and welfare
- provide the above information, data, case studies and constructive encouragement to schools, universities, corporations, communities and individuals in the UAE, both as raw material (videos, photographs and contacts) as well as in the form of a library of case studies
- inspire the citizens of the UAE to change their consumption habits away from single use plastics.
Why are we doing this?
We love to be outdoors. We love the deserts, mountains, beaches and sea of the UAE. We spend most weekends exploring, camping, and enjoying nature.
However, we believe that the level of plastic waste we are encountering in the environment has reached an unacceptable level. Whether it is mounds of rubbish left behind by picnickers in some of the most beautiful parts of the country; greater levels of illegal dumping in the desert on the part of companies; packaging left on the ground outside food outlets; or plastic bags flying about, stuck to trees and bushes like poisonous flowers, we see how very little notice most of us in the community take of these obvious signs of excess and waste. When we go shopping, plastic bags are still being used as if there is no tomorrow. Water companies still dispense water in ever smaller, single use plastic bottles.
We want to tell the people we meet to think about their actions. To tell them to refuse, reuse, recycle and find alternatives to the single use plastics in their every day consumption. There are so many simple things one can do, on a daily basis, which can reduce our dependency on, and ultimately waste of, plastic products.
Do you hate plastic?
No, we do not hate plastic, and we are not advocating a complete abolition of plastic. Plastic is an essential part of our lives.
What we want, however, is to raise awareness that plastic used irresponsibly, and especially single use plastic, can be a dangerous, harmful substance, and that we all have a global responsibility to use it in a more sustainable manner.
Our Choice of Transport
We also know that a petrol / diesel car is not an ideal solution, but there are no viable alternatives. Going by airplane to the various places we intend to visit would be hugely more polluting.
However, driving our V8 petrol engine around the world for eighteen months, totaling approximately 160,000 kilometers, will produce fewer Green House Gases (“GHG”) than we currently produce living in our two bedroom villa in Dubai. Taking account of our daily commute to work, the air conditioning and washing machine running, the lights and watering of our garden, we produce roughly 60 tons of GHG a year. The Expedition (excluding our sponsored fuel enhancing tablets) will produce approximately 112 tons of GHG for two years.
This makes sense if you consider that we will be camping 90% of the time, so our water consumption will be low, and we won’t be using heating or air conditioning, fridges, the television, ovens, water heaters, or all the other appliances that most modern homes have.
Furthermore, to offset our carbon footprint, we will be planting the corresponding number of trees in the UAE and on the way.
Why should I or my company help fund your trip around the world?
We are being sponsored by companies, who have the opportunity to get positive brand exposure over an extensive period. Individuals can donate if they like, through our PayPal button on the website, but there is no obligation to do so, and we have not actively approached any individual person for money.
We believe that companies will see the value of the Expedition, in terms of brand exposure over a significant period of time, but, amongst other things, we are also hoping all the companies that sponsor us will take up our offer for us to come and do presentations to their staff about how to reduce their plastic consumption and effects their consumption choices have. A number of companies want to use the trip to test their products – an environment which would be very costly for them to replicate.
Environmental agencies and NGOs are some of our other stakeholders, and we intend to help them with producing content for their environmental education materials, and we will in fact be working with them to distribute and disseminate their existing environmental education material. Through us (and our truck) they will be able to reach some extremely remote communities which they would either never reach, or it would cost the NGOs a significant amount of their precious capital, to achieve aims which we can do on a funded basis.
Our other NGO stakeholders will be receiving fresh, non-copyrighted material, which they will be free to use for any purpose they wish (campaigns, literature, school visits, advertisements, web content, etc.) at no cost.
We will also be linking up with a number of academic institutions, particularly in the UAE to provide data to faculties working on environmental issues, and raw media content to vocational faculties for their use in projects.
We hope to meet with as many people as possible on the trip, making contact, explaining our ideas, listing to problems and solutions, feeding this information back to our stakeholders and anybody who wants to listen. We will give talks and presentations, and showcase the UAE to the rest of the world.
Naturally, this has been our choice. We have opted for this adventure and lifestyle, and we can’t wait to get going. It is, however, up to you to decide if your contribution is indeed financing our ‘holiday’ or a better cause. We will be selling and giving away almost all of our worldly possessions before we leave to raise money – the house will revert to the landlord and we don’t want to have to pay storage fees. We will be leaving secure jobs, and our car will be our home for the term of the Expedition.
We believe in both actions and words, as demonstrated by our commitment to practical solutions (clean ups), but these must go hand in hand with targeting the root cause of the problem (which truly is a lack of awareness and environmental education).
Explore – encounter – investigate – learn – ACT!
- Our passion is the great outdoors. We love to discover new places, but unfortunately we have encountered all too often the destructive effects of plastic pollution in the most remote corners of the globe.
Thus the idea came to combine the two – a great journey with a great cause. PlasticNotSoFantastic was born…
Join us in our quest to: explore – encounter – investigate – learn – ACT!
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- Theresa & David on Special report! Ukraine, Russia and Georgia via Port Kerch, the Vladikavkaz / Verkhiny Lars and Kazbegi / Stepantsminda border
- Nigel on Special report! Ukraine, Russia and Georgia via Port Kerch, the Vladikavkaz / Verkhiny Lars and Kazbegi / Stepantsminda border
- Theresa & David on GoalZero review
- Kevin T on GoalZero review
- Theresa & David on Luebecker Nachrichten – an article
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