It was a September evening when I first noticed it.
Wading out of the sea after a long evening surf session, I looked down at the sand and saw something clear nestled in the seaweed. Was it a jellyfish? As I peered closer, I saw it was a plastic bag tangled up beneath my feet. The further I walked up the beach, the more rubbish seemed to appear. Crisp packets. Plastic water bottles. Straws. A dirty nappy. Discarded fishing line. Bottle caps. It was everywhere.
I live in North Cornwall. We are lucky to have some of the most beautiful coastline in Britain, but it is becoming increasingly clear that plastic pollution is taking over our country. Every mile of coastline in the UK has at least 5,000 pieces of plastic waste littering it. Ninety per cent of the world's seabirds and 25 per cent of fish contain plastic in their stomachs, according to a 2015 study. By 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.
Bali is so beautiful but man, there's a lot of rubbish washed up on the beaches, especially single-use plastics. I collected 20+ straws alone walking just half a kilometre up Seminyak Beach. Quit plastic straws and buy a bamboo one instead - and these won't end up in some poor sea creature's stomach 😷👎🏻🐬🚫🗑♻️🐢#2minutebeachclean @everydaybeachcleanbali
And it's worse in cities. London's homes produce enough waste to fill an Olympic swimming pool every hour. This means that every 10 days enough rubbish is created to fill Canary Wharf tower.
The biggest problem is that this plastic isn't going anywhere. Most plastic products take between 450 to 1000 years to breakdown, and, even then, the plastic microparticles still exist. So that plastic straw or water bottle you are using never really goes away. Yoghurt pots from the 1970s are still floating around our oceans today. The more you look, the more you realise how much our planet is drowning in plastic.
I decided to take action. As a surfer, I couldn't bear to contribute to the plastic waste I see piling up on our beaches and clogging our drains everyday. And so, I vowed to give up four items I see most commonly on our beaches: plastic water bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws and takeaway coffee cups.
It's been easy so far. I say no to straws when I'm offered them. I haven't bought a plastic water bottle since December 2015. I bring a reusable coffee cup with me wherever I can and I say no to plastic carrier bags.
Travelling is the hardest part, especially finding somewhere to fill up a water bottle after airport security. Most airports have water fountains, but they don't always make them obvious. Supermarket shopping can be a nightmare. Everything is wrapped in plastic, so it makes your attempts to avoid plastic water bottles seem kind of fruitless. Sometimes I end up outside Sainsbury's clumsily carrying my groceries in my arms because I forgot my reusable bag. But my heart warms when I see people with their own water bottle and reusable shopping bag.
Despite my efforts, I still see plastic waste everywhere. It makes you think - can one person's actions really make a difference? Author and activist Beth Terry believes the answer is yes. She's been living nearly entirely plastic-free since 2007.
"Each personal choice can lead to bigger changes," she says. "When we reduce our exposure to the chemicals in plastics, we support our own health and that of our families. When we vote with our wallets, we support businesses offering healthier alternatives to plastic. And when we demonstrate our plastic-free commitment to other people, our actions are magnified by the example we set."
She's right. I posted on Instagram about refusing plastic straws. A friend who teaches in a secondary school was inspired to ask her whole classroom to give up straws too. It's a ripple effect. By avoiding plastic bottles alone, the average person would save 185 lbs of plastic per year entering the oceans. While we need to vote and campaign for wider changes, our efforts have to start at home.
So, next time you are offered a plastic carrier bag or someone dunks a plastic straw in your drink, kindly say no. As the famous saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world. History's greatest accomplishments were often started with an individual's actions. I might be just one surfer picking up plastic waste on a beach, but I am hoping my actions inspire others to do the same. We've all got to start somewhere, right?
Feeling inspired? Here's four single-use plastic items you can give up, today
1. Plastic water bottles
Drinking water is perfectly safe in the UK, so buying water that's been shipped across the world is kind of nuts. Give up using plastic water bottles. Carry a refillable water bottle around with you. I recommend Klean Kanteen - it's compact and won't leak in your bag.
2. Plastic bags
Plastic bags are one of the biggest offenders. Say no to plastic bags and bring your own. Paperchase make a great range of foldable shopping bags to keep with you. Since the 5p plastic bag charge was brought into supermarkets, plastic bag usage has dropped by 85 per cent.
3. Plastic straws
They stop our teeth clinking on the ice in our gin and tonic, but are they really necessary? Watch this video of a turtle with a plastic straw stuck up it's nose, you'll never want to use one again. Say 'no' to plastic straws or alternatively, bring your own bamboo or stainless steel straw out with you.
4. Takeaway coffee cups
Coffee cups are recyclable because they are made from paper, right? Sadly they are lined with plastic and can't be recycled, despite big brand coffee chains claiming they can. KeepCup make stylish reusable coffee cups that you can refill on the go.