COLLECTING RUBBISH across continents
Growing up in Torquay, Rachael Whelan has spent most her life at the beach, so when she moved to Hawaii last year, she was shocked to see the amount of rubbish destroying the ocean.
On a six-month study exchange for primary teaching, the 21-year-old said she decided to tackle the pollution problem – one bag at a time – with friend and fellow student Sam Webster.
“I lived in Hawaii for half of last year at college, I was studying teaching and all my friends were studying marine biology; including Sam, who is from the UK.
“We were on this beautiful island, surrounded by water and ocean creatures but Hawaii is just so unsustainable. There’s plastic everywhere in shops, they have such high single-use plastic waste.
“Sam and I did a few clean-ups together locally in Hawaii and then decided we’d head to the Philippines for a few weeks and do some clean-ups there too.”
Rachael said they chose the Philippines for their high single-use plastic pollution and set off for three weeks where they collected at least 50 bags of rubbish.
“We took reusable bags with us everywhere and did clean-ups on different islands. Locals would join in, local kids would help put plastic in our bags – it was really cool.
“We’d fill the bags then dispose of them, a lot of the hotels offered recycling and disposal. We found that was the easiest way to get rid of it properly.”
Rachael said the opportunity to lead by example and inspire the kids to want to help make a change was rewarding.
“We were leading through example as opposed to just talking about it. While we were over there Sam got sponsored by 4ocean (a worldwide company cleaning the ocean and coastlines).
“We both gained 1,000 more followers on our social networking with people interested in our efforts and journey. I’ll
be heading back to Hawaii in a few weeks to catch up with everyone and do a few more clean-ups.”
So, what inspired a 21-year-old to make collecting rubbish her mission? Rachael said it was footage of friends snorkeling with Manta rays through a sea of plastic.
“Living on the beach, it was a bit of a kick to the guts. To see the aftermath of plastic pollution, I wanted to do something about it. It’s a nice feeling – a feeling of accomplishment – with every bag you collect, you know you’ve stopped it from going in the ocean,” she said.
“Sam and I were approached by a few travelers who congratulated us on what we were doing and told us we were good people. If everyone put in a little bit, it would make such a big change. That’s 50 bags (200 kilograms of waste) Sam and I
have stopped going into the water.”
Now Rachael is “insanely aware” of her purchases and plastic conscious when she goes to the shops, encouraging others to do the same.
“I notice carrots in plastic, and I’ve picked up really similar things on the shore line. We picked up so many bottles and toothbrushes, a lot of toothbrushes.
I haven’t bought any plastic bottles since I’ve been home.
“My goal is to make people more aware and more conscious of the effects plastic has. It doesn’t have to a whole bag of rubbish that people collect, just little bits and pieces along the way makes a difference.
“We went diving in the Philippines and there’s this beautiful coral, and fish and then a shoreline of rubbish. We are destroying the world and we need to do something about it.”