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Why should veterinary teams care about plastic waste?

04 May 2022

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Cal Major, ocean advocate and veterinary surgeon, is passionate about connecting people to the ocean and protecting the animals and ecosystems within them. In this blog she explains why veterinary teams need to think about their plastic waste.

Why should veterinary teams care about plastic waste?  Image

I became a vet because I care deeply for animals and nature and working in the veterinary profession continued to nurture my compassion. Over the years I’ve transitioned away from practice and into spending more and more time advocating for ocean health, but it is still this compassion which drives my campaigns today.

I am very proud to be a vet, and although I’m no longer treating individual animals on a daily basis, I see my work as being for the benefit of animals in the wild. We can all play a role in helping to protect and nurture the ocean ecosystems, including in veterinary workplaces.

The problem with plastic

In 2015, I visited the remote island of Tiree in Scotland on a surf trip with a friend, and was horrified to find one of its remote beaches covered in plastic. I went home to Devon and found it on every beach I went to - even the tiny remote coves that I could only get to on my Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP).

The oceans are so precious. They produce well over half the oxygen we breathe on Earth, and form intricate, important and fragile ecosystems. They are also incredibly healing and beautiful environments to be in. Whether it’s a walk on the beach, surfing, or just dipping your toes, being near the ocean has proven positive effects on mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Plastic pollution is destroying this by killing marine life, destroying habitats and leaching harmful chemicals and carcinogens into the water. This not only limits the oceans’ ability to sustain our life on Earth, the toxins feed back into our lives too. Plastic pollution is a huge problem for our oceans, with 8 million pieces of plastic entering the seas every day. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, than fish.

What I saw on my SUP was horrifying, mostly because the answer to all this destruction and devastation seemed so simple - so much of the plastic on our beaches was avoidable, single-use plastic, and there’s something we can all do to affect that - use less.

Every time I surfed or swam or paddleboarded in the sea, I’d come out to find the beach strewn with mutli-coloured plastic waste. It was devastating to see, and I was aware of communications coming through in the media about its effects on animals. A lot of this was really distressing, a lot of doom and gloom, however it struck me that there was actually so much positive stuff we could do to help alleviate the issue. So, in 2016 I set up Paddle against plastic as a way to talk to people about the plastic pollution crisis.

What can we do?

80% of marine litter originates from land based sources, so the less we use on land, the less ends up in the ocean. This includes the plastic we use in veterinary workplaces too.

Single use plastic is one of the biggest polluters; this is the plastic, often packaging, that is used for a matter of minutes before being discarded. A lot of it is completely unnecessary, only used for our convenience. Our oceans are far too precious for us to be destroying them at the rate we are for something so unnecessary.

Reducing the plastic you use in your own life can be the first step in making a difference, and this includes what you use at work. One person switching to a reusable water bottle saves a lot of plastic – a whole team saves even more. It’s not about living or working completely plastic free, but reducing your impact where you can. This not only feels really good, but will help to inspire change in others too.

Start to look at the plastic you are using in your veterinary workplace, and see where you can switch it out. Please don’t feel guilty about the stuff you can’t avoid, especially if it’s to keep your patients safe, but rather feel proud at the stuff you can. Look out for BVA’s #GreenTeamVet blogs and watch the Greener Veterinary Practice Webinar on Sustainable surgery and use of consumables for some more tips on how to do this.

The responsibility for plastic polluting our ocean doesn't fall solely on the individual. The companies profiting from the production of single-use plastic, and those selling goods within them, need to take responsibility for this crisis. As do governments globally. But this is only beginning to happen due to consumer pressure. As a veterinary community, we are in a position of trust and influence - we have the ability to help change the narrative about what the public should and shouldn't be putting up with. Taking action as individuals and as a community, and communicating why it's important to us to our networks, is a very strong start to making our voices and our wishes heard more widely.

There is so much disconnect between our lives on land and what is happening in our oceans, which surround our beautiful country, so make sure you also reconnect with these incredible environments and their importance. Care about the subject, talk to your friends, colleagues and clients about it – let’s keep this conversation going, keep the momentum mounting, and reach that all-important tipping point. If we can connect the plastic we are using on land to that which is ending up in the ocean, hopefully we can find more voices demanding for this to be stopped at source.

In summary

You can make a big difference to this problem as an individual and as a team. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But it is happening. There’s a growing movement of people caring about this subject, and demanding change. The companies responsible for using unnecessary plastic are having to listen to the increasing pressure to find sustainable alternatives, and the government is taking note too.

I’ve learned so much as a vet that has informed my campaigning, and I feel very proud of that part of who I am. The veterinary community is really wonderful too and are making waves in creating a more sustainable profession which I find really exciting.

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