During the talk entitled “Plastics in the marine environment: a Christian’s Response” which I gave a couple of week’s ago, I somewhat foolishly made a public commitment to do one beach clean each month. On Tuesday, as June was getting ever closer to July, I thought I’d better get on with it and p-p-p pick up some plastic.
Armed with equipment kindly supplied by Nick Pickles, creator of the award-winning Polzeath BeachCare Group, I ventured down to Greenaway to pick up plastic and other waste. Approaching from the cliff, the gravelly beach looked remarkably clean. Detached and partly broken-up seaweeds, mainly brown kelp, lay strewn on the gravel, marking the strand line. But there were no large pieces of unsightly waste to spoil the view.
However, getting down and dirty on the beach to look for waste, I could see the usual plastic suspects: water bottles, fishing tackle, beads, a couple of bits of bicycle tyre, tooth picks, and wrappers. But none amounted to much, and most were partly degraded. I ended up with an unimpressive third of a bag of rubbish after a couple of hours scrambling on the beach. It was all very pleasant- the weather was kind, the view across Padstow Bay and out to Stepper was breath-takingly beautiful, I’d removed a few potentially lethal bits of plastic, but I hadn’t made much of an impact on the estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic which enter our Oceans from the land each year.
Picking up plastic is not the most intellectually demanding activity in the world. I had plenty of time and brain capacity to think of other things, including why am I bothering to do this. I’m no ecowarrior. My interest in the beach is mainly as a naturalist curious about what makes marine life tick. However, as a recipient of the great pleasure that I gain from the organisms I study, I feel compelled to play a part, even if it’s a miniscule one, in keeping their habitat clean and safe.
While I was in thinking mode, my thoughts turned to what might be the scriptural basis for picking up plastic and other litter. Not having a mind that readily recalls text, I decided to investigate further when I returned home.
A Google search reveals enough text on creation care to fill a book, but there was one Old Testament quote that particularly resonated. It was from Numbers 35: 33-34:
You shall not pollute the land in which you live…
You shall not defile the land in which you live,
in which I also dwell;
for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites.
Specific references to creation care are fewer in the New Testament, but
in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus gives to us the ultimate commands
… to love God with all your heart,
with all your soul and with all your mind
… to love your neighbour as yourself
Matthew 22:37-38; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27
If I am to love my neighbours as myself, I will not go about dumping my plastic and other waste in their gardens, and if I see a piece of plastic waste discarded by someone else, I will p-p-p pick it up.