When open water swimmer and BCD employee Ross Paterson swam the English Channel in 2018, he was challenged by more than waves during the 21-mile course. He was surprised to see plastic waste in the open ocean, which sparked his determination to do something about it. Back at home, Paterson and his BCD team dove into plans to educate colleagues and clients about plastic waste. Check out his Q&A:
How did you get the idea to swim the English Channel?
Whenever you are competing in open waters swimming events, you meet people that either swam or attempted to swim the English Channel. I just decided I want to do it. It’s the pinnacle of open water swimming – likened to climbing Mount Everest in terms of preparation, execution and endurance. In fact, more people successfully summit Everest than complete the 21-mile channel swim in 17-degree water.
Tell us about the waste in the English Channel.
At certain points, I swam through plastic bags, potato chip bags, rubber gloves and other waste. I was so surprised that there would be plastic waste at sea 10 miles off the coast of England.
When you’re swimming the channel, there’s plenty of time to think. And, I thought about how many plastic bottles, straws and coffee cups are used and thrown away at BCD and during meetings. I started thinking about ways my team could reduce single-use plastics.
What concrete measures do you have in mind to avoid plastics in the future?
Raising awareness is a good place to start and can take you a long way. My company , team and client are all global, so I find opportunities to educate everyone on the dangers of single-use plastics and how they can reduce the usage. The team encourages everyone to reuse water bottles and cups, bring their own grocery bags, and say no to disposable plastic cutlery, straws, etc. I’m also a big supporter of reusable shopping bags. I refuse plastic bags in stores. For a meeting in Barcelona, we were partnering with the local not-for-profit organization Pure Clean Earth on their weekly beach cleanup. Our team collected 10kg of trash in one hour, mostly food wrappers, cigarette butts, and micro plastics. I’m sure the people have taken these practices back to their own offices and homes.
What tips do you have for reducing waste?
Follow the 5Rs of waste management:
- REFUSE: Ask for drinks without a straw, refuse the plastic bag at the supermarket, refuse single-use plastic.
- REDUCE: Find different alternatives to plastic and all packaging. Use your own bags, buy less. Ask yourself before buying, “Do I really need this?”
- REUSE: Get a reusable water bottle, grocery shopping bags, tote bag, reuse glass jars, plastic items you’ve bought, paper. Get creative!
- REPURPOSE: Transform old things into something else, e.g., an old t-shirt can become a cleaning cloth. Turn, a broken umbrella into a bag. Get creative.
- RECYCLE: This must be the last option. Clean and divide plastic, paper and waste correctly into separate containers. The better you recycle, the more will get recycled.
One last question: Did you successfully swim the entire English Channel?
I completed the swim in 11 hours and 35 minutes.