Blog 9 – World wide waste

Having waste as a topic for one of my blogs was basically fixed as an idea before I started cycling. However, in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway I had no reason to use this topic. But as soon as I set foot in mainland Scotland, it became clear that littering is a much more common practice here. Littering is not the only cause of environmental pollution. Besides the beautiful views, littering, fly-tipping and other forms of plastic pollution or waste in the landscape have been visible on my route through Scotland.

Bamburgh Castle

Portsoy to Whitley Bay

Day 57 – 74 km to Ythanbank – Short after Portsoy, I turned land inwards. One of the first days on which I got to cycle on old railways. Few campsite options, but the campsite I chose was amazing. Very small, on a farm with extremely friendly owners.

Day 58 – 81 km to Stonehaven – another day with old railway paths, leading to Aberdeen. Ended up having lunch there during a festival.

Dunnottar Castle

Day 59 – 84 km to Carnoustie – Apparently a bank holiday, with many festivities in the villages. But this route is clearly living up to its name: coasts and castles. Starting with the beautiful Dunnottar Castle. It is also the perfect day for harvesting. I literally saw the field turn from gold to brown and the sky from blue to brown because of all the dust. After lunch I hardly had a proper view of the landscape.

Day 60 – 60 km to Glenrothes – Cycling along the coast to Dundee was very depressing, due to all the industry. But also showed another castle. After that I cycled through a forest and back into agricultural landscape. Perthshire is very nice, but seeing it being harvested also shows that there is not much nature left.

Day 61 – 83 km to Musselburgh – Departed from the main route to Edinburgh, since I cycled that a couple of years ago. Instead followed the coastline a bit more. Edinburgh has nice cycling highways. Don’t know how I missed those when I was there before. This time I used these to get out of the city fast. Too many people for me at the moment.

Day 62 – 97 km to Berwick upon Tweed – Followed the coastline closely to Dunbar. The turned from the coast heading for the hills, but not after crossing a ford with a very steep climb afterwards. These hills are also the last hills I’ll cycle in Scotland, because England is where I spent the night.

Following the coast line

Day 63 – 60 km to Embleton – The route zigzagged from coastal tracks to a bit more inland “hills”. Northumberland comes across as a very friendly area to cycle. And the coast provides castles and birds. I enjoyed myself on this “take it easy” day.

Day 64 – 72 km to Whitley Bay – The day consisted of wind. A lot of crosswind. But the coastal tracks are beautiful and a lunch at a cafe felt well deserved. (Un)fortunately, the only campsite around did not allow tents. And without any other camping option in a 30 km radius I went to a hotel. This fitted perfectly with my desire to get out of the wind and the desire for a very good night sleep.

My route so far

I think I can now safely say I like the highlands of Scotland, not so much the urban and agricultural east coast. Yes, the landscape still looks amazing, but the lack of diversity and the endless continuation of the wheat field was somewhat depressing. The rides across old railway tracks or off-road coastal paths is much more exciting. Let’s hope it stays that way! If I wanted, I could be home in two days. Unfortunately this doesn’t help with my little bit of homesickness (wherever home is nowadays…). But I will stick to my new plan. Trying to finish the entire route!

Scottish coast

Littering

Litter along the road greatly reduces the beauty of a landscape. Even though it might not be very present, it feels untidy. And as if people are not proud of their landscape. Or maybe even worse, as of they don’t care. I don’t understand why people litter. All my rubbish I keep until I come across a bin, or a recycling area on a campsite. And that it with a bike. In a car you don’t even have to worry about the space or weight of your garbage. It seems even more of an effort to open your window to throw something out, than to keep it lying on the chair next to you until you’re home. But apparently not everyone thinks like that.

The kind of litter I absolutely don’t mind

Along my route, I came across most litter in the UK. It does seem that there is more litter around cities and among the major roads. On shared-use paths there was hardly ever any trash. This may also explain why I didn’t see much in Denmark and Germany. Almost all the roads I cycled on there were back roads or cycling paths. And especially in Denmark there were bins everywhere. Really everywhere. But no matter where, it seems like a considerable amount of roadside litter is from a certain fast food brand. It is really striking how often I come across bags or cups of Macdonald’s.

Litter

Another observation I made, was that it seemed at first there was less litter in Denmark and Germany because of the presence of so many public bins. Then again, they were less common in Sweden and Norway than here in the UK, and still there is more litter here.

Wasting a-way

Litter is not the only way to produce waste away along my route. A rather new kind of wayside waste can be found near suburbs and footpaths: the plastic bag with dog poo in it.

Bag of dog poo

But along my route I also so plastic waste as a result of planting new trees. While planting trees is a good thing, I was quite astounded to see the amount of plastic used. And as they were planted so close together, many went survive. Apart from that, it mainly raised the question in my mind: is anyone ever going to remove every single bit of this plastic? And is the plastic really necessary?

New trees somewhere in the plastic

On a larger scale waste is produced by agriculture. Every year, bales of hay are packed in plastic and within a year all that plastic is thrown away. And a small proportion ends up in fields or in fences. Again, it raised questions. Is there no other way to pack or store these bales? Is this plastic really necessary? How much less plastic would be used if we ate no meat and less dairy?

One last form of things wasting away I came across mainly in Norway and here in the UK. Unused buildings. It seems like people prefer to leave old buildings and let them degrade and build something new, rather than try to restore them or at least use the materials for new building.

And then there is the very deliberate dumping of trash. Fly-tipping. something I will never get.

Fly-tipping along the route

Seaward bound

So is all this waste really a problem? Yes. It all ends up in nature. Even though the sun may be able to make plastic crumble into bits and pieces, it never fully get decomposed. Animals can suffocate in plastic. And plastic may end up in fresh water and the sea, where other animals will think that the waste is food. Without being able to digest plastic, it heaps up in their stomach, slowly starving the animals.

From someone I met on the road, I heard it used to be common practice on ships to throw waste overboard. Even though you knew it was not a very good thing to do. You had to get rid of the waste somehow. I suppose they were or are not the only ships doing that. And then there are also the ships that loose containers, as we were all made aware of this winter, when MCS Zoe lost over 300 in the North Sea.

Plastic in the high tide line

When you walk along the shoreline, you can see the high tide line with a lit of debris. Some waste from the ocean washes up here as well. It gives an indication on how polluted the sea really is. And this are just the visible parts. The microplastics we can’t even see.

Pollution solution

So is there a solution to al this plastic pollution? Yes. There are two, I would say. Recycle and consume less.

Consuming less means we have less products that can (accidentally) end up in the environment. This is something we can ourselves consciously choose for. Don’t use straws, bring your own shopping bag, don’t use single use plastics, and buy vegetables and fruits without plastic. And although I was told about this early on in my trip, this last point is difficult in the UK. I was very shocked to see how almost everything is packed in plastic. Under the pretence that you can store it longer. While in reality it just means a store can have more stock, which probably makes you buy more.

But all these small reductions in plastic use will not save the world from the plastic soup or have a large impact on our garbage sites. We should recycle much more. Only a small part of our plastic is being recycled. The majority is still being newly produced from oil. And with that thought in mind, I came to the conclusion that even stuff you normally don’t recycle can at least be reduced. I bought an new tent this year, because my old one was hanging by threads. No. By ductape, and with a broken pole. I will try to make dry bags and other things from it, once I’m back. If you have any other ideas of what to make from the canvas, let me know!

And talking about when I’m back… I need to get on my bike again. After Lola giving me quite a scare last night by getting hit by a car (all is quite well, just bruised), I have delayed enough today. With all the hopes that I will not get hit by a car of course, I will ride south past Newcastle, into the region where the industrial revolution kicked off.

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