6-pack on the beach
6-pack on the beach….

Everywhere I land my kayak in Scotland I find rubbish on the beach. Plastic bottles, bags, toys, shoes, containers, fishing nets. Teeny tiny plastic bits and big pieces. It is really an eyesore and very, very, very bad for the environment. I wish I could go back to 1907 and kill Leo Hendrik Baekeland before he invented plastic. Perhaps we would not find ourselves in this plastic problem. Or would someone else invent it a few years later….(that is a thought…)

Was there ever a time without plastic?

What did people do in the time before plastic? Maybe we can learn from that and go back to using the things that they were using back then.

I know just the place to go to see what was there. Plastic was there but wasn’t such a problem yet…..come and follow me…

I will take you to Swona, an island in the Pentland Firth where everything was left as it was about 46 years ago. Including a herd of cows. I mean, real cows, not made of plastic.

The Pentland Firth is a treacherous bit of water in the north of Scotland separating the Mainland and the Orkney Islands. Landing on and leaving the island of Swona is quite a task. You need to know the waters to be safe. When you read my story about the crossing from Stroma to Swona you know just how difficult landing is when your timing is just a bit off…

But in these strong currents lies also the reason why no one ever came back to the island to live in the houses again. In 1974 the last of the islanders left. The Rosie family operated the lighthouse on the island and had a small farm to provide food on the table. The two brothers Arthur en James and sister Violet became elderly and left the island for health reasons. James and Violet expected to come back to the island and left their house as it was. Before the trip off the island, they set the cows free to roam the island and fend for themselves. But no one came back. Now the house is a time capsule of island life in the 70ies and the herd has become feral. We will talk about the feral cows in a different story….

feral cows on Swona
The feral herd on Swona

What was life like in 1974? Was there a lot of plastic in use? What did the Rosie family use instead? Let’s check it out…

So, what did we see on the alternative front?
Glass bottles and jars work just as well as plastic but have more weight and are breakable.
Metal containers can be used to store stuff airtight.
Wooden barrels can be used to store liquids and solids. They look great in any household. And they stand the test of time.
Wooden crates work as well as plastic ones but aren’t watertight. But you don’t always need to be watertight, do you?
All of these items can be used time and time again after a bit of a wash.

But they also had plastic on the island!!! Of course, you can use plastic in moderation. Use it sensibly, like a few years until it is worn out. Don’t mind fashion, trends, because fashion creates waste (unless you sell it again). Don’t use single-use plastics. That is something the Rosie’s would never have used!!!

leave the lndscape as beautiful and pristine as you found it!!

Charlotte Gannet

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