Marine snow sounds magical. Then there’s the slightly less sparkly description of it as a “ceaseless drizzle of death and waste” in a recent New York Times article. But it’s a natural underwater phenomenon, going on ever since life first spawned in the seas. Like the dandruffy dust in our homes, it is mostly dead stuff that is recycled endlessly and beneficially, drifting from the surface to the depths.
Except now it contains microplastics. We’ve been horrified by the floating islands of plastic in our seas, snarled-up waste that washes up on beautiful beaches. But now scientists estimate that surface plastic represents just 1 per cent of the problem, barely the tip of a hugely problematic iceberg. Most of the plastic pollution lies on the seabed, pounded by waves into flakes small enough to become colonised by microbes and enter the marine snow globe. This pollution problem could seriously affect the seabed’s ability to store carbon at a time when that has never been more important. Our plastic might be single-use, but it is being endlessly reused by an ecosystem, passing through the bodies of sea creatures and into ours when we eat them, a problem that is truly coming back from the deep to bite us.
There are many fixes to single-use plastic that make economic and environmental sense. A refillable water bottle will save you money, and deliver better water than a plastic bottle. Mother Reusables (motherreusables.com) is doing refillables stylishly. Keep cups will save on the throwaway plastic lids and keep your brew of choice hotter. My favourite is a Huski Home cup, made from recycling rice husks. It's also handily leak-proof, keeping liquids properly safe in a bag.
German company Hydrophil (I got mine in the Dublin Food Co-op) make a nifty sisal soap pouch so you can eliminate two sources of plastic – the bottle of shower gel and the plastic body scrub that sheds microplastics coated in dead skin cells straight into the water system. You pop a bar of soap into the bag and it acts as a loofah and makes the soap last a lot longer.
Maistic and Loofco are two brands of pot scrubbers widely available. The loofah material is biodegradable and also nicer to handle. I recently bought a Gemüsebürste wooden vegetable scrubber that feels so much more pleasant than its plastic equivalent.
Reading Walking in the Woods, by Japanese science professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, shed some light on why that should be. We have a connection to implements from the natural world. These tools make us feel more relaxed because pieces of wood and plant material help deliver a micro-dose of nature therapy into our busy lives.
Catherine Cleary is the co-founder of Pocket Forests