Belgian Olympic Sailor Emma Plasschaert has spent much of her life out in the ocean, witnessing first-hand the impact of plastic waste pollution in our seas.
Born in Ostend, a coastal city in Belgium, 27-year-old Emma grew up with the North Sea on her doorstep. She has competed and trained in seas across the world, from Japan to Brazil, the United States and Australia. In 2018, Emma was crowned World Champion in the Laser Radial class, a one-person sailing dinghy, and this summer, she competed in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, coming fourth.
Inspired to act, Emma first joined the UN-EU Beach clean-up campaign in 2019, at the biggest ever climate action event in Ostend. In an interview with UNRIC, the Olympic athlete shares her tips on how you too can make a difference.
Why did you decide to take part in this campaign?
As a sailor I always feel the need to promote a clean sea. It is part of who I am, what my life is about and what I stand for. People are dirtying my playground, and if there is anything I can do to prevent this, I will.
Why is it important to protect our oceans from plastic waste?
We must make sure we keep our planet as clean as possible. The ocean was not made for dealing with plastic and trash; the animals suffer, the ecosystem suffers, and, in the end, we suffer.
What anecdotes can you share on the impact of plastic waste you have witnessed out at sea?
The trends are very dependable on location. For example, the waters in Japan were super clean. The bay in Rio (Brazil) was probably one of the most polluted places I have ever seen. We saw fridges floating in the water, sets of patio furniture. It was insane. The amount of plastic bags caught around our centreboards was extreme.
You recently took part in the Olympics; how would you describe the level of awareness of the issue of plastic waste among fellow athletes?
The issue is very high on everyone’s minds. All sailors refuse to use bottled water, and everybody uses lunchboxes to carry their meals.
Are there any daily actions you take to help protect the environment?
I try to minimise my plastic waste as much as possible. I try to completely avoid single-use plastics by always carrying my reusable water bottles with me and reusable bags, by buying meat at the butcher etc.
What tips would you have for others on preventing plastic waste?
Make sure you never leave trash lying around. Pick up the trash you see in the park, because then it flies into the little river next to it and ends up in our sea in a heartbeat. Make sure you don’t have any plastic or trash when you go on a daytrip. Take a lunchbox, a reusable water bottle and voila! No trash in your hands means no trash in the ocean!
What can you do?