My passion for the sea began some years ago now, when I was just a small child. We lived inland and I remember the excitement and the pure joy of peering over the car headrest on the way to our sea side holiday. Competing to be the first to spot the ocean in all of its dazzling blue glory.
We would spend endless days helping my father build intricate castles, stadiums and iconic structures, the sand soft on our toes and sun warming our skin. I never took it for granted and as I aged, I never lost that awe I felt looking at the sea.
The years passed, and I was lucky enough at 16 to move to Cornwall, England, where my passion for the water developed. I began surfing and spent as many hours as I could around the coast line, beginning my long-term interest in the charity surfers against sewage. I continued to age and became a mother, still passionate about our coastline, finding a new love for stand-up paddle boarding and sea swimming.
By now decades had passed and although that awe and inspiration when around the water remained, it came with a new set of emotions- frustration, disappointment, sadness.
And at times, anger.
This place I called home, this beautiful body of water that calmed and nurtured me, had over the years been tainted and infiltrated by a new enemy.
I don’t remember as a child seeing litter in the sea? Am I just naive and looking back with rose tinted spectacles across the years or was it not that bad?
Litter in the streets and park yes, but at the seaside?
I was born in the 1970’s when plastic was still a relatively new invention and was not yet widely used. We still got our fruit and veg from the grocers in brown paper bags, the butcher still wrapped meat in greaseproof paper and my fish and chips (which back then was only a treat) did still come in newspaper. I remember the first big supermarket being built near us in the 1980s and what a revolutionary idea it seemed.
Things were different, I’m sure.
But now? Now everywhere I look I see evidence of how this incredible new material is gradually suffocating our ocean and countryside. I decided that it simply wasn’t enough for me to just pick up rubbish anymore. I had spent a winters Sunday afternoon, yet again with the kids picking up plastic off the beach before it reentered the sea. I remember feeling utterly despondent and like we would never make any impact. We had to do more.
It was time to act. There was no ‘tomorrow’. There was no ‘it’s someone else’s job to fix’.
It started right then, in that moment for me.
Surfers Against Sewage had set up the plastic free coastlines, later to become the plastic free community campaign, in the last year. This involved local groups joining together to collaborate and tackle the issues surrounding single use plastic in their home towns. I live in Falmouth, Cornwall, so banded together with our local marine group, businesses, local schools, council and residents to begin tackling plastic in earnest.
We work together with these diverse businesses, schools and groups to reduce their throw away plastic use. We run beach and town cleans,. We spread information and try to reach as many diverse target audiences as we possibly can through our outreach team of volunteers. We work together to plan our approach as a community, to tackle the issues surrounding waste management and disposal, recycling, awareness and actions.
Our latest event was a collaborative action with other local plastic free groups in Cornwall, whereby we all coordinated our local supermarkets and ran a ‘mass unwrap’ of our shopping in supermarkets, after we had paid. This allowed us to feed back to the supermarkets, that as consumers we were fed up of the volume of unnecessary plastic on fresh produce and the lack of facilities to recycle it.
The problem we face is two-fold to my mind- we need to reduce the amount of plastic packaging we receive in the first place from supermarkets, by pressuring manufacturers to look at alternatives to plastic or by reducing the packaging full stop. The second part is to unify the recycling system, so we have less types of plastic and across the UK we have a simplified universal system to deal with the waste we do produce, which will allow us to recycle as much as possible.
In Falmouth and across Cornwall, I think our approach is working. People are talking about this problem like never before- it’s in the public consciousness. I have seemingly endless conversations everyday with such diverse members of our community, about the action they are taking, what they want to achieve and asking for help to do so.
The message is getting out there and we are winning the battle of engagement and education.
Ultimately, we have to keep pushing for change on a national level via government and the major supermarkets, businesses and manufacturers- but that doesn’t absolve us of any responsibility to address the problems we face ourselves.
The thing that I love most about ‘the plastic issue’, is how it unites us, how it has drawn us together on a common goal. We’ve seen a real sense of community and pride in where we live reignited on a scale we haven’t seen for many years. This issue transcends party politics, age, socio-economic or marital status, its about people coming together to care for where they live. I know I am particularly lucky to live in a beautiful part of the world, so I’m trying harder than ever to do my bit, but the same rule applies if you live in a village, town or city- look after it.
Get together with your neighbours and pick up the litter in your street or with the parents at school to tackle the local park. On your lunch break when you’re on the way to grab a bite, put that rubbish in the bin and bottle in the recycling, or even better bring your own lunch and refillable water bottle. Think about looking for others in your area that are trying to tackle this issue and join together, forming a super squad of plastic warriors; #teamworkmakesthedreamwork after all.
Bottom line. Do something.
Don’t just sit around expecting someone else to fix this problem for you, as there isn’t the time or money for us to wait for that to happen.
The time is now and we can and are making an impact.
In Falmouth, our beaches are cleaner than ever and we are seeing more and more people independently cleaning them on a daily basis- this is amazing and we are harnessing that power and bringing it inland to our town now.
Just today doing a flyer drop for an event we are running, over 75% of the business I spoke to were already reducing and addressing their single use plastic usage and long-term plan. If that’s not progress, then what is?
It’s almost impossible to find a plastic straw in our town now.
When people ask me ‘well what can you do really? Its just one town and you are just one person?’ I gaze around me considering this question. I see no plastic straws, less bottles and more alternatives to plastic, so I tell them, ‘look around you- we are getting somewhere. We are making a difference.’
The battle against plastic may seem like it was lost with the horrific images we witnessed on Blue Planet, but I promise you the war isn’t over and we are making ground day by day, little by little.
That change starts with you.
With all of us united.
Are you ready to be the plastic hero your town needs?