Sir David Attenborough’s talking about it and so is Leonardo Di Caprio; we have a plastic problem.
Of course it’s not specifically the South Hams that has a plastic problem; it’s a global issue, but from our own little corner of the world many of us are doing what we can to lead the way in changing how we live, work and consume, to reduce the amount of plastic polluting our natural world. One such campaign is Less Plastic, spearheaded by Kingsbridge’s very own Amanda Keetley.
Less Plastic is just one of a number of campaigns contributing to this urgent cause, with Plastic Clever, pioneered by writer Anna Turns and her six year old daughter Ella, also very much leading the charge against single use plastics.
Together with many an individual and council support, the proactive attention that the South Hams has been paying to rectify the issue has lead to the recent labelling of Kingsbridge as a Plastic Free community, courtesy of efforts such as local litter picks, the 'Borrow-A-Bag' scheme and ‘Refill Devon’ (offering free tap water refills to cut plastic water bottle waste).
Making small changes empowers the individual
Where Less Plastic is gaining global traction however, is in the accessibility of its message - understanding that, for most households, committing to massive change is almost prohibitively difficult, but making a number of small changes over a consistent timeframe can have a huge impact. Amanda says: “I admire and aspire to a zero waste lifestyle but I think that’s quite overwhelming for many, so I try to make it more achievable. If you have one bottle that you use instead of buying plastic ones all the time, then it makes a difference over the years.”
Amanda began her quest four years ago, producing posters that offer tips on reducing the use of plastic in daily life at home or in the workplace. In that time she has joined forces with environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage to organise beach cleans throughout the year across the South Hams, and her posters have found demand across the world, having been translated into 10 languages and counting.
Amanda has also embarked on workshops at schools and businesses (recently including Network Rail and the Financial Conduct Authority) to empower individuals to make a difference through their own daily efforts, thus creating a ripple effect of individual responsibility and accountability. She is also working on a number of collaborations including one with Sodastream on ways to reduce plastic in the workplace - “it is estimated that around 1000 plastic bottles a year could be replaced with the use of a single Sodastream” she says - and she has nearly 110k followers on her Less Plastic Facebook page, all proactive contributors helping individuals to find plastic free solutions.
The more you know…
Though her work to date has found great promise and hope in the efforts of individuals to make a difference, Amanda has also found that in her quest to drive change she has been saddened by the increasing realisation of the depth of the plastic issue.
For this reason, while she views recycling as better than doing nothing at all, she sees it as more of a bandage than a solution: “I always think of plastic pollution as big visible pieces, but researchers are finding invisible micro plastics everywhere now; it’s in our drinking water; it’s in fish, honey, salt. I used to eat so much fish and now I very rarely do. It’s also in our air and no one knows the long term health consequences of that. There’s so much out there breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces, but it doesn’t go away. That’s why it’s not just about recycling but doing our best to avoid using it in the first place.”
Highlighting the power that the individual has by avoiding plastics wherever possible rather than resorting to recycling, she continues: “I have also found that compostable packaging can be a confusing topic. Lots of businesses feel like they have done the right thing by using it, but it’s only workable if it’s captured and put into a high temperature composting facility, which means you have to make sure it’s disposed of correctly and sent to the right place as well. We did that at the Kingsbridge Food and Music Festival where we made sure it was going to the right place, but people get confused between compostable and biodegradable; it’s easy to source the wrong things and we can’t always guarantee that our recycling is being dealt with properly.”
So what can individuals do to make a difference?
The comparatively easy, quick wins come from simply getting into new habits, as Amanda points out: “reusing plastic is not the hardest thing to do. If you decide to reuse a water bottle then once you get into the habit of it, it’s quite easy. There are no brainers you can change straight away such as reusing/finding alternatives to plastic bags, bottles, cup, straws and cutlery - you just need to be organised as an individual and take those bits with you when you go out. As a business you need to offer alternatives like bamboo products.”
Where things get harder, is in areas where we have less options: “I think what people find most difficult is food shopping and excessive packaging. If you want to avoid plastic then you end up having to make choices. For example, my children love strawberries in the summer, but we have stopped having them most of the time and have opted for something in its own skin instead, like melon. There are also things you can’t control - with deliveries coming to the house for example, you can talk to suppliers and ask them not to use plastic, but it has mixed success.”
In Kingsbridge, many of the independent retailers are choosing to offer alternatives to unnecessary plastic packaging; Alan’s Apple, for example. There is also a zero waste shop in Totnes, and Morrisons has replaced plastic bags for loose fruit and veg with paper bags. On a wider scale, Iceland is doing a lot, but, as Amanda points out, we need to hear more from big names to drive further change.
On the point of less visible decisions, Amanda points out: “I shared a post around my son’s birthday this year to highlight some of the small things you can do at home. It’s not perfect, but I think that’s the point. Instead of balloons we had reusable bunting to decorate; instead of a new badge we use the same one each year; we had a home made cake with plastic candle holders that we reuse each year, and his present was an experience instead of plastic toys. Of course, as parents we don’t say no to all plastic toys, but we try to limit them and find alternatives. We’re not perfect, but if you make small changes wherever you can, after a while they make a big difference.”
Join Less Plastic for the next beach clean on Saturday 28th July from 10-11am at Leas Foot/Yarmer - Thurlestone.
View this event here