The British picnic season has begun (finally!) but how many of us think about the enormous waste that’s created as a result? In 2015, 3,000 tonnes of waste was collected by London’s Royal Parks team alone and it’s on the up. Surprise surprise, a large proportion of it is plastic.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. A pioneering band of anti-litter and anti-plastic warriors are taking on the tide of plastic pollution from our parks to seasides. One #trashtag at a time.
The British picnic spread creates 3,000 tonnes of waste per year
Littering, believe it or not, is nothing new. Keep Britain Tidy was one of the first initiatives, launched in 1954, to react against the tide of plastic litter. It’s taken a while for others to catch on. Friends of the Earth started campaigning against plastic pollution in 2016 while Greenpeace didn’t commit to tackling the problem head-on until 2015. Studies, such as this one on ocean plastic’s potential for ecological harm, have been published since the 1970s, yet only within the past few years has the wider world picked up the story.
TrashTag Heroes: the new wave of anti-plastic pioneers
Social media has a lot to be thanked for. The call to action on social platforms extends from the local to the international, encouraging anyone with a social media account to pick up, snap and hashtag the litter they find. From #PicUpForLondon, a small but growing documentation of litter found across London to #BreakFreeFromPlastic, a worldwide movement intent on ending plastic production. Many others exist, such as #2MinuteBeachClean, #TrashTag, #OneForOne and #LitterHeroes.
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#2MinuteBeachClean is among the most compelling. Initiated by Cornish surfer Martin Dorey via social media, it became one of the early modern disseminators galvanising the public to take action against plastic pollution. Now, there are more than 114,000 Instagram posts tagged with it.
Eco anxiety: a rising phenomenon
Each post, hashtag, and anti-litter initiative taps into the eco-anxiety prevalent among younger generations. Research suggests 74% of people under 35 experience eco-anxiety in one way or another.
Lizzie Carr is one of them. After paddle-boarding the entirety of England’s waterways, and witnessing the extent of plastic pollution firsthand, Lizzie founded Plastic Patrol, which hosts clean-up events (with one coming up in London on 27 July), crowdsources pollution data, and teams up with manufacturers to explore sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging.
‘I wanted Plastic Patrol to become something that united people across the world in the fight against waste plastic,’ says Lizzie. ‘And that’s what’s happening. Together we have logged over 130,000 examples of plastic waste in 42 different countries and we’re not stopping there.’
Picking app after ourselves
The Plastic Patrol is part of a larger movement stirring things up online but taking place in the real world. Others include Refill, an app helping users find water refill stations around London. With 20,000 locations on the app, Refill wants to be an answer to the 150 plastic water bottles used on average by each person a year.
Meanwhile, there’s My Little Plastic Footprint, an app helping people reduce their use of plastic and its potential ramifications on the natural world. More locally, there’s the 8,000-follower strong Plastic Free Hackney, joining forces with Hackney Council in organising community litter-picks and sharing advice on sustainable alternatives to plastic.
An anti-plastic revolution: the movement is growing
The issue of plastic litter is now recognised around the world. In Tanzania, manufacturers making or importing plastic bags are hit with a fine equivalent to £340,000.
The EU is motioning to place a ban on microplastics in cosmetics, paints, and detergents. Here in London, Spurs football club have signalled a commitment to abolish the use of all single-use plastics across all their operations.
These are positive strides towards making a difference and there are many ways you can get involved too. Host a public film screening about the ecological catastrophe of plastic, join beach clean bike rides and local litter-picks. There are even opportunities to train for free to become a citizen scientist with Thames River Watch, co-ordinating and empowering people to monitor and clean up litter. And of course, anyone can join the #trashtag movement online, one piece of litter at a time.