According to Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) at least 8 million pieces of plastic are entering the oceans every single day. You may think that south east London is a long way from the ocean, but every bit of water leads to the ocean. South East London Blog spoke to Plastic Free East Dulwich founder and co-ordinator Ric Baldock to find out how the group is fighting plastic pollution and how we can all play our part. Claire Foster
“I set up Plastic Free East Dulwich, one of 705 groups in the UK, that are part of the Surfers Against Sewage movement. I’m a keen surfer, when I get a chance to get to the sea, and SAS was set up as a national charity in the 80s because surfers were getting sick because of the pollution and debris on our beaches and in the sea.
“Everything we flush down the toilet, pour down the sink, the plug hole, effects marine life and those who want to enjoy the sea. Now there is a lot more legislation in place and the UK beaches are all above a 90 per cent safety standard, but we are still killing marine life and our plastic has been found imbedded in the ice in Antarctic. I felt like we have a responsibility to do something to help challenge and change the system that causes this damage.”
SAS begun Plastic Free Communities four years ago to encourage local volunteers to champion cleaner water and marine conservation in their local area. Ric was already a member of SAS and was inspired to set up Plastic Free East Dulwich.
It’s not about removing all plastic from our lives, it’s about kicking our addiction to throwaway, single-use plastic and changing the system that produces it.
Plastic Free East Dulwich work and engage with the local council, community groups, businesses, schools and colleges to raise awareness and drive behavioural change around this issue.
“We are a small group of volunteers but we’ve sometimes had 70 people join us on one of our organised litter picks. SAS provide guidance, governance and support. We have a three pronged approach, targeting businesses, aiming to educate and active events. The first is engaging local businesses to reduce their use of single use plastic. This isn’t about removing all plastic from our lives, we know how much it infiltrates everything we buy, everything we use, and a lot of the time, alternatives are more expensive. We’ve had 13 local businesses commit to removing or replacing three or more single use plastics. Southwark Council have passed a motion supporting our work, have committed to council premises going plastic-free and Andy Simmons, Councillor for Dulwich Wood ward in Dulwich and West Norwood is on our steering committee.”
The volunteers from Plastic Free East Dulwich have run 13 assemblies at local schools, talked at local community groups, delivered a sermon at St Clement with St Peter Church and put on film screenings – all explaining the importance of the ocean and the damage that is being done.
“Young people are really aware of what is happening to the planet they are inheriting. If we can persuade one child to want to make a difference, to go home and tell their parents that they need to reduce plastic waste, I am happy we’ve made a big difference. Just one family’s plastic footprint can be huge.”
There have been leaps and bounds in addressing the root cause of plastic pollution. Manufacturers have had to change. With a ban on plastic straws, cotton buds, micro-beads in cosmetics and teabags . . . supermarkets and other retailers charging for plastic bags, reusable coffee cup discounts at chains and local barista shops, and huge media campaigns from national newspapers and broadcasters. It felt like the tide was turning – excuse the pun, and then we were hit by a global pandemic.
“We were doing monthly litter picks in the community, the last big one we did was St Francis Park. And although there was still a fair amount to pick up, it felt like more people were taking the issue seriously. Then in March, we took such a giant step back as everyone was using disposable, single use plastic again to reduce the likelihood of passing on Covid-19. Obviously local restaurants, bars and pubs were doing everything they could to survive, but the streets and especially the parks, became overrun.”
Plastic Free East Dulwich work closely with waste management company Veolia who provide bags and collect the rubbish after one of the groups litter picks, but with the current rules on how many people can gather together, the group are unable to arrange another one for the foreseeable future. If you are like South East London Blog and Ric, are frustrated and concerned about the number of disposable masks lying in our streets and want to help, what should we do Ric?
1) Take a bag with you when you go out and try to pick up rubbish in your local area. Be careful, wear gloves, and dispose of it properly. If we all did this what a difference it would make.
2) If possible, buy and wear a reusable mask. Wash it well and often. If you do have to wear a disposable mask, please dispose of it properly.
3) Look for plastic alternatives. Bamboo toothbrushes, pasta straws are really effective and so much better for the environment. Aim to swap three items like our plastic free business champions. For more tips visit our website at www.plasticfreeeastdulwich.org.
4) Use your power as a consumer and your voice as a citizen – spend your money with companies that take this problem seriously and are taking positive steps to change. Speak to your local councillor, add your voice to petitions and get in touch with us to help spread the word and get it on the public agenda.
5) Finally, and this is the biggest one, talk about this issue. With friends, with family, colleagues, whoever it may be. If we’re having a conversation then the message will spread and one person’s voice amidst a growing ocean of voices can and will make a difference.
Ric concluded: “If it’s on our street today, then it’s in our rivers tomorrow, and our beaches and oceans forever.”
The Plastic Facts
- Plastic pollution can now be found on every beach in the world, from busy tourist beaches to uninhabited, tropical islands nowhere is safe.
- Scientists have recently discovered microplastics embedded deep in Arctic ice.
- In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. This is set to double by 2034.
- Plastics consistently make up 60 to 90% of all marine debris studied.
- Approx 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile-of-beach in the UK.
- Over 150 plastic bottles litter each mile of UK beaches.
- 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually.
Our local Plastic Free Champion businesses
If you would like to find out more information, or would like Plastic Free East Dulwich to come to your school or you have an idea for an event/want to help at the next litter pick get in touch through www.plasticfreeeastdulwich.org/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Plastic Free East Dulwich is one of 705 plastic free communities. To find out more visit www.sas.org.uk/plastic-free-communities/