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Spotlight on Sustainable Businesses: Purple Earth

Claire Leonard   Fri 24 Jul 2020   updated: Tue 28 Jul 2020

It’s Plastic Free July, so what better time to invite guest blogger Julie McFarland, owner of Purple Earth, to share her story and delve into what it means to run a sustainable business in Northern Ireland. Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has been running a competition for Plastic Free July with sustainable giveaway goodies purchased from Purple Earth; don’t forget to shop local and support your small business owners and producers.

How did Purple Earth come about?

Purple Earth has been a natural progression for me, from my previous holistic therapy practice where I offered sustainable products and liquid refills from the treatment room, to attending pop up events and fairs to gauge the interest in the ‘zero waste’ movement in Northern Ireland.

Like many people, I’ve watched programmes such as Blue Planet and Drowning in Plastic and had my eyes opened. Consciously look around any supermarket and see how much single use packaging is being used – it will probably scare you! From a trio of peppers wrapped in plastic to microwave meals in their unrecyclable black trays; from the plastic bags used for dry food packaging to the rows upon rows of toiletries and cleaning products in plastic bottles; and that’s before you even think about our toothbrushes, water bottles, disposable coffee cups and cotton buds. When the sheer scale hits you, you cannot ‘unsee’ it.

I have grown up in this ‘throwaway society’, but as an individual I have a responsibility, not only to our planet but also to my young family and my children’s futures. Remember - when we throw things away, there is no ‘away’.

What’s it all about?

Purple Earth was set up as a not for profit venture aiming to give back to the local communities, help the environment, and cut down on plastic use and food waste, as well as helping customers save money and budget. Purple Earth gives you the opportunity to help you and your family make conscious choices about products you use, the food you eat and the gifts you give, so that together we can ensure the earth's resources are sustainable for future generations.

The product range is sourced as locally as possible, and includes eco-friendly alternatives to household and self-care products such as reusable water bottles and coffee cups, stainless-steel straws, wax wraps, bamboo toothbrushes, etc. I buy loose foods in bulk, in huge paper sacks where possible, and bag down smaller amounts for customers. Before Covid-19 hit, the physical unit was akin to an old-style scoop shop, so it is going back to the way it was a generation or so ago. Our online store offers staples like pasta, lentils, rice, cereals and spices plus sweet treats, nuts & seeds.

I also stock refillable cleaning products such as laundry liquid and washing up liquid, and self-care products like shampoo and body wash. All products are from ethical, eco-friendly companies and many can be refilled at your doorstep – you buy the starter bottle once and I can refill, saving even more single use plastic.

What does the future hold for Purple Earth?

Obviously, Covid-19 has been a challenge for us all. I look to the positives – having to ‘shield’ these past few months has given me the opportunity to get www.purpleearth.net up & running and reach a wider audience.

My vision is not to shame people into acting; or show unachievable images through Instagram or similar. It is to educate and involve individuals to adopt even one or two workable changes into their lifestyle. If we all take just one step, we can create a better future and have a positive impact.

Consider making your Plastic Promise for Plastic Free July by visiting www.liveherelovehere.org/cgi-bin/PlasticPromise and make your pledge to reduce your use.

By Claire Hudson, Tackling Plastics Coordinator at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

In the golden age of the 1950s, entrepreneurs and serial inventors were coming up with the best ideas to make our domestic lives a little better – microwave ovens, coloured kitchen appliances, the first non-stick pan. Bliss.

But one invention, hailed ‘throwaway living’ was to be a game changer. No more washing dishes for hours – disposable cutlery had arrived. Those olden days of constant cleaning were over. Now, we could simply eat our dinner and throw those plates and cups in the bin. And it wasn’t wasteful – it was progressive.

This was the start of massive corporations producing and selling these throwaway ‘essentials’. They were more than happy to sell a product, the same product, over and over and over. They were making life-long, happy customers.

How strange, when we look back now, seventy years later on World Environment Day, on what we thought was acceptable. Now we know the damage that throwaway, pointless plastic does to our environment, thank goodness we’ve changed our ways. Or have we?

It’s not my job to demonise plastic. And it might sound a little strange to hear someone from an environmental charity say it, but not all plastic is bad. We’ve all seen the surge in Personal Protective Equipment since the Coronavirus pandemic began – from protective screens in shops to masks and gloves. Plastic has had a vital role to play. It’s our misuse of this ‘miracle item’ that’s the problem. It is my job though to talk about the plastic we don’t need – pointless plastic.

The amount of plastic which the UK is throwing away is set to rocket by over a million tonnes by 2030 – that’s the equivalent of 87,000 more double decker buses worth of plastic waste each year. And here in Northern Ireland, we face our own problems with pointless plastic – from throw away coffee cups and carrier bags to plastic bottles and packaging. It’s what we call ‘single use plastic’, and shockingly, much of it is in our lives for less than two minutes. More than 70% of discarded items in Northern Ireland, those found on the side of our roads, in our play parks, at our front doors, contain plastic. It’s hard to believe but by 2050, there could be more plastic in our oceans by weight than fish.

It’s my hope that it won’t take another seventy years – or another pandemic – to realise that the damage we’re doing right now with pointless plastic is something that we can change. In fact, what I’d like to see is that we use this time as an opportunity to hit the reset button, to think about what we’re purchasing and using, and what we’re tossing aside. The pandemic has shown us how much we can really change our behavior in a couple of weeks. Do we need to just go back to the way things were, or can we think globally, but act locally now?

The greatest fire is started by a single spark; so make your commitment now to reduce your use of pointless plastic at www.liveherelovehere.org/plasticpromise and help to make all our lives just a little better.

A New Normal

Ian Humphreys   Thu 30 Apr 2020

We cannot go back to business as usual.

This is the constant refrain that we hear from civic leaders, politicians and commentators across our society. Over the past 7 weeks we have all had a chance to reflect how we conducted our business practices and engaged with one another socially. There has been so much food for thought as we re-evaluate what’s important to us and how we rebuild following this pandemic.

There are key values that are getting us through these difficult times; looking out for one another and recognising that our actions impact more than just ourselves. We are rediscovering that a brighter day is possible and that together we can meet any challenge but only by taking action, making sacrifices and having a common purpose.

It will be important as we embark upon the “new normal” that we keep some of the core values that have helped us so far during the COVID-19 epidemic.

As a sector, the environment and how we look after it has always tried to bring these important values together. Building for the future, bringing people together and protecting public health.

A new normal has to include how we look after our environment.

We have seen images of empty motorways that were once crowded, lakes with fish returning after years of pollution and quieter spaces. Yet we have also seen more images of increasing fly tipping and people thoughtlessly littering gloves and face masks.

If this pandemic has brought anything home to us it should be that how we look after our public spaces is incredibly important for our collective wellbeing. Just as we have seen how vulnerable we are to this virus, we also know the environment is incredibly vulnerable too.

The key to achieving all of this lies in the need for behaviour change.

Changing people’s attitudes towards just discarding something and thinking it has no consequence on others has to be an important part of the conversation going forward into the future. It is, I believe, a reflection of a deeper malaise in our society. Likewise, banking some of the wider environmental benefits, such as fewer cars on the road and people valuing exercise, is going to be something that policy-makers will have to ensure is continued.

Another important part of our behaviour change approach is how we value our key workers. I am not just referring to those who are working in the health service, but also those who are emptying our bins, sorting our recycling and cleaning our streets on a daily basis. These workers are also keeping us safe and ensuring that public health is maintained during this pandemic. They deserve our thanks and appreciation for all the work they are doing on the publics’ behalf.

Whatever change is coming in the months ahead, let’s make sure it’s positive for the longer term. We have seen that behaviour change is possible within our population and that when we have to meet a challenge, our community can respond.

The values that the environment sector has been talking about for the past number of years can help lead the way and demonstrate what works.

We have a big conversation ahead of us. We need to make sure that we play our part in developing our new normal, but that new normal doesn’t have to mean a change for the worse. If we make the right decisions we can use it as the steps towards a better future for us all.

Hello everyone.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has always sought to play a leading role in developing civic pride and a belief in each other’s capacity to take small actions to do big things. As you know we are in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak. This virus has challenged many of the ways in which we have done things up until now. As an organisation we are not immune from the impacts that this virus has on our society. I want to use this opportunity to talk to you about some of things we are doing as an organisation to help.

Remote Working

Since the 18th March, we have instituted a working from home policy. This of course presents a challenge in terms of how we work. As a small team, we are used to being side by side in a shared office, but I am glad to say that so far our team has met these challenges with creativity and determination. Using online workstations, emails and video calls we have been able to keep working and make sure we are checking in with each other as a team. I recognise the value of us as an organisation still working together as one team and helping each other achieve our collective goals.

The future

We are working on plans for how we will go about our business over the next period of time. COVID-19 will be part of our lives for the next few weeks and this will mean us thinking differently and finding new ways to collaborate with our partners. Rest assured that while we are working differently, our goals of protecting and enhancing our environment remain the same. The uncertainty that all of us face, means that we will have to be creative and look at how we can champion our environment while also doing our bit to help the community tackle the virus.

Our Volunteers

To those who give up their time to help us make a big difference, I want to thank you for your continued support and patience as we work together in these difficult circumstances. We have already issued guidance to our groups relating to social distancing, washing your hands and links to the relevant government advice. As things progress, we will continue to work with you and will keep communicating as we move forward. Whilst there will inevitably some disruption and change in approach, I want to assure you that we are still working harder than ever to ensure that when this virus passes, we will be ready to once again give our full support to those of you who are so dedicated to the cause of our local environment. Of course in trying new ways of working, some of these may even prove to be better than the old ways, so there is an opportunity here to innovate too.

To close, I want to ask all of you to please keep in touch. Look after yourselves and those around you. Your values of pride in our local community and believing that we are part of a cause bigger than ourselves are what we need now. Times are tough right now, but with these key attributes we will make it through to the other side.

My continuing thanks to all of you.

Ian.

A Year of Beach Cleaning by Sarah Bell

David McCann   Mon 04 Nov 2019

“There will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050." Although it may seem like a distant reality, sadly it is a fast approaching consequence of our mass consumption of plastic. Plastic production is set to increase by 40% in the next decade as it can be found in almost everything we lay our hands on. The reason we favour plastic so much is because of its durability, it carries our food and drink from all corners of the planet, it is used in our favourite electronic devices and it dispenses our most-loved hygiene products. However, as a nation we struggle to process the vast amount of plastic in our homes and workplaces. The U.K does not have enough recycling systems in order to deal with our waste and so, it is shipped off to developing countries. Understandably these countries cannot manage the extensive amount of unsorted waste and it is dumped into landfill sites or most frequently, the ocean.

According to Surfers Against Sewage, "There are 51 trillion pieces in our oceans, which is 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy." Surfers Against Sewage is a marine conservation charity established in 1990. It was one of the earliest beach cleaning groups and continues to be one of the most influential in the U.K. Their name was inspired by Cornish surfers who complained of raw sewage floating in the ocean. In the 90's water treatment systems were not up to scratch and waste was drained into the sea, but the work of SAS led to major investment in sewerage infrastructure. Now the leaching of plastics from poor waste management, litter, sewers, fishing and factories takes centre stage. SAS holds two big, volunteer led beach cleans every year, the Big Spring Clean and the Autumn Beach Clean. They have inspired people across the country to set up their own groups or to take part individually in a #minibeachclean and many beaches now provide a litter picker.

Beach cleaning is one of many ways to fight plastic pollution and it is crucial at a time where our beaches are particularly vulnerable. I began beach cleaning in October 2018 after watching a BBC news report about the litter problem on shorelines in the U.K. I volunteered with Beach Cleaners- Ards and North Down which I found through Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. The group was created by Regan Smyth and Lesley Crawshaw joined soon after. Lesley became the organiser of clean-up events and administering the group’s Facebook page. When I set out on my first clean-up I expected to pick up very little as after all, it was just a quiet, Northern Irish beach! Well, this belief was quickly turned on its head. An hour later and I was completely stunned by the amount of litter I had retrieved. It was often difficult to locate as litter was hidden amongst seaweed, plunged into rock pools and discarded in grassy verges. Once we reconvened I carried out a little recce on the contents of my bag and items such as plastic bottles, straws and packaging were rife. Above all, my bag was full of smaller fragments, also known as microplastics, and on the beach these pieces were often indistinguishable.

Whilst on holiday in September 2019, I visited a beach in the south of Mallorca and from a mere 2 yards of beach I managed to collect two handfuls of microplastics. As you can see, this contained pieces of balloon, fishing net, bottle tops and can openers. Plastic is subject to harsh UV rays and rough currents and it breaks down into increasingly smaller pieces which are easily ingested by marine animals. National Geographic states, "Scientists have found microplastic in 114 aquatic species and more than half of those end up on our plates." Plastic is making its way into our food chain through the fish or shellfish we eat and this is why beach cleaning is more important than ever.

Let's fast forward 365 days later and I continue to carry out cleans with Beach Cleaners- Ards and North Down. I am driven by a desire to protect our seas, but it is also my constant reminder of the reality of plastic pollution. The experience has been hugely thought-provoking and has led me to make small changes in order to reduce my everyday consumption of plastic. I want to encourage others to do the same, so I regularly share pictures of my findings on social media. I spoke to a fellow beach cleaner, Phil Wilkinson, who also hopes to raise awareness through his photography. However, Phil has a much more interesting perspective than I do as his photos come from the depths of the ocean. Through his lens we discover the magnificent array of creatures that live below the surface and the litter destroying their home. Phil often dives with Seasearch NI who aim to identify the various types of marine life and the underwater sites which require protection. Whilst on a dive a few months ago, Phil captured a photo which really stood out to me as I felt it highlighted one of the most damaging pollutants, fishing gear.

Abandoned fishing equipment causes a magnitude of problems for the environment. The UN Environment Programme stated, "Ghost gear is the most deadly form of marine litter out there," as their design poses a real threat to sea life. There are hundreds of instances worldwide where animals have become entangled in fishing gear and on Saturday 2nd November a seal was found on Ballywalter beach, Newtownards with a fishing line around its neck. It had deep lacerations and this caused its untimely death. Fishing nets are made of two types of highly durable plastics, polyethylene and nylon and as they break down over hundreds of years they shed microplastics into the heart of the ocean. Unlike a discarded plastic bottle or coffee cup, fishing gear takes a great deal of effort to remove as some can expand to the size of a football pitch. When I asked other members of our group about their clean-up experiences, fishing was a common theme. Most mentioned that they almost always find abandoned lines, lures and nets or rubbish left behind by fishermen. It is wholly unsurprising National Geographic found that fishing gear makes up 46% of ocean plastic.

Throughout my time of documenting clean ups I have noticed there are recurrent offenders and most are everyday items. The leader of the pack is undoubtedly, wet wipes. A recent BBC documentary called 'The War on Plastic' revealed that a single wipe is made up of 75% plastic. Up until last year many companies endorsed the flushing of wipes and this has caused a mass build up in sewers, also known as 'fatbergs', which are eventually pushed out into the sea after heavy rainfall. Wipes are a significant problem for the health of our ocean as one wipe can outlive most of us 6 or 7 times over. Other recurrent hygiene products include sanitary towels, tampons and cotton bud stems which are also being flushed and adding to fatbergs.

On a very recent beach clean I came across several pieces of Lego which I thought had been left behind by a small child. However, I came across a Twitter page dedicated to 'Lost Lego at Sea'. It turns out in 1997 nearly 5 million pieces of Lego fell into the sea when a huge wave hit the cargo ship, Tokio Express, washing 62 containers overboard. One held over 4.7 million pieces of Lego. I cannot confirm if this piece was lost from the same shipping container but if we were to believe it was, it indicates the robust nature of plastic. Despite being dumped 22 years ago and travelling hundreds of miles from Lands End, Cornwall it remains entirely intact.

We are incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy such glorious beaches along the Northern Irish coastline and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is one organisation who seeks to preserve our precious landscapes. Beaches are evidently a hot spot for socialising, particularly during the summer months. Thus, the most common items are often related to eating and drinking and from the images below you could probably piece together the remains of a barbeque or picnic.

Indeed it is this irresponsible attitude towards littering that plays a significant role in the progression of plastic pollution. David Attenborough recently said, "Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet," therefore, we can no longer hide behind a lack of education. We are all aware of the fragile state of our oceans, landscapes and climate and we must each try our very best to protect our planet.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has made it easy to get involved in beach cleaning through their Live Here Love Here campaign. This is a people powered initiative where communities can come together and clean-up, green up or spruce up their local area or beach. Under their 'Events' page you can find information about beach cleans being held across Northern Ireland.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have been working with Culture Night & Day (CNB) to support them in their journey to reduce single-use plastic. To kick things off they added their Plastic Promise, making their commitment public and to encourage everyone to get on board. As they continue to reduce their use they can revisit their Plastic Promise at any time and set new goals and targets and get higher up the leadership board.

This year CNB took a stand against plastic, they are committed to reducing on-site waste, meeting green objectives and developing more sustainable ways of producing their event. Focusing on proper recycling, encouraging festival goers to bring their own reusable bottles, cups and food containers, informing traders to easily accept and encourage reusable items and much more. Check out their green checklist for more information.

Simple things.. just by encouraging people to bring their reusables to events like this one and when out and about can make a big difference. Such as, polystyrene food containers and coffee cups used for only a matter of minutes to suit our convenient lifestyle are avoided and less overall waste clogging up our already over stretched collection systems. If we just take a moment to stop, think and prepare we can enjoy the events like this one, but not contribute to the aftermath of litter and bin waste.

Our Young Reporters for the Environment also got involved and one student, Maria Aaroy, from St Dominic’s High School (pictured above) took the opportunity to interview Joe Nawaz, Marketing & Communications Manager at CNB. Joe shares with Maria why they decided to add their Plastic Promise, the importance of CNB being a sustainable, green event and what their aspirations are for the future. To watch this brilliant interview vist the Eco-Schools Facebook page.

We all need to play our part in reducing our use of pointless plastic. We need more events, organisations, individuals declaring their Plastic Promise and taking action. Sign your Plastic Promise now!

Visit http://www.liveherelovehere.org/plasticpromise

Making small changes everyday to eliminate waste.

David McCann   Mon 09 Sep 2019

Cathy Gorman is a Project Officer with Eco-Schools

Since last week was Zero Waste Week I thought I would share a few things I’ve been doing in my day to day life to reduce waste, especially plastic waste. As with most people I have become increasingly aware of single use plastic in my life. I am Eco-Schools Officer with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful but more recently I became Mum to the amazing Amelia! Anyone that’s ever seen a baby knows they come with a lot of “stuff”, and a lot of that stuff is made to be disposable, for added convenience. I’m going to go through my changing bag so you can see some of the changes we’ve made to reduce our waste production:

Nappies. Nappies were the biggest source of single use plastic that I could see on the horizon so I started to look into alternatives before Amelia arrived. My mum always bemoaned terry towels from when I was a baby, trying and abandoning them within a short space of time – having a newborn is hard enough without learning the art of towel origami and the stress of safety pins after all! But things have moved on since then. Nowadays reusable/cloth nappies come in a variety of styles ranging from the classic terry towels to all in ones, which are the same shape and structure as disposables. I found lots of websites with reviews and came to realise that different styles suit different babies (and parents!) so I didn’t want to dive right in without trying some first. Some googling revealed that there is a Nappy Library in NI, where you can hire kits with a range of brands and types for a month. So that’s exactly what I did! There’s a wealth of knowledge and an amazing online community to support you if you’re thinking about making a change to reusables. That’s not to say we didn’t use any disposables, the first week we did as I decided I had enough to get my head around but we started to slowly swap in the hired reusables, figuring out which type we preferred. Once we had an idea I looked online and found a pre-loved nappy group on Facebook, where I managed to snag a stash of the type we liked for an absolute bargain! Extra eco-points for buying pre-loved ;)

An argument against reusable nappies is the energy needed for the increased amount of washing you’ll have to do. This is something you have to weigh up for yourself, I decided that the extra washing, done mostly at 30o , had a lower environmental impact than the tonnes of plastic waste being sent to landfill. From my research cloth nappies also seem to be better for babies’ skin.

Baby wipes. I’ve never liked wipes, they're thin and slippery, never mind the obvious environmental and cost implications. So as soon as we were home from hospital we started using fabric wipes. I dare you to try them and not prefer them! They come in a range of materials (cotton, bamboo or microfiber) and colours. My husband got a little bit obsessed and we now have a stash of all 3 types so we should never have to buy wipes again! I’ve found them to be a lot more effective than baby wipes, needing fewer to do the same job. They will last us well beyond her baby years, into being a mucky toddler and beyond. When out and about I have wet bags in my changing bag to put used wipes and nappies in, and once home they go into a tub before being washed every other day.

•Also in my changing bag is my bamboo cutlery set (which was a brilliant gift at the Eco-schools NOM in Cork!) And my collapsible coffee mug – I hate being out and not having a re-usable mug with me when I need one so this means I always have one with me for emergency caffeine! (Find me a new parent that doesn’t need emergency caffeine!).

•Not in the changing bag, but as a result of doing so much more washing we have recently purchased a Guppy bag, which catches the microplastic fibres released in the washing machine. This was actually my husband’s idea, although it was me driving the nappies and wipes he has been fully converted to reducing waste wherever we can!

When I was pregnant and telling people I planned to use reusable nappies and wipes I got a lot of funny looks and comments, even from like minded people. People can be a bit funny at the thought of having to be so hands on with poo but thankfully it’s not a literal issue. Changing any nappy involves getting close to poo but once you get into a routine and habit we’ve found it really isn’t a problem. You do have to be a bit more organised when using reusable nappies and wipes and stay on top of the washing so you don’t run out but you don’t have to be all or nothing with it, even having one or two nappies will make a considerable difference to the number of nappies being sent to landfill, but don’t be surprised if you get hooked by all the cute patterns!

The main thing I’ve taken from this is to reach out, ask questions and just give things a go! The worst that will happen is that you don’t love the alternatives, the best is that you’ll save a lot of waste from being produced!

“We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Anne-Marie Bonneau

Plastic pollution: Compostable Packaging Trial

David McCann   Tue 02 Jul 2019   updated: Wed 03 Jul 2019

Claire Hudson is our Single Use Plastic Coordinator.

Public awareness of plastic pollution is on the rise and businesses are also taking action to reduce the amount of pointless plastic they use.

As part of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s Tackling Plastic NI Project (funded by DAERA), we’re currently trialing compostable packaging items throughout Ards & North Down, to reduce plastic pollution on our streets and shores.

Through the Live Here Love Here campaign and Ards & North Down Borough Council’s RCIF Scheme we visited on-the-go retailers and asked if they would like to get involved. We got chatting to business owners who had already invested in compostable packaging, those who had thought about it but hadn’t yet taken the plunge and those who it was all new to.

With 625 bits of litter found on our beaches every 100m, 78% of which was plastic, including polystyrene food containers, plastic cutlery, food wrappers, plastic bottles and tops, as businesses and consumers we need to make changes fast.

We worked closely with local waste management company, Natural World Products, who had carried out trials on specific compostables to ensure items were 100% certified as compostable.

Participating retailers will be educating their customers on how to dispose of compostable items correctly. Either by giving back to the retailer or putting them in their food caddy/bin. Look out for the compostable packaging in Ards & North Down area with the Live Here Love Here and RCIF logos. Make sure to tell the shop what you thought. We want to understand how well compostable items work from both vendor user view. We all need to work together and make small sacrifices to our convenience driven lives to reduce pointless plastic and help the environment in which we live. If your favourite sandwich shop is using single-use plastic, especially polystyrene, ask them to source alternatives, or ask if you can you bring your own food container. Small changes can make a big difference.

Our message:

If you don’t need it, don’t use it – don’t just pick up the plastic cutlery or straw ‘just in case’

If you use it, source an alternative – bring your own reusable food container, or choose to buy from a business using an alternative to plastic for takeaway food.

If you do use plastic – ensure you recycle/dispose of it properly, if it can be recycled take it home, if it can’t make sure it’s disposed of in a bin and won’t end up on our streets or beaches.

Check out the BBC coverage on the trial: http://tiny.cc/5i448y

Reduce your use of pointless plastic. Whether you're a business, organisation or individual, make your Plastic Promise here http://tiny.cc/0tk68y

#TacklingPlasticNI

Small Actions = Big Difference

David McCann   Wed 17 Apr 2019

Mrs Owens,Eco Coordinator from St Michael’s Primary School writes for The Last Straw about how her school achieved a massive reduction in Single Use Plastics

Our Eco-Committee at St Michael’s Primary School decided to tackle the amount and types of waste that were gathering in the school after carrying out an Environmental Review back in September 2017. One key area was of course plastics and we’ve made some big efforts to reduce our use as a school over the past year. To make sure we could recycle plastic properly we contacted Belfast City Council who gave us lots of helpful advice. Each classroom received a large bin for recycling plastics and pupils and teachers were asked to recycle everything they could.

In January 2018 the pupils on the Eco-Committee talked about the problem caused by plastic straws being used with the milk cartons every day in class. The office provided figures for the number of cartons of milk being consumed in each class and the figures were worked out for the whole school (each child using one plastic straw per carton of milk):

266 cartons per day x 5 days = 1330 per week = 5320 per month

A lot of plastic straws!!

Some research was carried out and compostable straws were sourced online and the school purchased thousands of them to stock up for the rest of the year. Since January 2018 NO plastic straws have been used in school. This reduced our plastic waste going to landfill! Also, one of our P5 Eco councillors suggested that as the straws we ordered were full size straws and our milk cartons are kiddy sized, we should cut the straws in half and get double the value. The whole school has taken this idea on board and it’s saving us more money….well done Ellie McDermott!”

Our caretaker also reported that banning plastic straws saved on plumber’s bills for clearing pipes under sinks blocked by plastic straws that had slipped down the plug hole!

What we did next...

Next… we tackled the lost property box. The plastic in our clothes can also lead to plastic microfibers getting into our oceans, so we need to think about the amount of clothes we buy and what we do with them once we’re finished with them. We had a very large lost property box of good quality school uniforms, which we didn’t want going to waste, better to reuse than throw out or buy new! The School Councillors got involved at this stage and sorted all of the clothing into items with names that could be returned to their owners to prevent buying more and clothing that could be washed and reused. We decided to organise a ‘Pop-up’ recycled uniform shop and put out a request to parents for contributions of uniform that they no longer needed. The response was amazing! Parents not only contributed items but also purchased items from the shop. We would like this to become a regular feature on the school calendar.

To encourage the whole school community to get involved our Eco-Committee came up with the idea of organising an Eco-week in early April 2019. This involved lots of emails to various organisations and people drawing up a full time-table of events to ensure that everybody could take part in Eco Week. An email was sent to all parents to make sure they were aware of the activities and to encourage them to support their children. One of our plastic initiatives is encouraging all the children to come to school with as little packaging as possible in their lunch boxes and NO single-use plastic water bottles are permitted.

We are delighted the whole school community got involved and will continue to reduce our use of plastics in our school!

Are you serious enough about littering?

Ian Humphreys   Mon 30 Jul 2018

There seems to be a growing disparity between those who care about where we live, and a minority of people that quite literally couldn't care less. The few whose littering is on daily display are a disgrace and an embarrassment. Visitors to our beautiful part of the world leave confused and bewildered. Such a welcoming friendly place, beautiful scenery, treated like a giant dustbin.

Do the litterers have no conscience? Do they not realise their own children will have to live with the after effects, with plastic in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat?

Dense accumulations of litter lying in our verges, floating down our rivers and washing up around our shores. This is what we now see and expect to see. It reflects on the whole of our society; that we have allowed this to happen. There is no benefit in blaming others, in shirking our personal responsibilities to help maintain the standards we expect. Can we challenge the environmental incivilities and anti-social behaviours we see? Do we have the courage (yes, safely) to ask someone to pick up their litter? Would we even support the council by reporting in incidents of littering – easily done when from vehicles – so that fines can be issued?

No other body invests more or employs the army of staff to remove our daily dump of litter, than Councils. Yet here too more can be done. The postcode lottery for fines must end; fines must be greater; staff shifts should match the times when offences are taking place (dog fouling particularly needs different patterns of working); and other government bodies need to take litter as seriously as Councils do.

Businesses have to accept not only that a proportion of the wrapping used to sell their confectionery, cigarettes or drinks is ending up as litter but also that they have a responsibility to tackle this issue too, in a way and on a scale not yet seen.

Pointing the finger of blame in a different direction is just an excuse not to do anything, which is an implicit acceptance of how things are now. This situation is unbearable for many people – to see our country being trashed by a thoughtless minority. If we really want it to change then the finger pointing has to stop and we all have to just start investing more time, money and effort in changing what we can within ourselves and our organisations, and into making the position on littering behaviour clear to all our stakeholders. No more excuses.

I heard a case of a triathlete being disqualified (given a ‘did not finish’ result) after being seen throwing his water bottle over a hedge. A rare case of taking this issue seriously enough. We probably already have disciplinary rules that prohibit the bringing of our organisations into disrepute. What if we explicitly brought in and communicated a statement that ties littering behaviour into such policies and procedures?

Just a thought.