The Final Straw for Single-Use Plastics
By Lissie Pollard, Director of Operations, Final Straw Foundation
In the UK, everyone lives within 80 miles of the sea. Our connection with the ocean and our coasts has been hugely important over the centuries, and this is still the case today.
Unfortunately, the pressure on our coastline and waters has increased hugely in recent times, with a larger population, more advanced fishing techniques, and tourism. Our reliance on single-use plastic has also had a huge impact on our coasts and countryside alike. We are seeing this impact more and more, with litter that has been dropped on land and also plastic items that wash up on our shores that may have come from a local source or may have traveled for years on the ocean currents.
We firmly believe that we need to change our addiction to disposable, unnecessary plastic packaging in order to help protect our oceans, coasts, and countryside, and try to find alternatives or go for reusable options. We often become used to buying items packaged in single-use plastic from an early age – so much of our food comes in plastic packaging, which we instantly dispose of in our waste systems. Sadly, not all of it ends up being recycled or disposed of correctly and ends up getting into the environment.
Creating a KEEN Effect
Since starting our organization at the beginning of 2018, one of our key drivers has always been to educate and work together with people of all ages in our local communities to raise awareness of the plastic pollution issues that threaten our wildlife and local habitats. A huge part of that has been working with school children, from nursery age right through to students finishing school and beyond. We are incredibly grateful that being a KEEN Critical Coastlines grantee has helped us to execute our school's outreach program, reaching thousands of children with our message through assemblies, workshops and beach clean-ups.
Over the last 12 months, the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered our ability to personally deliver a lot of our school’s outreach activities, so we have moved many of our resources online in the short term. However, in the preceding year, we visited 51 local schools on the south coast of England, reaching thousands of schoolchildren. As part of our visit, we give an assembly, with Q&A sessions afterwards, and often a plastic ingestion and entanglement workshop. The workshops supplement the children’s learning and really bring the issues faced by wildlife to life. Our assemblies are tailored to the age group, with separate presentations for primary KS1, KS2 and secondary school students. We are often totally blown away by the knowledge that a lot of the children already have about our impact on the oceans, including plastic pollution, and they love telling us about the things they are already doing to help the environment.
Each primary school is also offered a printable ‘Ocean Defender’ certificate, where each child can pledge their own support to the campaign, the local environment, and our oceans. We have found that this establishes ownership of the campaign for the children, giving a sense of empowerment and creates an amazing feeling of community engagement. We also give out copies of the Wild Tribe Heroes books for KS1 children to supplement the topic.
Pre-COVID, Final Straw Foundation reached thousands of children through outreach activities.
Kids love cleaning up beaches
Children love to get out by the sea, and it’s been incredibly inspiring to run a series of beach clean-ups specifically aimed at school-aged children. The kids are often pretty clued up about the things that they may find on a beach clean, but often they overlook the smaller microplastics that we find all along our shores. We use our ‘Nurdle Trommel’ to sift these out, and they (and their caregiver) are often horrified by the resulting tiny fragments that we find. It really brings it home to them how pervasive plastic pollution is, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, and they go off with a renewed sense of purpose to cut back their use of single-use plastic and to take part in more clean-ups with their families.
One of the big events that we have been able to launch as part of our school’s outreach program is an annual Plastic Free Day. We run this in May, in honor of the legendary Sir David Attenborough’s Birthday! We provide materials for schools to download including lesson plans focussed on plastic pollution and ocean health, videos and ideas for fun and educational activities. The first year that we ran the day, we were totally thrilled that 153 schools signed up and took part (64,000 students!) on the day. Children had plastic-free lunch boxes, watched videos on plastic pollution, carried out litter picks on school grounds, and wrote hundreds of compelling letters to local MPs and the Environment Secretary (at the time), Michael Gove. The Plastic-Free Day had great press coverage, featuring on local and national television news programs and across various printed press media. The event had amazing uptake and very positive feedback, so it is something that we will definitely continue to run it on an annual basis.
Encouraging children to engage with and feel a level of responsibility for our environment is key to trying to protect our wildlife, waters and countryside from damaging pollution and climate change. Our outreach program has been incredibly rewarding so far, and we are confident that it will continue to be so over the coming years. The children we work with are keen to learn and protect our planet for future generations, and they inspire us every day with their enthusiasm and love for the natural world.
The Final Straw Foundation CIO works with local communities and businesses in the Solent and south region to highlight the impact of plastic pollution on our environment and to try to minimize the amount of plastic entering our local seas and wider oceans. For more information, please visit the website, finalstrawfoundation.org