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Blog: A day on the Avon foreshore thinking about the lifecycle of plastics

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Last month a team from Sift spent a day with the Bristol charity City to Sea helping with their campaigns to raise awareness about the problems caused by the widespread use of plastics

Greener Sift has so far been mostly focussed on internal actions, but we also wanted to do something with a wider remit.  I’d seen a great blog by City To Sea founder Natalie Free when she found a student’s laptop on Brandon Hill, and when we looked saw they did corporate days.

City to Sea is a Bristol based charity that aims to educate the city to reduce the volume of plastics flowing down the Avon to the Severn Estuary.  Natalie and the team also hope to create a replicable model that can be shared with other cities.

There are of course many issues with plastics; principally that unlike metals, glass and paper, in the main they can’t be recycled effectively.  So until something changes, wherever plastics are just used once, it’s bad news.  Hence the focus by City to Sea and other organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society against the single use of plastics.  One such great initiative from City to Sea is their Refill campaign, which is now supported by 200 shops, cafes and locations around Bristol where you can refill any water bottle for free.

The day started with nine of us (including 3 members of the Greener Sift team) meeting Livvy Drake from City to Sea at Bristol’s wonderful Create Centre by the Avon in central Bristol.  As we walked about a mile down the river under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Livvy asked us to discuss what ‘waste’ meant to us all, and then we moved onto to talk about some of the basics of plastics recycling.  Once we’d found a good bit of foreshore, we spent the morning doing survey work collecting and categorising every bit of plastic, however small, in our sample areas.

 

What I hadn’t anticipated was how many tiny bits of plastic there were.  I assume that the action of the waves and sea over time degrades plastic and it disintegrates.  And what I thought at first were small straws, Livvy pointed out were cotton buds - or more correctly plastic straws with bits of cotton at the ends!  In fact this is the focus of City to Sea’s #SwitchtheSea campaign, which is trying to persuade the European cotton bud manufacturers to switch to a cotton-only formula (which is the approach taken by Q-tips in the US).

When we’d categorised 5 big bags of plastic rubbish, we returned to the Create Centre for lunch, after which we spent some time thinking about behavioural change.  Working with various personas, we worked up strategies to encourage people not to buy bottles of water or throw ear buds down the toilet.

All in all, it was a fascinating and enlightening day working together out of the office on something non-Sift that we all care about.  I came away wondering why it had taken such a long time for the UK government to put the 5p charge on plastic bags; and all the billions of unnecessary plastic bags created due to the delay.  Personally, I’m trying even harder not to buy bottles of water, don’t use ear buds, but do use nylon based floss every day (which I’m determined to find a replacement for).

I’m a glass half full guy though and believe we can continue to make positive steps in terms of our responsibilities to the environment, as there’s no end to what technical innovation and grassroots people power can achieve!

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