Councillor and Chair of Redcar community group, “Friends of Redcar” speaking at the RCVDA Voluntary Awards said:
Thank you for inviting me here today to speak on Plastic Free Communities and Friends of Redcar.
Before I begin I would like to thank all of you for the community and voluntary work you do. You really are the heart of our community and you deserve all the praise and plaudits you receive. You are all winners and saviours. So thank you and good luck today.
I have been invited to speak to you today about Plastic Free Communities following the efforts of our group the Friends of Redcar, affectionately known as FRED having achieved Plastic Free Status in Redcar.
So what does that mean? Well we are working in partnership with our council supporting businesses, schools and other organisations to move away from single-use plastic products and replace them with bio-degradable, environmentally friendly and reusable alternatives.
So, for example changing plastic stirrers with wooden ones or polystyrene cups for paper ones. And any group, business or organisation can sign up and we will advise and record your efforts and you’ll receive an award and promotion from ourselves and the council for doing so. However, let me tell you a story. 6 years ago, I wasn’t a community activist, I didn’t volunteer. I cared and was conscientious but I wasn’t an eco-warrior or tree hugger so to speak. I was more a keyboard warrior and a couch hugger. But the more I learnt about climate change and the threat to our planet, the more I have tried to be one.
When I set up Friends of Redcar (FRED) it was because I was angry. I was angry that our beach in Redcar was treated like a landfill site by contractors building the sea wall defences.
Residents joined me leading a clean-up and to shout loudly about it to the authorities, the press, the public and those responsible, to force their return, which we achieved after almost a year (and their subsequent returns). We did this by leading and shouting about it.
Back then FREDs focus was on masonry and rubble. It was on the beach and on our litter picks. It was on our local economy and the aesthetics. As the name suggests we were friends of Redcar and the efforts we put in were wholly for Redcar.
A year in and the pull towards lobbying government to help reduce our need of single-use throwaway plastic was overpowering. Our focus had changed.
Because whenever we carried out our litter picks amongst the lager cans, fishing ropes, glass and hypodermic needles was plastic in all kinds of variety and forms and mostly it was the throwaway disposable items. And it still is.
Packaging, bottles, bottle caps, cotton bud sticks, sanitary items, wet wipes, polystyrene, cartons, plastic bags, balloons, straws, stirrers, utensils – it was and still is the biggest issue.
And worse still. The rawest of plastic product in its earliest form are found all over our beach. Of the beaches surveyed globally in March this year, it was revealed these micro-plastics were on 90% of them.
These are known as “Nurdles” and are created for easy transportation and easy processing into the disposable plastic items we know and love. The ones I have here were collected at the beginning of this month by our fantastic volunteers within an hour and in an area the size of a gazebo using sieves. There are over a thousand of these beads in this jar.
Seemingly these products look harmless enough, however they are not just clogging up our environment and endangering our wildlife and marine life who feed on them because they attract micro-organisms but they are, along with all plastic production impacting on our very existence.
99% of all plastic is made from fossil fuels. Oil. And from extraction, to production, to refining, to molding and on to managing it as a waste product all contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions killing this planet.
Since the 1950’s 9 billion metric tonnes of plastic has been produced of which 2/3rds has been released into the environment and remains there doing irreversible damage to our climate.
And production of plastic is increasing and along with the introduction in the US of fracking, we are speeding up the effects of climate change as pollution and carbon emissions expand.
And all the while the forests that capture carbon are being felled and fossil fuels are still preferred over clean energies. Our eco-system is being systematically abused and there is very little we can do about it. Right?
However, there is hope. And that hope is us. It is us as a collective force seeking solutions. After all Fred cleared over 500 tonnes of masonry, in 5 years, off our beach through campaigning against the contractors and management who had left it there and through our own hard graft.
And it is that dual approach, lead by example and shout loudly while doing it that can force change. Many of you know that “pull” towards lobbying government which becomes an underlying necessity when you’re dealing with the problem first hand.
I joined partners such as the Marine Conservation Society who organise national litter picks to collate and report on waste products found on the beach. And Surfers Against Sewage who started life as a grassroots group in the 1980’s campaigning against raw sewage in Cornwall.
They became a force to be reckoned with and are the reason now that bathing waters across the country are checked, measured and reported, month in and month out.
Their focus has also shifted to their new ‘sewage which is now single-use Plastic. And they are inspiring. They have become one of the most successful environmental charities in the UK and are actively campaigning on Plastic Free Communities in which they have undoubtedly led awareness and influenced change over the past five years.
Without their determination to lobby government it is doubtful that the plastic bag charge would be in place or that plastic straws, plastic cotton bud sticks and plastic stirrers are all going to banned from production and use from April next year.
We have seen a sharp upsurge in efforts to reduce our carbon footprint globally in the last 5 years. Governments are pushing legislation and setting timescales. Councils including ours have declared a “climate emergency”.
And a commitment to neutralise carbon outputs are being created region by region. Ours by 2030.
The impact of the awareness brought to us by Sir David Attenborough cannot be understated either. Since his Blue Planet programmes and subsequent presentations, volunteering has reportedly increase by over 20%.
And all of this speaks to me. And it asks me “What are you doing?”
FRED is no longer focused on masonry on our beach, not even the beach or the aesthetic, nor solely Redcar.
We have evolved. We will continue to educate ourselves and others. We will do that on the beach, in our open spaces, on social media, in the press, throughout our community and businesses, and moreover, along with thousands of other partners across the UK, we will continue to pressure our governments to accelerate their commitment, investment and innovation toward protecting our climate.
Our focus has naturally become the complete end of production and use of single-use plastic in this country and worldwide.
When I started six years ago, I wasn’t a community activist. I didn’t volunteer. I wasn’t an eco-warrior, or a tree hugger. But I’m trying to be.
Please try too. Thank you.
Cllr Carl Quartermain