The aim of my work is to confront the viewer to the scale of the problem of single use plastics, identifying the ubiquitous throw-away items I find and challenge audiences to rethink their relationship with plastics. – Diane Watson
I married a Hartlepool girl and moved there 14 years ago. I also fell in love with North Sands, a gem of a stretch of coastline running from the Headland to Crimdon. On days when a low tide has drawn out a great expanse of pristine sand and the sky is blue, it is a place to lift the spirits. It is also a place to seek solace, and to brood along with the restless sea and grey, rain laden clouds. It is a place where photographers and artists can hone their skills and develop their art over the years and never tire of the ever changing opportunities presented by each tide, dawn and sunset.
It is also a place that first alerted me to a growing problem; that of ocean plastic pollution. One person decided to confront the problem head on, by embarking on a year long project which started on New Year’s Day 2018. Combing stretches of beach (Crimdon, North Sands, Seaton Carew and North Gare) both north and south of the town of Hartlepool in the north east of England, environmental artist and campaigner Diane Watson has diligently picked up, washed, stored, curated and recorded over 7,000 plastic items that were either discarded on the beaches or washed ashore.
She has a garden shed which has taken on a new purpose as a storeroom for all this amassing of plastic, growing on average by 600 items a month. Drawing on this multi-coloured hoard of rogue polymers collected over the entire year of 2018, she has put together an astonishing exhibition.
The walls of the exhibition space at Palace Arts, Redcar, are draped with what look like 12 beautifully designed hip wallpapers. Move closer and you will see they are composed of the myriad of found plastic items; photographed, copied and reversed to create a kaleidoscopic effect. There’s one for every month of the year. At the exhibition I saw a similar reaction time and again as visitors were both drawn to their beauty and challenged by their content.
As well as the wall-hangings, Diane has several glass cases on display. Each one is themed, bringing order and some understanding to the types of plastic objects and bit of objects that are polluting our seas and beaches. One case is astonishingly entirely full of plastic bottle tops. Another is a macabre medley of personal care items and clinical waste; disposable razors, the plastic stems from cotton buds, inhalers to treat asthma and even a dentist’s mould (which was my number one WTF moment). There’s plenty to ‘entertain’ the kids too, with another case full of toys; plastic fruit and letters, Freddie from Scooby-Doo and the upper torso of a Ninja Turtle. A fourth case is an assemblage of items of unknown use or origin. Another, consisting of plastic shards has been arranged in order of the colours of the spectrum.
After leaving the exhibition I mused over its contents while enjoying a lemon top from Pacittos. It felt almost like an archaeology of the present day, which struck me as a weird notion, but not so much when you consider our accelerated culture. It seems we are capable of celebrating the opening of another drive through fast food outlet in Hartlepool, and worshipping at the altar of convenience and single use; it makes for cheap food and drink, but the true price we are paying is astronomically high. Consider this; one determined woman collected 7,000 items of plastic over 4 miles of beach in one year…Britain has 11,000 miles of coastline.
There’s No Away by Diane Watson is on show at Palace Arts, Esplanade, Redcar until 8th February. Her exhibition will be at Hartlepool later in the year.
Leading environmental charities, including Surfers Against Sewage, have come together to warn that leaving the European Union without a deal could be catastrophic for our clean beaches, bringing back the threat of sewage and pollution filled seas, and big companies making vast profits from polluting our beaches.
without a fully-functioning system to monitor and ban dangerous chemicals
facing spikes in air pollution caused by traffic chaos at ports and borders
The analysis also shows that that Defra, one of the government departments most heavily affected by Brexit, would find it very difficult to cope with the ramifications of no deal. According to the Institute for Government it has published 29 technical notices on ‘no deal’ (the joint most of any department), with the National Audit Officer (NAO) raising concerns in September 2018 around its lack of readiness.
Hugo Tagholm, CEO says “Surfers Against Sewage has a proud legacy in successfully campaigning to improve water quality and protect our ocean, based on strong shared laws and cooperation. Water quality has improved from 27% of beaches meeting minimum bathing water standards 1990 to 97% today.
Bathing Water Quality Results 1995-2017
No matter how we voted, none of us want to destroy the ocean and turn our beaches back in to a sewer. ‘No deal’ could mean that sewage pollution becomes a serious issue again at UK beaches, without the necessary authority, checks and balances to regulate it.”
These improvements took place under the auspices of the European Union as a result of EU Directives, enforced when needed by the European Court of Justice with heavy fines.
Surfers Against Sewage has been at the forefront of water quality campaigning in the UK for almost thirty years, campaigning to eradicate continuous discharges, strengthen the Bathing Water Directive, drive real-time water quality information and protect anyone and everyone using the sea. We have been steadfast in representing surfers, swimmers, sailors and all ocean enthusiasts who rely on a clean, safe and protected ocean.
Founded in 1990, the organisation was a visceral response to the sewage pollution crisis at beaches UK-wide that was literally making people sick. Raw sewage, pumped out continuously into beaches and rivers nationwide, was wreaking havoc on our shores.
This was the catalyst for our initial campaign and to this day remains embedded in the DNA of our charity. Campaigning with the backdrop of clear and powerful European legislation created a wave of positive change for our beaches and surf spots nationwide, dramatically impoving our water quality over the last 30 years.
These water quality improvements could be placed under threat with a potentially precarious and uncertain ‘no deal’, which could throw our environmental laws, regulations and enforcement into uncertainty
It’s now vital that we unite as a voice of the ocean to protect our proud and ongoing heritage in fighting for the beaches we love.
After careful analysis Surfers Against Sewage says that ‘no deal’ brings short term dangers and longer term concerns for our ocean.
Washington, DC – In an effort to preserve their ability to produce cheap single-use plastics, several fossil fuel companies and a fast moving consumer goods company united to launch the Alliance to End Plastic Waste today. The group, which includes Exxon, Dow, Total, Shell, Chevron Phillips, and Procter & Gamble, will look to commit $1.5 billion toward keeping plastics out of the environment, rather than prioritizing the reduction of single-use plastic production.
“The plastics empire has struck back with an initiative that seeks to justify and further entrench the continued production of fossil-fuel based plastics for years to come. By aggressively promoting and financing false solutions in Asia, they think they can continue flooding our markets with their problematic sachets and packaging. Industry cannot continue living in their alternate universe where sky is always the limit – the planet is already suffocating in plastic waste and the times call for real solutions, not illusions,” said Von Hernandez , coordinator of the global #breakfreefromplastic movement.
Statements from #breakfreefromplastic member organizations The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Zero Waste Europe, The Story of Stuff Project, Upstream, Oceana, and Greenpeace follow:
Christie Keith, GAIA International Coordinator and Executive Director
“We can’t recycle our way out of plastic pollution. Instead of coming up with increasingly complicated, unproven, and expensive ways to deal with plastic waste, we need industry to stop making such large quantities of disposable plastic packaging and products in the first place. It is simply absurd to continue using the longest lasting substance for the shortest uses. The answer to this problem is simple – we need to reduce plastic use dramatically. Forward-thinking cities and communities across the world are showing leadership on this front by moving toward zero waste, and it is their efforts that need to be applauded for truly showing us the way of the future.”
Delphine Lévi Alvarès, #breakfreefromplastic movement European coordinator at Zero Waste Europe
“Fossil-fuel producers treat plastic pollution as a waste-management issue in yet another attempt to distract from the real problem. Instead, this investment should be used to scale the alternatives to unnecessary plastics globally. However, this would mean less oil & gas extraction and less plastic manufacturing something that industry is reluctant to accept despite it being the clear solution.”
Sam Pearse, The Story of Stuff Project Plastics Campaign Manager
“Unfortunately these plans look like they were designed to maintain business as usual on plastic production. At a time where plastic is entering our food and drinking water, we need to focus on real solutions: producing less single-use plastic.“
Miriam Gordon, UPSTREAM Program Director
“Using plastic, a material designed to last forever, for products that are used in a matter of minutes and then discarded, will never make sense for people or the planet. Even if the plastics industry spends billions to develop new recycling technologies, there will still be significant pollution impacts associated with the recycling. By using recycling to legitimize the continued extraction of fossil fuels, the plastics and consumer goods industries continue to doom the planet to rapid climate change. These companies should be making pledges to sell and use plastic only for durable materials, not single-use bags, containers, wrappers, bottle caps, lids, utensils, and straws that will escape recycling systems and end up in the environment. The real solutions to plastic pollution are to stop using plastic as a throw away material.”
Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana Chief Policy Officer
“We are at a pivotal moment. The industry’s insistence on producing and using more plastic is simply not sustainable. Plastic-filled bellies of marine birds, sea turtles and fish is beyond acceptable and we may be next. Companies must commit to significantly cut single-use plastic use immediately.”
Graham Forbes, Greenpeace Global Plastics Project Leader
“This is a desperate attempt from corporate polluters to maintain the status quo on plastics. In 2018, people all over the world spoke up and rejected the single-use plastics that companies like Procter & Gamble churn out on a daily basis, urging the industry to invest in refill and reuse systems and innovation. Instead of answering that call, P&G preferred to double down on a failed approach with fossil fuel giants like Exxon, Dow and Total that fuel destructive climate change. Make no mistake about it: plastics are a lifeline for the dying fossil fuel industry, and yesterday’s announcement goes to show how far companies will go to preserve it.”
About Break Free From Plastic:
#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, 1,400 groups from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision. www.breakfreefromplastic.org
MPs call on the government to act now to protect oceans and stop destroying marine life.
The Sustainable Seas Report published today says that urgent action is needed on climate change, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and marine conservation.
The report – written by the Environmental Audit Committee group of MPs – calls on the Government to bring forward the UK’s 2042 target date for achieving zero avoidable plastic waste as plastic pollution is set to treble in the next 10 years. The report also calls on the UK to rapidly decarbonise our economy to meet net-zero emissions by 2050.
The report highlights the following :
Plastic pollution in oceans is set to treble in the next 10 years
UK must drive global efforts to protect the oceans with a legally binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’
Our seas face a triple threat from climate change causing warming, deoxygenation and acidification – which threatens all coral reefs
Deep sea mining risks catastrophic impacts on seafloor species and habitats
Long-term harm from plastic pollution is unknown according to the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser ‘because we haven’t looked hard enough’
The Government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ treatment of the oceans puts marine resources at great risk. Climate change poses a triple whammy of threats to oceans from warming, deoxygenation and acidification.
Even under best case scenario warming of 1.5oC, we are set to lose 90% of all coral reefs globally. The Government must act to drive efforts to protect our seas with a legally binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’ says the Environmental Audit Committee.
Its new report, Sustainable Seas, published today, focuses on threats to marine life from climate change, overfishing, and pollution and sets out what action the Government must now take. The report finds that long-term harm from plastic pollution is unknown according to the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser ‘because we haven’t looked hard enough’.
Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said:
“Our children deserve to experience the wonders of the ocean but climate change poses a triple whammy of threats from ocean warming, deoxygenation and acidification, which are decimating marine life.
“We have to stop treating our seas as a sewer. Plastics, chemicals, and sewage are choking our oceans, polluting our water and harming every ocean species from plankton to polar bears. Supporting Indonesia and Malaysia to reduce plastic while simultaneously exporting our contaminated plastics to them shows the lack of a joined-up approach at the heart of the Government’s strategy.
“The Government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude on the seas must change. We are calling on the Government to push for the creation of a legally-binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’ to protect the world’s oceans.”
Ben Hewitt, Director of Campaigns and Projects said:
“This is a stark wake up call for the Government to take urgent action to set strong, binding targets to keep our water clean, safe and free from sewage, to reduce plastic pollution, increase protected ocean areas and tackle climate change. “
The report calls for the following urgent actions
Develop a Paris-style agreement to protect the world’s oceans
Rapidly decarbonise our economy to meet net-zero emissions by 2050
Bring forward the 2042 target date for achieving zero avoidable plastic waste
Ban plastic packaging that is difficult or impossible to recycle
Introduce legally binding targets for water quality to reduce chemical pollutants from land
Try this: Write a list of every piece of plastic you touch in a day.
I did it. I stopped counting at 56 items.
Plastic is to our time what wood was for millennia. But unlike wood, most plastic doesn’t go away. It ends up as trash in streets, rivers, lakes and oceans. It breaks down into microplastic — particles a tenth of an inch or smaller — and gets into our food and water. The health effects are largely unknown.
News stories feature dead whales and turtles with stomachs full of plastic. Activists built a huge floating net to collect it (which recently failed). Concerned citizens clean up beaches.
But that’s not helping much. Eight million tons of plastic wash into oceans every year.
What’s the alternative? Is it feasible to persuade the wealthiest, most profitable corporations in the world to completely change the way they make plastic and package consumer goods?
There’s a group of people in a very unlikely place who are aiming to do just that. Their story starts in 2001, in Southeast Asia.
“Island Boy” on a mission
Froilan Grate doesn’t come across as a fire-breathing revolutionary. At 35 and just maybe 5 feet tall, with a wispy goatee, he has the kind of sincerity you might expect from someone who once wanted to be a priest. He carries a backpack and could pass for a college student.
He grew up in a village in the province of Iloilo in the Philippines — a self-described “island boy” who loved the feel of hot sand on his bare feet and swimming in the ocean. But the city beckoned. He was accepted by one of the country’s best universities in the capital. He chose school instead of the priesthood. At age 18, he took a 19-hour boat trip to Manila.
Froilan Grate at his home in the province of Iloilo. He came to Manila at 18 for college — and found his life’s work: fighting the tide of plastic. Courtesy of Froilan Grate.
Grate remembers grabbing his suitcase and rushing up on deck as the captain announced their entry into Manila Bay. “It was just excitement,” he says. “And then slowly, as you come closer to the port … I see … garbage.”
He felt sick. “The contrast of where I grew up, beautiful white sand beaches, clear water, and arriving in Manila where it’s black water with countless plastic,” he says, “that was shocking to me.”
His first thought at the time, he says, was that his own island would someday end up strewn with plastic as well. His next one was: What can I do to stop it?
Credit: Alyson Hurt/NPR
The trash that trash pickers won’t pick
Now, Manila Bay is much worse. With a growing economy and a swelling middle class, people are consuming at a torrid pace — electronic devices, packaged foods, fancy toiletries — goods either made of plastic or wrapped in it. In fact, that’s the story of many Southeast Asian countries.
But waste management is rudimentary and often nonexistent. In many places, informal cadres of waste pickers collect what they can sell to recyclers. But much of the plastic cannot be recycled. So no one collects it, and it drifts. Everywhere.
Neighborhoods like Dampalit, which lie along the bay, are like doormats for floating plastic trash. I talked to Dampalit’s newly elected supervisor, Carlo Dumalaog. He is a neatly dressed businessman in a neatly kept office.
“My characteristic is, I am an obsessive-compulsive person,” he says. He takes me out to the balcony of his office, where he can steal a smoke and look out on the nets of the village fishponds and the corrugated rooftops of shanties built along the water. “That is the Pacific Ocean,” he says, pointing to Manila Bay and beyond. “All the trash from Manila Bay washes here,” he sighs. “I clean the trash and plastics, but it comes over from the other cities.” And, he says, it also comes from the Pacific, from other countries.
Saying no to plastic
At university, Grate did what he could as a citizen. He stopped using plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic anything, whenever he could. He studied sociology but found it boring — too theoretical. After college, he decided to become a community activist.
He got involved in teaching about environmentalism, what he called “giving tools to change-makers.” But he wanted faster change. “You don’t actually save a marine turtle by speaking to 1,000 students at a time,” he says. He joined an environmental group, the Mother Earth Foundation, and worked with waste pickers to get them formally employed by communities and to improve their working conditions.
But it still wasn’t enough. “You realize that despite everything that you do, you really aren’t solving the problem,” he recalls.
With the foundation and backing from international environmental groups like GAIA, Grate helped teach communities to collect their own waste and segregate out the plastic. The goal was “zero waste” — impossible to fully achieve but an aspirational goal.
In the zero-waste neighborhood of Hulong Duhat, waste workers were hired to roll carts through a warren of alleyways, collecting bags of trash. They have a monitor, too, who charges fines if residents don’t separate out the plastic. Those were the rules. “First offense, 500 pesos,” says Dahlia Sequita, a community trash monitor, with some relish. “Second offense, 1,000. And third — going to jail!”
Even so, it’s still hard. Says the neighborhood supervisor, Nenita Labiano: “Sometimes I do get overwhelmed with the big problem of plastic.” Some people don’t cooperate. “We want people to follow the rules,” she says, “and yet they don’t and it can be sad.”
Sixteen neighborhoods signed on to the zero-waste goal nonetheless, with varying degrees of success. The same problem besets them all — it’s not just too much plastic but it’s the stuff that can’t be recycled. There’s nowhere to put it, except in landfills, which are few, and from which plastic eventually migrates, by wind or water.
The life span of plastic
In the late 1940s, plastic was newly popular and shiny and amazing. Consumer goods companies advertised its cleanliness and durability. What they didn’t talk about much was its permanence.
At the first national conference on packaging waste held in California in 1969, some executives wondered where all this plastic was going to end up. One marketing consultant said that wasn’t their problem. Difficulties with plastic waste “are not the responsibility of those who produce materials, fabricate packages and package goods,” he wrote in “Proceedings: First National Conference on Packaging Waste.” Rather, he said, it’s the consumer’s responsibility.
What manufacturers did was urge people not to litter, as they had for years, by funding the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign. And they continued pumping out new kinds of plastic with yet more uses.
A profusion of packets
In the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, the problem was compounded by a new kind of plastic packaging that took flight in the 1980s — the sachet. It was a plastic pouch but often bulked up with layers of aluminum or paper for shape or durability. Think of ketchup packets at a fast-food restaurant.
Sachets are cheap, flashy and convenient. An Indian company used them to sell shampoo or soap or snacks to the poor, who might not have enough cash for a larger purchase.
Other big companies followed suit with the same marketing strategy: a product the poor could afford, a day’s supply of what they needed.
Eventually, sachets went viral.
The big drawback, though, is that they cannot be recycled easily. That may not be such a problem in wealthy countries with efficient waste management. But in poor parts of Asia, the packets have created an epidemic of trash.
You can’t drive into Maysilo, a poor neighborhood in Manila near the edge of Manila Bay. You have to walk through narrow alleys. The place greets you with a burst of boombox music, the shouts of children, and barking dogs. People live elbow to elbow in shacks elevated a few feet above ankle-deep water from the neighboring swamp. Below their shacks, you can’t tell whether it’s dirt or water because it’s all literally covered with a uniform carpet of plastic debris, most of it empty sachets.
Nimfa Manlabe runs a sari-sari store (sari means “varied” in Tagalog) out of her tiny home. It’s a Filipino tradition; women selling consumer goods from their homes. “Sunsilk, Palmolive, conditioner,” she says, showing off her racks of sachets.
Her customers “come back here every day and buy these small amounts because that’s what they can afford,” she explains.
Because the sachets aren’t recyclable, trash pickers ignore them. And even if the packets were recyclable, Grate says, most places in the Philippines don’t have the infrastructure to actually recycle them.
But sachets and other plastic packaging do have their supporters — like Crispian Lao, who used to be in the plastics industry and is now head of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability. The group represents recyclers as well as companies like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and others that make and package consumer goods.
Lao praises the sachets for bringing quality products to consumers in a market where counterfeit goods are common. “There’s also the health issue,” he says: Sachets don’t pose health risks to the consumers in places where water to wash reusable containers might be contaminated.
Lao notes that the world’s biggest consumer goods companies like Unilever and Nestlé have pledged to make all their packaging recyclable and have even set a date — 2025.
But Grate says that recycling can’t wipe out the barrage of plastic in the Philippines. It’s a country of more than 7,000 islands. Neither the national government nor local authorities can afford to put up recycling centers everywhere. And would recyclers pay enough to motivate waste pickers to collect the trash?
Grate says talk of future recycling still puts the burden of cleanup on the consumer. “The problem,” Grate says, “is that most companies … feel their responsibility ends the moment they sell it. That’s one of the biggest injustices here.”
A lesson from a letter
After several years of community work, Grate says he changed. He realized that cleaning up plastic at the local level wasn’t going to stop the tide. “It would take several lifetimes,” he recalls thinking. “At some point you have to change the entire system.”
One incident stands out in his memory. In 2006, he appealed to a big Western company for help. He and his colleagues at the Mother Earth Foundation and Greenpeace wrote to McDonald’s to urge it not to use plastic foam packaging. He took the letter to the corporate offices in Manila. No one would come down to talk to him. Eventually a security guard agreed to take the letter.
“That very moment really crystallized for me the imbalance in the power dynamics,” Grate says now. ” We were not violent. We just wanted to give a letter requesting them to stop using Styrofoam in their stores.” And they simply ignored him.
Blaming Southeast Asia
In 2015, a paper in Science magazine shocked the world with extraordinary revelations about the extent of the plastic tide. Jenna Jambeck at the University of Georgia, an engineer and waste expert, calculated how much plastic waste was going into the ocean every year. She is the one who came up with the 8 million-ton figure.
The research also opened up a wound. It showed that the biggest sources of plastic waste washing into the oceans are in Southeast and South Asia.
Fingers were pointed. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., laid it out loud and clear in a Senate hearing: “Over 50 percent of the plastic waste in the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Their upland waste management systems are a failure.”
People in the Philippines were angry — among them, Grate. It was blaming the victim, not the manufacturers. “They know the problem, the s*** they’ve been giving to the country and oceans,” he says. “They know this problem, but they can get away with it. We have to make sure that ends.”
A group called Break Free from Plastic came together in 2016. Its global coordinator is a Filipino, Von Hernandez, formerly of Greenpeace. The plan was to challenge companies. Says Hernandez: “If we cannot recycle it or compost this material, then you should not be producing them in the first place.”
But how to make that happen? The consumer brands were billion-dollar companies. And the companies that make the plastic for all that packaging were giants of the oil and gas industry.
As for the pledge for 2025, no one knows how companies will do it and how much it will cost to set up a huge recycling system across the islands of the Philippines.
In 2016, Grate and other local activists in the Philippines proposed a novel action, something no one had done before: brand audits.
These environmental groups did regular beach cleanups, which helped bring attention to the problem even if the beaches were covered with trash again a few months later. But now they wanted to compile a list of the brand logos emblazoned on the plastic trash and publicize them for all to see.
“They feel there is value in brand,” Grate says of the companies. Consumers trust brands. “We wanted to use it against them.”
The activists targeted Freedom Island in Manila Bay, probably the most notorious pit of plastic in the country, for a brand audit. Plastic not only surrounds the shore but piles up knee-deep on beaches. Plastic bags hang from trees like some kind of surreal Dalí painting. The activists collected trash for days and published online the brand logos printed on each package.
And they waited to see what would happen.
Is anyone watching?
Not much did, actually. Word spread among conservation groups that this “brand audit” was a new strategy. It was naming and shaming. But was anyone else paying attention?
Grate and his team didn’t know, but they kept at it. Along with GAIA and Break Free from Plastic, they’ve now done more than 20 brand audits in the Philippines and several in other Southeast Asian countries.
Last September, I saw one in a village called Navotas, a poor neighborhood of cinder block dormitory-style buildings on Manila Bay that floods twice a day, carrying plastic back and forth like some sort of oceanic seesaw. For the audit, volunteers sift through piles of trash, in this case collected from homes. The idea is to see not just what floats onto shorelines but what’s coming from onshore.
It’s dirty work — eight days of community trash spread in piles on the concrete floor of a fenced-in outdoor basketball court. It stinks; workers wear masks and gloves.
Grate dives in, sorting trash into different types of plastic and reading off labels while a colleague takes notes. “Colgate toothpaste sachet,” he says. “Colgate-Palmolive Philippines.” And another: “Sunsilk shampoo sachet, Unilever.” It will take all day to go through all of it.
He says the companies should be part of the solution. “So who are the companies?” he asks. “That is why we do brand audits.”
Lao, with the Philippine industry group, says the brand audits are a distraction. “There’s a lot of very loud noises out there” about corporate responsibility, he points out. “Does it affect brand image at this point? No,” he says of the audits, adding, “It has not affected actual performance of these brands in the market.”
He says the major consumer brands are already committed to reducing plastic waste. He notes the well-publicized pledge by the brands that by 2025 they’ll use only plastic packaging that can be reused, recycled or composted. In fact, Unilever has a new chemical process to recycle sachets and a pilot plant in Indonesia to test it. Other companies have committed millions of dollars in research funds to find recyclable alternatives.
In the Philippines, Lao’s industry group is planning a research and development effort there to make more plastic recyclable. “The idea right now is that how can we now together, with the global partners, redesign the product so it becomes more recyclable, [and] look at recycling the existing products that are there?” he asks, “because [they’re] not going to disappear overnight.”
Activists are skeptical.
A surprise invitation
But Grate’s name-and-shame approach appears to have had some effect. Late last year, he got a call out of the blue. A mediation group, the Meridian Institute in Washington, D.C., invited him to come talk to people in the U.S. who were concerned about plastic waste. It was a surprise to him. He didn’t know how far news of his audits had traveled. And even more surprising: The people in Washington wanted him to talk with corporate executives from some of the very companies he had been targeting.
I met Grate in Washington, D.C., on a cold sidewalk in December. “I love this weather,” he said. “It’s like free air conditioning.” He said he felt he had to come to the meeting because there was only one other Asian invited. When he got there, he found himself sitting across from senior executives from the oil industry, the chemicals industry and the consumer goods industry. Not just any companies — some of the world’s biggest. He was asked not to name them; one attendee told NPR that anonymity was guaranteed so everyone could speak freely.
I asked Grate if the brand audits made the meeting happen? “They weren’t happy about it,” he said of the audits. “And they have questions,” he added, about how his group does them. “But I would say this: The brand audits contributed to the pace of the discussion that’s happening right now.”
I asked how he felt about that. “It’s great,” he said, beaming. “I was made to feel that I have a voice, and people would want to listen to what I have to say. People were actually interested.”
After 18 years, says the island boy from Iloilo, things are looking up.
NPR’s radio stories on plastic in the Philippines were produced by Rebecca Davis and edited by Geoff Brumfiel. Wilma Consul helped with translation and voiceovers.
Protecting people from sewage pollution and the effects of poor water quality are embedded in the DNA of Surfers Against Sewage. We continue to monitor and challenge thousands of sewage pollution events around the UK every year, calling for the strongest possible fines and action to be implemented on those responsible for damaging our beaches and ocean.
This year, we will be redoubling our campaign efforts on this issue, including investing in the most sophisticated real-time water quality alert system in the world, the Safer Seas Service. The redeveloped system will include more locations and enable the user to challenge water companies that consistently pollute our coastlines.
Since the initial Safer Seas Service pilot project, servicing just two beaches via a text-alert system, we have developed the App into a comprehensive country-wide system issuing over 353,000 water quality alerts annually to tens of thousands of subscribers. The service pioneered the provision of real-time water quality information and Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) discharge notifications, enabling water users to make informed decisions on when and where it is safe to use the sea for all forms of recreation. It also exposes those beaches where sewage pollution is causing the biggest issue and where water companies should invest to better protect the planet.
This year, working with the award-winning technology agency Dootrix, with the support of the Environment Agency, we are redeveloping the Safer Seas Service to enhance and streamline the platform, increase the monitoring of vital water quality information and engage subscribers to campaign locally to maintain and enhance water quality at their favorite beaches.
The redevelopment will deliver real-time water quality information including pollution forecasting alongside live monitoring of hundreds of sewage outfalls at beaches nationwide. Launching in May, you can expect a truly world class standard of agile and accurate water quality information, coupled with live surf conditions, beach profiles and relevant safety and environment information – the ultimate decision making tool at your fingertips!
Harry Dennis, Science and Policy Officer at Surfers Against Sewage said:
“Modern technology means surf forecasting is no longer a mystical and confusing mix of lined charts and crossed fingers. The Safer Seas Service aims to take the same guesswork out of avoiding poor water quality and exposure to health risks for all water users. We’ve created, collated and collaborated to deliver the most comprehensive set of data, and packaged this within a simple, intuitive and engaging user experience”
The Safer Seas Service app, with support for both Apple iOS and Android smartphones, will be launching at the beginning of the 2019 bathing season (15th May). To stay updated with the latest developments and releases, subscribe to the SAS newsletter.
Happy New Year to all! A huge thank you to everyone that has been involved since the beginning of the Big Town Tidy Up in 2018!
Each week we are getting more members taking action and it’s brilliant to see, but we need more helpers to continue the success we’ve had and spread the message that we want a clean community!
This year instead of thinking someone will clean that up, be the change and do it instead!
Spread the word; there will have litter pickers and bags available, but you don’t have to wait until the. Keep us all informed with the great work you do!
Our volunteers work alongside local schools to inform, inspire and empower young people and their communities to find ways they can help solve the current litter crisis. Our volunteers were also present at the recent Wintertide Festival and have given talks to undergraduates at Durham University.
Primary schools council presentation to 10 Hartlepool primary schools
Across Hartlepool, local businesses are becoming Surfers Against Sewage ‘Plastic Free Champions’, as they work to free themselves from avoidable throw-away plastic. Our town requires ‘Plastic Free Champions’ to attain ‘Plastic Free Community’ status, and we are well on the way to achieving that goal.
Hartlepool's Plastic Free Champions
Items Removed/Replaced (and alternatives)
Chilli Cake Kitchen and Bar
Plastic straws and stirrers removed - no alternative being offered.
Plastic coffee cups removed - replaced with compostable cups.
Plastic food packaging replaced with compostable packaging.
No plastic cutlery.
No plastic bottles.
No bathroom plastics.
No condiment sachets.
Will source compostable lids.
Will change serving gloves.
Tea at Hart
Plastic coffee cups removed - replaced with compostable cups.
Plastic lids removed - replaced with compostable lids.
Removed plastic straws - no replacements.
Removed plastic pint glasses and smoothie cups - Biodegradable alternative
Daisy and Bees
Coffee cups and lids and smoothie cups are now compostable.
Plastic cutlery, stirrers and straws are now compostable.
Bin Bags are now compostable, No serving gloves no envelopes.
Paper bags for take-out.
Looking into changing plastic packaging.
Hops & Cheese
Hannah & Callum Willmott
Removed plastic bottles, replaced with cans.
Plastic coffee cups removed - replaced with compostable cups.
No condiment sachets - replaced with bottles to use in-house.
No plastic cutlery no straws or stirrers offered.
No serving gloves and no plastic packaging.
Will source compostable lids, bin bags & plastic free tea bags.
Anth & Joel
Offer discount for reusable cups,
No longer using plastic straws, stirrers, plastic cutlery, condiment sachets, envelopes, plastic packaging, plastic bags or bathroom plastics. Sauces in bottles in café. Reusable cutlery and no straws.
No more plastic bottles - use cans or refill bottle.
No plastic bags, no bin bags, use eco poo bags, No envelopes.
Paperless invoicing. Reuse paper. Avoid all SUPs. Do regular community cleans.
Don't use plastic bottles; use cans or refills. Don't plastic coffee cups or lids.
Don't use plastic cutlery; use metal. Don't use plastic bags; use cloth or paper.
Don't use plastic bin bags; use compostable. Don't use envelopes. Plastic free
tea bags. Do a weekly beach clean.
Don't use plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic straws or stirrers, plastic bags, plastic packaging, bathroom plastics, condiment sachets or balloons.
Will look to replace plastic drinking cups.
Will offer water refills.
Don't use plastic bottles, plastic coffee cups or lids, plastic stirrers or straws plastic bags, condiment sachets but reusables.
Will change bathroom plastics, tea bags, envelopes and bin bags.
Re-uses egg boxes and carrier bags. Don't use plastic cutlery, straws or stirrers, drinking cups or bin bags.
Will support to source alternatives for plastic packaging.
Andi Turner's Early Years
Stopped using zip lock bags, bottled water, tubs of butter, tea bags with plastic; replaced with non plastic alternatives. Replaced plastic toys with wooden toys. No longer uses disposable aprons, now uses wipe clean reusable.
Amanda Bruce Childminding service
Use face cloths for faces. Don't use plastic storage bags, plastic bowls, cups,cutlery, disposable gloves or play after use. Don't use tea bags; use leaves and a strainer. Re-uses yoghurt pots, disposable aprons. Re-use soap dispenser for crafts. Don't use plastic packaging; use foil or flasks.
Sharon Howe (Green)
No more plastic plates/bowls/cutlery/cups, using reusable. No longer using disposable aprons; will buy wipe-clean apron
Will buy wipe-clean aprons and re-use soap dispenser for play activities and re-use disinfectant bottles by making own sanitiser.
BloominArt Northeast CIC
Business swaps / pledges; Swapping tea bags for those without plastic, swapping to compostable bin liners, removing plastic water bottles, coffee cups and lids, plastic cutlery, plastic on the go packaging, plastic bags, condiment sachets,
Personal pledge: Will source milk in glass bottles and use soap bars
Rachel Gretton Glass
Business swaps / pledges; removing plastic water bottles, straws, plastic cups, plastic on the go packaging, plastic bags, condiment sachets,
Personal pledge: Will change to shampoo and soap bars
The Fisherman's Arms
Use recyclable carry out trays for beers, no longer use plastic coffee cups and lids, plastic on the go packaging, plastic bags, envelopes, tea bags.
Will change from plastic straws and stirrers and stop using condiment sachets
CMBC (Judith's) Florist
Has swaped plastic bags for paper bags for groceries, replaced plastic packaging with cardboard boxes for flowers.
Will now use plastic free tea bags
Ellioitt Mccarthy Dentist
Removed plastic cups from waiting area and replaced with compostable ones. All straws removed from the business, staff have their own reusable straw in their locker and have replaced SUP water bottles for reusable ones & swapped SU plastic bags for reusable ones.
They are going to organise team building cleans in local area.
Whitfield's General Store, Greatham
Use paper bags for pies, veg, sweets wherever practical instead of plastic. Swapped plastic salad boxes for card compostme boxes. Made to order sandwiches are wrapped in paper bag instead of cling film.Sweets sold by weight from large jars instead of individual single use packets. No longer stock single serve cup drinks. Sandwich fillings stored in Tupperware to avoid use of cling film.
Removal of SUP laminate on Business cards, flyers & brochures. Biodegradeble now inuse
Bringing Communities Together Ltd
No longer use Plastic stirrers, plastic bags, plastic drinking cups, balloons or serving gloves.
Plan to remove plastic cutlery, plastic food packaging, bin bags, envelopes with plastic windows and other plastic packaging.
Mark Lloyd Master Goldsmith
Michelle and Mark Lloyd
Removed plastic packaging. Replacing Pod coffee machine with bulk buy coffee and removing plastic cups
Will swap bathroom plastics
Café Rappor Bar
Replacedplastic straws with compostable. Replaced plastic take away cups with biodegradeable. No longer using stirrers and swapped from take away containers to brown paper bags.
Mutt & Co.
Paper bags replacing plasctic, grooming parlour shampoo conainers are refilled, swapped to recycleable bin liners, all stands are made fromupcycled materials, compostable poo bags, staff members have their own reusable water bottles
Removed plastic bottles & plastic bags and re-uses empty 5 litre canisters for community crafting
Will change bathroom plastics, tea bags, and bin bags
Paper and Ink
Removed plastic bottles, coffee cups and lids, straws and stirrers and plastic bags.
Will source cellophane sleeves for cards and prints and alternative to plastic ends for mailing tubes
R. Moore Butchers
No longer give out plastic cutlery, plastic lids or plastic cups and no longer use plastic serving gloves. Use biodegradable carrier bags in shop
Margaret Storey Childcare Practitioner
Removed plastic cutlery, children now use metal. All plastic containers are washed and reused in outdoor play. Plastic food bags replaced by wax or reusable tubs. Shop for loose food products, use own shopping bags and grow own veg.
Sarah Poritt Childminder
Baby wipes and multi-surface wipes have been replaced with reusable ones. Liquid soap replaced with solid soap bars, Cling film replacwd with beeswax or paper
Youngs Fish Shop
Removed plastic forks and replaced with wooden. Replaced polystyrene trays with cardboard. Removed bottles of pop and replaced with cans.
Hartlepool Yacht Club Bar
No longer sell any straws or use plastic stirrers. Removed fruit shoots and replaced with cordial in a glass.
Flourish with Lucy Patterson
Stationary and journals now locally sourced and plastic free, branded pencils instead of plastic pens, refreshment menu includes soda stream water instead of plastic bottles. No longer uses straws.
No longer use plastic straws, stopped using plastic drinking cups and glasses, stopped selling drinks in plastic bottles, biodegradeable bin bags
Free of straws and stirrers, replaced disposable hand wash containers with fixed wall units, serve biscuits without plastic wrappers.
Branches Hair & Beauty
Switched to refillable products, switched to bamboo brushes and swapped disposable gloves with reusable
No longer provide glo-sticks or balloons at children's parties, replaced plastic party bags with paper ones & take own reusable water bottles & refill at venues.
The Big Town Tidy Up is a monthly gathering of our volunteers to blitz targeted areas of our town blighted by excessive litter. The efforts of people working together for the common good are transforming the appearance of our town. Our volunteer force grows by the day, as more people join our group and extend the litter picking campaign.