The Professional Eco-Antagonist

We dedicate a section of the blog to hands-on-action. It’s easy to debate about what we should or shouldn’t be consuming, or which commodity we ought to be boycotting. Maintaining our own patch of green grass won’t exactly have much sustainable impact if we consider the needs of the environment on a global scale. Not everyone shares the same moral beliefs or perhaps are in the same positions to make the most sustainable choices. The simple steps we make towards adopting an Eco-friendly lifestyle won’t change the world over night but it may inspire a few others in their choices and eventually those attitudes will propagate the system.

Sometimes I feel that Iv’e developed into a professional Eco-antagonist and believe me; not everyone appreciates it. Rather than abstaining from a product you like and enjoy because you deem it unethical why not contact that company and express your feelings on the issues?  I regularly write to various people and companies with my issues and ideas. The toughest part is having your voice heard but every now again breakthroughs do occur and this will inspire you to keep going on your sustainability mission.

Earlier in the summer we discovered plastic nurdles littered on Burrow Beach, Sutton during the Clean Coasts Beach Clean Week. I wrote to many members of the Government and Local Authorities seeking assistance or even an opportunity to simply raise the awareness of micro-plastic pollution issues. We were delighted Green Party Leader, Minister Eamon Ryan, also strongly shared our concern regarding micro-plastics and the Ocean. A meeting was promptly scheduled at the site of the pollution and we gathered around a group of key people from the community to discuss the issue.

Alan Devine joined, representing Fingal Co. Council, who are the Local Authority for the area. As a Council Engineer he is responsible for the maintenance and management of this coastal strip. Also attending was Charles Sargent who is a very active member in our community here in Fingal. Charles is a nominated member of Fingal Co. Council’s Water & Environment Strategic Policy Committee (SPC). He is also the elected nominee from the Howth/Sutton Community Council on Fingal Co. Council’s Coastal Liaison Committee, which specifically focuses on Burrow Beach in Sutton. My own father, Stuart Flanagan, who has lived along this stretch of coastline all his life, also participated in the meeting as concerned local resident.

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Along with local volunteers and friends I had been gathering these plastic nurdles by hand for over month. Collectively we filled glass jars with the findings and presented the evidence to Deputy Ryan. Together we examined the extent of the affected area. Since we had monitored the spread of this pollution over the previous few weeks we were able to explain to the Minister that this pollution was persisting and contaminating the environment.

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Several Universities and scientific institutions from the UK had reached out to us via social media after we broadcasted the pollution spill on the Seastainability blog. They played a big part in helping me present this issue to our Government and advised with follow-up actions to take.

I discussed during the meeting that it’s very difficult to track down the source of nurdles on beaches, unless there has been a major reported spill (which is very rare). Without being able to pinpoint the offending manufacturer we must ensure that globally this type of pollution is avoided in the future. All companies handling nurdles should be making sure they lose zero to the environment – this is possible if best industry practice measures are in place. Companies can be asked to commit to zero pellet loss through a scheme called Operation Clean Sweep. http://www.opcleansweep.eu/sign-up/

We were advised that Nurdle.org.uk are currently working on a machine to remove nurdles on mass. This could be interesting to Fingal Co. Council and could definitely help keeping the beach, and the welfare of the local wildlife, free from micro-plastics. I can’t imagine how long these nurdles will remain on our beach but if we don’t manage to shift them all perhaps Fingal can explore deploying one in our area once the machine is operational. In the meantime, unfortunately it’s all about man hours. We are relying on volunteers at present to clear the pollution but still it takes hours to complete a 100m stretch. If nurdles are discovered on beaches it’s very helpful to register your findings on  http://www.nurdlehunt.org.uk/take-part/share-your-findings.html This data helps map out the level of nurdle pollution on beaches around the world and can build an image of the trajectory of where these nurdles are spilling and washing ashore.

I believe that campaigning and raising awareness on environmental issues is key to changing the attitudes and normalising shifts in societal behaviour. Deputy Ryan has challenged our government relentlessly, campaigning towards an efficiently sustainable Ireland. In timing with this beach meeting, the Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill passed its second stage in the Dáil (Irish National Parliament). Part of this legislation is a ban on single-use non-compostable plastics, which are used in cups and tableware. The Green Party are also closer now to implementing a deposit and return system in Ireland, however this is being met with resistance from other Ministers who are raising concerns of the cost of rolling out such a system. Denmark, Germany, Norway, Finland and Sweden introduced deposit and return schemes as far back as the 1980s and Scotland are set to do the same in the very near future. I hope the Irish Government can follow the progressive actions taken by our European neighbours.

Tremendous efforts are being made by a proportion of society to reduce our waste and our throw-away culture. We need to close the loop on the life-cycle of plastics and create a circular economy where hopefully we see less pollution in oceans and less non-degradable waste in landfill.

So whilst these insidious nurdles are still present on our local shorelines a positive domino effect has occurred through our campaigning and I have bullet pointed them below.

  • Through beach cleans, locals have come together with a common incentive.
  • Government has witnessed the tragic effects of our current disposable society.
  • Council has been faced to deal with the task of an ever-evolving pollution issue.
  • Key members in the community have been appointed with the challenge to lead positive change locally.

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Before I sign off, I want to shout out a big thank you to Eoin Kernan for doing the photography on the day of the meeting with Deputy Ryan.

Rebecca.

***Some more information on resolving nurdle pollution can be found on the NGO Nurdle Hunt website. http://www.nurdlehunt.org.uk/whats-the-solution.html

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