Turning the tide on plastic pollution - one Leeds student speaks out

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Plastic pollution is destroying our oceans but University of Leeds student Lottie Glover is trying to make a difference.

Thanks to the ground breaking BBC documentary Blue Planet II, narrated by David Attenborough, most people will by now be aware of the devastating impact plastic waste has on marine life, from plankton right up to larger ocean-going creatures like dolphins and wales.

One Leeds student is hoping to turn the tide on plastic waste by spearheading a beach clean-up group, which has already collected and removed tons of rubbish from our shores.

Lottie Glover, 22, is in her final year at the University of Leeds, where she is studying zoology. She became involved in beach clean-up during a year-long placement in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

“I did a placement with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Galloway, working as a warden and I was visiting some local beaches and realised how bad the pollution was on some of them.”

She decided to do something about it and teamed up with Fiona Roberson, a part-time care worker and Laura Howieson from British Divers Marine Life Rescue, a voluntary network of trained marine mammal medics who respond to call outs from the general public, HM Coastguard, police, RSPCA and others. “It was about a year ago that we set up D&G Eco Warriors, it took off straight away, we had between 30 and 50 volunteers.

“It was about a year ago that we set up D&G Eco Warriors, it took off straight away, we had between 30 and 50 volunteers. We had our first beach clean in January and since then we’ve had about one a month.”

Now their story is being told in a short film (as part of a wider awareness project on how people can affect change through social media) and will be screened free at the Leeds Everyman Cinema later this month.

Lottie, who grew up in Shropshire, said she was proud of what they had achieved so far but admits the levels of plastic and other waste in the oceans are staggering.

“There’s only so much you can do in the end, we don’t always have access to vehicles and trailers, so we try our hardest but people have other commitments. We have been out in all sorts of weathers. Sometimes its so hot you get dehydrated, other times we have been wet through and freezing cold. Any beaches we have cleaned in the last few months, the storms will have brought more back again.

“I enjoy being part of the group and trying to help the local community. Whether it’s making much of a difference, obviously we are taking the plastic off but more comes on with the next storm. It’s not just beach cleans, it’s looking into where the plastic has come from and where its going.”

And as she revealed, some of the plastic they have recovered has had quite a journey.

“Some beaches are worse than others, some we find just smaller stuff on like bottle top lids and nurdles [tiny plastic pellets], on others we find plastic fishing nets and oil drums and fishing crates, one of the people on our admin team is doing is contacting some of the fisheries, saying we have found your fishing box and what do you intend to do about it. One recent find came all the way from Seattle. Whether it came all the way from there or was transported here and then dumped, we are not sure. We have also had one from Germany and others from the east coast of England, some of it has travelled quite a way.”

Lottie, who now lives in Hyde Park, Leeds and her friends have been bolstered by their success though and plan to continue the clean-up days. Indeed, they have even managed to gain access to beaches owned by the Ministry of Defence, which would otherwise be off-limits.

“There was one beach on MOD land - Mulloch Bay - where we worked alongside the MOD. They even provided a trailer on one occasion and a skip on another. That particular beach was heartbreaking, when the way the sea came in, there was so much rubbish from the estuary and there was so much fishing gear. It was abs horrendous. Within two hours, 30 volunteers had filled a large trailer but we could have easily filled another two or three.”

But the roots of the problem with plastic waste run deep in our society, as Lottie explains.

“One good example is how we buy food. As a student and someone with not a lot of money, when I go to the supermarket, it’s cheaper for me to buy in bulk, which usually means the product is covered in plastic. If I buy a single pepper, for example, it’s 50p but I can buy three which are packaged in plastic and it will work out cheaper. I would like to see a ban on certain plastics but I think it’s also about people being more aware of the problem. For people with less money, it’s always going to be harder not to buy plastic, so I think this is something that the government need to change, they need to incentivise products which do not use plastic.

“We just need to get our heads into the fact there are alternatives to buying lots of disposable items, even things like soap, it’s about using bars of soap rather than bottles.”

Lottie, who is interested in climbing and scuba-diving in her spare time, admits she has always been interested in wildlife and the environment. She recalls: “Even as a youngster, my parents would tell me I would pick litter up in the park and call the people who dropped it naughty.

“I grew up in the countryside, so city life is not really for me. I’m glad the eco warriors has taken off, because not only does it get rid of some of the rubbish, it also helps to raise awareness in general.”

She would even like to see Leeds Council step up its recycling, adding: “I’d like to see more bins so people can separate rubbish more easily, it’s about making it easy for people to do. Some people don’t even have access to a green bin.”

The D&G Eco Warriors short film, What We Find At The Beach, directed by Ed Andrews will screen at the Leeds Everyman cinema from tomorrow and is part of the facebook-sponsored Beyond the Screen initiative.

neil.hudsomn@ypn.co.uk

FACTFILE

The one-off shorts highlight inspirational ways young people use Facebook and social media to bring people together, from raves for deaf people and ‘period poverty’ (highlighting the cost of sanitary towels) to wrestling and the refugee crisis

Facebook’s ‘Beyond the Screen’ film series will be showing at Everyman cinemas across the UK from October 17 to November 7 and is available to the public for free

The ‘Beyond the Screen’ series consists of six shorts which shine a light on stories behind some truly inspirational groups of people