Our mission at Plastic Oceans UK is to stop plastic reaching the ocean within a generation. Now, that’s not something you can just pop on your to-do list during your morning coffee and tick off in the evening with your glass of wine. Plastic Oceans have led the way on raising awareness about the impact of ocean plastic pollution for over a decade. We produced the award-winning documentary ‘A Plastic Ocean’ and use our scientific expertise to ignite mass public awareness.
Now we are not only making people aware of the impact of plastic on our ocean, we are creating tools that help them take action to stop plastic entering the environment. Our focus has evolved to developing globally credible behaviour change programmes where participants are challenged to rethink the way we use and value plastic to become more Plastic Intelligent.
Behaviour change is an interesting topic. Have you ever tried but failed to start a new exercise routine, or tried to stop an inherently bad habit like smoking? Accountability, repetition, motivation and repetition are all important steps to ensure individual behaviour change. But in order to change the entire system of how we use and consume plastic, we need to go beyond individual action. We need wider adoption of new habits and behaviours. That is why we developed our Ocean Discovery Day Challenges: community-based challenge programmes which could lead to tangible environmental outcomes.
Ocean Discovery Days are three full off-curricular days for teachers, parents and facilitators to use with children who want to explore plastic pollution. They are freely available to download on our Education Website. While currently focused on schools and young leaders, they are being trialled by partners including community groups and employers. They help to achieve curriculum and STEM objectives and empower teachers and pupils to facilitate change within their school. They begin with our three-part video series featuring introductions by Sir David Attenborough.
The packs then outline how to run a student-led challenge that gets participants to evaluate their current environments and design new ways of tackling different aspects of the plastic issue.
Teachers, facilitators and parents can use these packs to guide children into coming up with their own solutions to the problem. Instead of prescribing a one-size-fits-all response, the challenge allows teams to design systems tailored for their specific context. This has two clear benefits: a community that is more deeply connected to the problem and has a sense of ownership over resolving it and therefore the solutions that are more likely to succeed.
With the support of funding from vital partners like Sea Change Wines, Plastic Oceans is not only able to develop these helpful resources but also work with teachers, facilitators and parents to test out and improve the challenges in order to ensure these tools are achieving the most impact and leading to changes in behaviour.
Based on our innovative #PlasticIntelligent framework, each of these Ocean Discovery Days tackles a different aspect of plastic pollution. Taken together, these challenges help prevent plastic entering the ocean from land-based sources.
Let’s take you through them!
Love is in the Bin
You won’t be surprised to learn that too much plastic is thrown away. The Love Is in the Bin Challenge tackles that throw-away attitude head on, changing the perceived value of plastic so that it’s recognised as a resource, and recycled as much as possible.
Teams who take up the challenge investigate the plastic waste stream in their schools. Then, they design a system that will lead to it being cleaned and properly sorted. When plastic is segregated and cleaned it has a higher value and can be sold to recycling companies.
You can’t dance away the problem without sticking your hands on its waste. (Micro) Plastic might be in the air, but love is definitely in the bin.
The Rubbish Lessons Challenge is about blocking the path of plastic entering the ocean. A significant proportion of litter that enters the environment still stems from personal use. Our 2019 Plastic Rivers report revealed that food wrappers are the second most common items of plastic litter waste found in UK rivers. Ensuring their correct disposal would prevent half a billion – you read that correctly – plastic litter items from entering the environment every year.
Teams who take up the Rubbish Lesson Challenge evaluate the waste systems, and redesign them to prevent leakage. This might take the form of better signage so that existing bins are used, or ensuring drains have a mesh filter to stop litter entering the drainage system.
With the obvious exception of medical items, there are many items made of plastic that are completely pointless or could have easily been replaced with a more sustainable alternative. Eliminating the least useful plastic uses is what the Pointless Plastic Challenge is about. Groups examine the most common items of plastic waste in their surrounding environment. They then try to rethink or replace the worst offenders with alternative options to reduce the amount of pointless plastic they use. The list below is a really interesting starting point.
These are the current three challenges that are being used so far. The Plastic Oceans team is working on developing another two challenges that tackle mindsets and behaviours toward plastic. If one of them really jumps out, you can download them from our Education Site. Simply register your details to gain access. Why not send one to a teacher or parent who could use the inspiration? Otherwise, you could check them our short Plastic Treasure worksheet as a taster to Pointless Plastic Ocean Discovery Day and our fun instructional video.