80 per cent of the trash which litters the ocean floor and makes marine life suffer comes from inland sources such as canals and rivers, but the Plastic Patrol #OneForOne challenge is asking people to put a stop to the problem before it gets carried away – literally.
Stories of turtles, whales, and seals caught in plastic rings and stuffed full of plastic waste are tragically all too common these days and while countries are making moves to help reduce the amount of single-use plastic produced, there is still a countless amount irresponsibly discarded on a daily basis.
Adventurer Lizzie Carr knows this all too well, as during her time spent paddle boarding around England she’s encountered thousands of pieces of plastic.
The eco-activist got into paddle boarding after undergoing radiotherapy to treat cancer. She spotted someone out on the water while staying with her father in the Isles of Scilly and decided to give the activity a try.
Speaking to UNILAD, Lizzie explained:
[Paddleboarding] was the perfect low impact way to help rebuild my strength and get me back on my feet. As soon as my paddle hit the water something clicked – I was hooked. I haven’t looked back since.
When I eventually got back to London, I continued paddle boarding, albeit in very different surroundings.
That’s when I woke up from my environmental sleep walk – I was horrified and disgusted by the huge volume of plastic in and around the water, and the impact it was having on the surrounding wildlife.
Nests made almost entirely of plastic, bottles rolling underneath my board and plastic bags/litter taking over the surface area on the water. It was heart breaking; and I wanted to do something about it.
Lizzie has been in remission for almost five years and in that time has become a three-time world record holder, initially becoming the first person in history to paddle board the length of England’s waterways solo, in May 2016.
As she journeyed 400 miles from Godalming, Surrey, to Kendal in the Lake District through England’s waterways, Lizzie photographed and logged every bit of plastic she saw. In just 22 days, she took over 2,000 photographs – many of which contained multiple pieces of litter – and loaded them to an interactive map.
Speaking about the dangers of plastic pollution, the paddle boarder said:
Plastic pollution is an environmental catastrophe affecting life in all forms, including ours, across the world. By 2050, the weight of plastic in the ocean could be two times the weight of all the fish that live there.
We are responsible for this.
Plastic is entirely man-made and so every piece of plastic you see littering the planet is a direct result of our actions.
Lizzie used the hashtag #PlasticPatrol to help raise awareness for just how dire the problem is and the idea quickly snowballed into a globally supported movement non-profit organisation, also named Plastic Patrol, which organises clean ups across the UK and USA.
The movement is encouraging people to get involved with local cleanups and to log the litter they come across on the Plastic Patrol app. The non-profit uses the photos taken by members of the public to build evidence regarding trends and patterns on type, location and volume of plastics as well as brands of plastic waste all over the world.
The information is then portrayed in a map of plastic across the globe. The organisation has teamed up with the University of Nottingham, who will review and analyse the data to identify hotspots where plastic is at it’s most harmful.
Thanks to the crowdfunded contributions, workers from the non-profit can then take a more educated approach to tackling plastic pollution. The app currently holds the largest bank of plastic data for the UK inland waterways.
Speaking of the importance of the app, Lizzie told UNILAD:
This information will create vital evidence to help inform public policy around smarter and more circular packaging solutions, and responsible manufacturing behavior so it’s important work.
Every bit of plastic waste removed is a victory, but it’s not enough. We need to log it as evidence to move the conversation forward.
So far the campaign has reached 42 countries, with 134,109 pieces of plastic logged and 201 tonne bags of plastic collected.
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A Plastic Patrol clean up with a view! Is that a real backdrop? Yes it is. This week @lizzie_outside and @plastic_patrol are in New York to raise awareness of the problem of single use plastics and plastic pollution in America. Thank you so much to @hobocobo for hosting this clean up with us and the 30 amazing volunteers who came along to collect and log all litter found in the @plastic_patrol app. Swipe through to see the paddling, the picking and some of the colourful but dangerous microplastics that we found and logged. #PLASTICPATROLARMY #PlasticPatrolTakesAmerica
189 tonnes of the plastic waste collected – the equivalent of 15 million water bottles – has come from inland waterways, meaning volunteers saved it from reaching the oceans where it would have been much more difficult to remove.
To help encourage cleanups, Plastic Patrol have launched a challenge called #OneForOne, which is striving to remove one million pieces of plastic from waterways to represent the one million marine animals which die from plastic pollution every year.
Speaking further about the goal, Lizzie said:
We need to create accountability, and with the power of technology available at our fingertips, the good news is we can all do something about it.
That’s why this year, our goal is to remove one million pieces of plastic and log it in the Plastic Patrol app. Each piece representing one animal that has suffered at the hands of plastic pollution.
#OneForOne is asking members of the public to take the Plastic Patrol Pledge, promising to snap photos of plastic waste and share them online and on the app while also nominating three other people to take the challenge.
The world record holder continued:
We’re asking the public to be part of the #OneForOne movement and join a global network of people taking the Plastic Patrol Pledge to help us reach our ambitious, but achievable goal.
At a time when a worrying amount of people appear to care more about what’s happening in the virtual world than the real one, the #OneForOne challenge is a perfect way to raise awareness for plastic pollution and encourage people to take action.
Members of the public can also do their bit by taking part in a Plastic Patrol event to help clean up the environment. Every year, the organisation put on free activity based clean ups which everyone is invited to. Activities include paddle boarding, yoga, free running and canoeing, with no experience or equipment required.
All volunteers have to do is turn up and remove and log plastic waste where they find it. Lizzie described the clean up as repayment for the activities, labelling it ‘nature tax’.
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Want to try paddleboarding for FREE and help clean the planet? 🌍 Join our founder @lizzie_outside on Plastic Patrol clean ups across the UK this summer. No experience or equipment is required – we’ll supply the paddle boards and litter picks – you just need to reserve a spot (visit the website, link in bio) and turn up on the day prepared to get stuck in! When you arrive @lizzie_outside will show you the paddling basics before getting on the water to collect any waste encountered, before helping record it on the @plastic_patrol app and building our global evidence base. Boards are reserved on a first come, first serve, basis so make sure you book on quickly. See you out there!
Even logging just one bit of plastic using the Plastic Patrol app can contribute to the wider cause; as Lizzie says, ‘we all need to start somewhere’.
Remember that small actions from lots of people can add up to big changes, and don’t underestimate the power of what one person can do when they believe in something. We all have it within us to make a difference.
The need to clean up our planet has never been more urgent; you can do your bit by downloading the Plastic Patrol app here.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.