Beach cleaning and beyond

In Gunjur, a coastal town in the Gambia, and one of the most westerly points of Africa, a woman is fashioning a tile out of sand and plastic waste otherwise destined for the ocean. She is working alongside a number of local people in a specially constructed workshop where the plastic can be melted and re-manufactured in a safe way. This initiative is a pilot project that has been facilitated by the charity WasteAid, in partnership with local organisation the Women’s Initiative the Gambia and funded by UK Aid. Its success is paving the way for other projects to follow.

In 2017 the airing of Blue Planet 2 saw a surge in activities to avoid or eliminate plastics in the UK. Desperately distressing images of birds and animals suffocating on plastic bags or starving after eating plastic fragments motivated people to get out and rid their coasts of plastic pollution. Beach cleans, previously the preserve of dedicated bands of stalwarts, became the go-to activity on a Saturday morning, with organised clean-ups starting to attract upwards of 200 people in some locations. Beach cleaning ticks a lot of boxes in terms of mental health and other benefits: being part of a community activity; being outside; getting up close with nature; plus, the feelgood factor of doing something positive.

We are lucky in the UK to be able to take part in beach cleans, largely because of something that we take for granted in our everyday lives: that someone else will take away the rubbish we have collected and then dispose of it somewhere where we can no longer see it.

Imagine that you have spent your Saturday morning collecting plastics and other ocean-spewed rubbish washed up onto your local coastline. But instead of it being collected in an orderly way by a waste contractor, the rubbish stays on the beach because there is no-one to take it away – and nowhere to take it to. Eventually the tide will rip open the black bags and redistribute the rubbish that you have painstakingly collected back into the water. But it doesn’t stop there, because everyone else who lives in your town has nowhere to put their waste either. The rubbish is starting to pile up. It is getting into waterways and being washed out into the sea in huge floods.

The Gambia is one of many areas facing a massive waste management problem. The woman creating the tile in Gunjur is among the 3 billion people world-wide with little if any access to a safe waste management system. Waste, literally, has nowhere to go, apart from the rivers and the sea. In a bid to tackle the waste mountain some is burnt, but this uncontrolled burning leads to huge health problems. According to the UN, in locations where waste is not collected there is six times the level of respiratory illness and doubled levels of diarrhoea. The longer-term impact on child development is also shocking – an eight-year-old living in an area with no safe waste management will be on average 4.5cms shorter than a peer living in a location where there is. According to a new report, backed by Sir David Attenborough one person dies every 30 seconds in developing countries from diseases caused by plastic pollution and rubbish. In the UK we contribute to that problem because so much of our plastic waste is exported.

In common with the beach cleaning activities of the UK, the project in Gunjur is diverting a source of plastic pollution from the ocean. But in terms of tackling a public health crisis, it is doing so much more.

Set up in 2015 WasteAid is a relatively new charity. Its goal is simple: a world with equal access to waste services for all. Addressing poor waste management is not just an environmental priority for the charity – it is a public health one too. WasteAid wants to help more people set up their own community waste management organisations – similar to the project in the Gambia – where there are currently few formalised waste management systems in place.

The Gambia has been trying to address the problem of plastic waste for years. In 2015 the import and use of plastic bags was banned, but this is just one step towards tackling this problem. Up to 70% of plastic in our oceans comes from the land – and most of that will come from locations with little or no waste management, mainly countries in Africa and Asia. But with waste being transported around the world for disposal the problem is a global one – and one that is linked to the way that we produce and consume goods as well as how we manage their disposal. There is no waste without manufacture and consumption. The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent. Put simply, the countries with the biggest waste problem are also the ones whose consumption contributes least to the creation of waste on a global scale.

The United States exports about as much plastic waste to countries with poor waste management as it recycles domestically, according to research published by the Plastic Pollution Coalition. The UK too is exporting around half of its packaging waste for recycling – a six-fold increase since 2012, largely because of the “success” in increasing the total captured for recycling. Yet, as a National Audit Office report released in July last year revealed, the destination of this “recycled” packaging waste is not clear. There is a huge lack of transparency in some parts of the waste management sector, which means, frankly, that we have no idea what happens to much of the rubbish that we separate for recycling. Some of it may be successfully turned into new materials. The rest? Well that could be adding to the already burgeoning waste problems of countries like The Gambia. On top of their own waste many countries of the world with minimal waste management systems have to deal with the import of waste from far wealthier countries. These countries really should be sorting out their own rubbish – and if they cannot, they need to drastically cut the amount of waste produced until they can.

So yes, let us carry on cleaning up beaches. But we can do much more by simply cutting the amount of unnecessary stuff that we buy – particularly those things we know are not going to last long or that come with excessive and instantly discarded packaging. We can also support the work of WasteAid to help tackle the lack of waste management provision in other countries.

Following on from the Gunjur project WasteAid has launched a new programme called Widening the Net which will train people living in poverty in the city of Douala, Cameroon, to capture and recycle ocean-bound plastic. You can support this work and help tackle the problem of ocean plastic pollution by donating to WasteAid today. And until the end of July 2019 the value of your donation will be doubled as all donations are being match funded by UK Aid. Donate £10 before the end of July and you will provide training for a family to manage their waste in a safe and sustainable way. Donating £90 will train someone to capture and recycle 2.5 tonnes of ocean-bound plastic per year.

So here is an idea: add up all the money that you are going to save by not buying unnecessary stuff, donate it to WasteAid before the end July and your impact will be more than doubled by not having added to the waste problem in the first place.

For more information about WasteAid and details of how to donate visit

On June 27th Planet Aware will be walking and beach cleaning ten miles of the south coast of the Isle of Wight to raise money for the work of WasteAid. You can donate to via their JustGiving page.

Biffa Isle of Wight is collecting and disposing of rubbish collected.

Time for a 2 minute beach clean!

We are delighted to be working with Goodleaf Tree Climbing in Ryde who are raising money through their Vertical Marathon to add some 2 minute beach clean boards to Ryde Beach.

A 2 minute beach clean board makes it easier for everyone to help keep their coasts free of marine litter. The board has all the information, litter pickers and bags that you need to do your own mini clean-up when you’re one the beach.

A tree climbing experience with Goodleaf in Ryde’s Appley Park is a great way of getting outdoors and getting active in a beautiful park location with panoramic views over the Solent and beyond.

Find out more about Goodleaf Tree Climbing and their celebrated Vertical Marathon at!

Sing for water… or just pop in and Refill

We had a lovely afternoon talking about #Refill Isle of Wight at a beautifully dressed water fountain in Ventnor on Saturday 30 March. And we had a great song written by Glenn Koppany to promote Refill Isle of Wight!

#Refill is a simple idea – that everyone with a reusable water bottle should be able to easily fill up their water bottle while on the go. Our goal is for the #IOW to have well over 200 #Refill points by the end of the year whether they are cafes, restaurants, estate agents or at water fountains like this one – so that you are never far from a place where you can #Refill and won’t need to buy a plastic bottle of water.

Do check out our video of the day set to Glenn’s song at:

You can find out more about Refill Isle of Wight on our project pages or by getting in touch.

Binnel Bay rubbish surveyed

23 January 2019

Despite the cold grey skies, Planet Aware was joined at Binnel Bay by 19 volunteers to help clean and carry out a beach survey of litter for the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) on Saturday 19th January. Volunteers collected over 40 kilos of litter in the 100 metre survey area plus many more kilos from the area outside of this. The most unusual finds were a razor, a broom and paint brush handles. There were also a number of white Otrivine bottles which have recently been found in huge numbers all along the South Coast. The most common items found were polystyrene and plastic pieces, caps and lids from plastic bottles and fishing net/rope.

The Marine Conservation Society’s most recent report on litter on our beaches similarly revealed plastic and polystyrene pieces as well as fishing gear to be the most prolific type of litter. Less take away litter was found during Saturday’s survey at Binnel due to its remote location although inevitably items do get carried in the ocean currents so straws and wrappers were still evident. The 2018 MCS report also noted a decrease in litter collected – down 16% from 2017, but this may be because more people are out doing their own beach cleans which helps to reduce the amount found in survey areas.

It is important we make an effort to clean our beaches particularly as the Island relies so heavily on tourism, but collecting data on beach litter and marine pollution is vital. Data given to government and industry can help influence policy and decision making. The information MCS volunteers have collected over the last 25 years has helped make some of the most significant impacts on beach litter ever – the plastic bag charge, microplastics banned in personal care products, better wet wipe labelling, and massive support for a tax on ‘on the go’ plastic single use items. Planet Aware is encouraging people to take steps to reduce marine litter and their overall carbon consumption by adopting a ‘Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair and Recycle’ approach. Saying no to items that are not needed, refilling containers including your own water bottle or coffee cup and mending broken items and clothing will help to reduce our resource use as well as our carbon footprint. While tackling plastic pollution is essential, climate change is still the biggest current threat to our oceans and planet.

Join us at Binnel Bay

We will be running a beach clean at Binnel Bay on the Isle of Wight and carrying out a survey for the Marine Conservation Society.

If you would like to join us please send us a message and we will send you the information that you need.

Date: 19 January 2019, meeting at Binnel Bay car park, St Lawrence at midday.

Our winter event

We had an absolute blast at Ventnor Exchange on Saturday – with people celebrating an alternative spirit of Christmas by coming together and enjoying an afternoon of music, spoken word, storytelling and craft-making.

A massive thank you to the Exchange and to all the artists who came along – including Coppersmith, VeeJay Clarke, But That’s Another Story, Ruth the Poet, Superb Owl, Pete (PJ) and John Goodwin.

A fabulous, relaxed and uplifting celebration despite the gloom outdoors, and a reminder that there are so many different ways to give at Christmas that don’t need you to spend lots of cash on unnecessary stuff.

Nappy rash?

I spent a pleasant afternoon last week with Nicola Broadsmith who runs the Isle of Wight Real Nappy Network. I also learned some pretty mind-boggling stuff about disposable nappies and probably a lot more about them than I had intended. In the last comprehensive council waste survey published ten years ago disposable nappies were the single biggest item in household waste accounting for around 16% of landfilled – weighing an estimated 923 tonnes per year. Just think about that for a moment.
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