Vanessa – Dawlish against Plastic
Plastic is my major project
“When I moved to Dawlish from Exeter to start a business, I didn’t really know anybody, so I joined the Chamber of Trade, and then became its chairman in 2014. That was my first volunteering role, and it has introduced me to all sorts of other things and opened a lot of doors. I became involved with projects like ROC Dawlish which seeks to improve the community. Later I noticed lots of debris washing up on the local beach, not things dropped recently, but things that have been out at sea for a long while. In particular, I see a lot of nurdles – small pieces of plastic that are the building blocks for making all other plastic items. I started to bag up what I found, and then discovered that Surfers Against Sewage were looking for community leads for Plastic Free Communities, so I applied. Later, I became involved in Dawlish Fair Trade friends. A friend of mine just invited me to attend a meeting, and the next thing I knew, I was on the committee. There is a struggle with maintaining the committee for these things because not many people can make the commitment.
Dawlish Against Plastic is the main group that I’m involved in though, which focuses on keeping things clean and sustainable. So plastic is my major project. I volunteer because I can’t bear to see things failing. If I see a need, I want to do something and know that I am helping the community. Of course, you do have to wait until you have time in your life to do these things. When I was younger, I was too busy. But it can be overwhelming, because sometimes you don’t seem to be getting anywhere fast, and you can see other countries in the world who aren’t really going anywhere with it at all. But there is some progress here in Dawlish. There are a lot of people doing things like litter picks or beach cleans and running events to improve community awareness. We got involved with CAG Devon because they were offering insurance, but also because they get together different types of groups. Not just plastic free groups, but also community fridges and repair cafes – all sorts of groups that work on sustainability.
An integral part of staying motivated is about who you’re working with. Dave – who I work with – is very motivated. And between the two of us, we keep each other going. Other people come and go, but we have formed a solid bond and work well together. He goes for more of the scientific nitty gritty detail of things, whereas I tend to be a bit more focused on the overarching ideas. I have also written articles for Dawlish Against Plastic about plastics… every aspect that you can think of over several years. But now Dave is doing this instead of me. I started doing it because I like writing, but there comes a point where you just think, I’ve being doing this so long now, that I don’t feel that I’m giving it my best anymore. The things I enjoy the most are the beach cleans because I like being outside. And we’ve attracted a whole range of people to come along. We once got out a sheet of plastic that was absolutely covered in barnacles. For the last few beach cleans, we’ve actually been starting to find quite a few disposable vapes. I don’t know why in this day and age these are still being made. People are talking so much about refilling things instead of buying new containers, and now this? Why do they do that? Dave and I have done talks as well, in schools, for Dawlish Friends and Dawlish Rotary, and for the general public. I enjoy this because I feel like we’re really reaching people. We recently held an event called Turn the Tide. It was part of the Jubilee celebrations. The children in local schools drew wildlife and the seaside. They had their own triangle of bunting and covered them in all sorts of sea life. These were then displayed in the marquee through the Jubilee weekend and are now in the library.
Some people think that their environmental responsibility begins and ends with recycling. And then of course, there’s a lot of the population that really just don’t care, which is a problem. But the people who attend our events and talks are usually pretty receptive, I guess because they have chosen to attend. They wouldn’t do this if they didn’t care. But one guy came along to our stall recently and argued that everything we have is plastic… our clothes, and basically everything we do involves plastic. I responded by saying that this is true, but we can’t really help that. What we can do is reduce our single-use plastic. He didn’t have anything to say to that.
As well as engaging with individuals, pressuring the government to do more is very important. Quite a few single use items have been banned in Scotland, and they have a deposit return scheme start date for things like bottles. We’re supposed to be getting a scheme here, but the government isn’t interested. One of the things that really frustrates me is that big companies have made it the responsibility of individuals and local authorities to deal with the recycling problem, as if it was our fault for them producing so much plastic that we now can’t do anything with. And just the perception that everything can be sorted out with recycling… it’s not really the solution.
The amount of paperwork that we’ve had to complete for CAG Devon and Surfers Against Sewage has been quite a challenge… recording and reporting everything. Doing this on top of the legwork involved in the actual projects is a lot. But I know that the more you try to achieve, the more time you’ve got to spend. It’s all about talking to people, about relationships. What I value about CAG Devon is the forums that they run… they will pick a subject and the groups working in this area are connected. For example, I have now spoken with a plastic free group in Axminster. Having a good group of people around me has helped me to take action, certainly being part of the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic-Free Communities program. Also, having a supportive town council is extremely helpful. They have an Events Committee where events are discussed. Most town councils don’t have a committee like this. It’s been really positive and town council support in terms of grants is very helpful, we know that we’re not going to come up against a brick wall with the events as can often happen with other authorities.
Volunteering has really helped me to become integrated into the community. I know so many people, and you do feel like you’re achieving something when you’re helping out, both personally and for the community. It can be stressful at times but is usually ok. And obviously, the group of people that you work with is really important for your own personal growth. In terms of benefits to the community, there is a lot less debris on the beaches, and less rubbish about in general. I find that people are mostly positive when you talk to them. It’s good for people in the community to know that other people are facing in the same direction as them. It’s much easier to do things if you’re doing it as part of a community project.”