Starr Wattam, a previous ICS Restless Development volunteer, started #PlasticAintFantastic as part of her Action at Home phase. In this blog, Starr shares with us her journey of starting the movement as well as executing a stunt in central London to raise awareness of plastics and its effects on climate change.
Ever since I was forced to come face to face with the reality of plastic pollution, I have begun to change my life. I hold my hands up admittedly as before I was very naive and unconscious of the effects of my irresponsible consumer habits. As I researched further into plastic pollution, I couldn’t understand where my plastic waste was going, why urgent global action wasn’t occurring, why big companies were taking so long to make necessary changes and why most yoghurt pots aren’t yet recyclable.
The first project for Plastic Ain’t Fantastic started with a partnership with Salford based reparation programme Remedy. Here I delivered a session on the damages of plastic pollution on the environment, our health and even minors caught up in the criminal justice system. From the individuals in the class, one boy told me that he didn’t believe our clothes contained plastic and he also asked why he should care as “there is nothing we can do about it anyway”. Other individuals in the class were more engaged, genuinely concerned for the environment but also questioning why this was the first time they were hearing about it. However they also doubted what we can actually do to make change, they felt like it was too late. This left me questioning why working class youth feel so powerless and detached? How can we give the working class youth a platform to encourage their families to get involved?
My original plan was to create a vertical garden out of plastic bottles along a wall which sits in the Manchester city centre. Ideally this garden would have had a poem painted by its side, created by a local artist in a true Mancunian Worker Bee style to encourage the hundreds of people who pass Piccadilly Gardens every day. After emailing many MP secretaries and getting the same response which was always along the lines of “there is no money in our budget”, I realised my hopes were way too high and the issue was not important enough to the big boys.
Fortunately, a friend of mine passed my details onto the Platt Fields Market Garden in Fallowfield/Rusholme. Mark kindly offered to let us use their garden fence. Remedy and I made a lot of mess, but the mess turned into a cute plastic bottle herb garden along the fence for his vegan pizza business.
The project didn’t end there. I needed more people to hear about us, people that wouldn’t normally care. A few of my friends and I came up with a stunt idea. We wanted to wear plastic garments and catch the attention of busy Londoners passing by.
And… our stunt worked! This day is up there as one of the most special days in my life. The positivity and community engagement altered my perception of the public. Empowerment is an incredible feeling, everyone involved making a difference. We were all very proud of ourselves.
So what did we actually do?
A theatrical masterpiece of course…
We made our garments from plastic rubbish and used hemp rope to tie single use packaging to make a skipping rope. We ran around St James Park and Parliament Square singing our remastered nursery rhymes. Children, parents and tourists skipped for as long as they could. It was fun and a form of interactive politics that anyone of any age could understand. Parents were more than happy to stop and let their kids play whilst listening to us. We sparked conversation with over 100 individuals with our leaflets. People are concerned and they are searching for direction about what to do. I hope that for every leaflet taken it sparked conversation with at least one friend over the ticking time bomb that is planet earth.
Here are some examples of our remastered nursery rhymes:
“Ring around the roses, plastic up our noses, a tissue, a tissue, plastic all around”
“A fish went to the sea sea sea, to see what he could see see see, but all that he could see see see, was plastic in the deep blue sea sea sea.’
We also had the opportunity to work with the Mr Robert Unbranded. A retired taxi driver from London who has been standing outside Westminster everyday since February to raise awareness for the ban on all single use plastic. Robert is brave, intuitive and devoted. We shared our stories and he told us that seeing us reinforce his belief in the movement made him happy and that we just have to keep trying. I’m proud of Robert for acting on behalf of the generations that will be born into a world humans are selfishly destroying.
Some people probably looked at us and thought ‘oh deary me, look at those doomsday wannabees’. But the next time they go shopping, something may trigger their memory, maybe just maybe, they double check themselves and what they buy. Most capitalist advertisements push brands in our faces overtly and covertly. The more we make it available for people to discuss plastic pollution, the more likely people will be to make subconscious behavioural alterations.
Unfortunately we were faced with some negativity. We witnessed children shouting at us saying things like ‘’throw all the plastic in the water, kill the animals”. Some members of the public avoided eye contact so we couldn’t stop them to talk or hand out our flyers. And some members of the public informed us they were very knowledgeable about single use plastics and so didn’t need to hear any more about it from us. This is the attitude we need to challenge; that our consumer decisions do not play a role in the pollution cycle. Why, if people know all about plastic pollution continue to purchase plastics with such nonchalance?
Plastic bottles can end up spending 1000 years on this planet, fracturing into microplastic, to be consumed by fish and then eventually by humans. CO2 released during plastic pellet creation is double that released from aviation and if treated as a country, would be the fifth biggest fossil fuel emitter in the world. When drinking from bottled water, urine contains 90,000 microplastics more per year than drinking tap water. Physiological effects of microplastics inside the body are currently understudied but there is strong correlation research which suggest plastics have an involvement in hormonal imbalances, infertility and cancer.
By purchasing a reusable bottle, it is estimated that you could save around £237.25 a year! This is based on using a water bottle costing 65p on average. These numbers are also calculated with the assumption that you buy one water bottle each day. And just think, here we haven’t considered our takeaway hot drink culture, nor the amount we pay for our water bills that deliver us the privilege of clean tap water to our homes.
But how do we include the working class on the reusable, plastic free and locally sourced food when it’s so pricey compared to greener brands? We cannot ignore the working class and this cannot be a middle class movement. As of 2019, 22% of the working age UK public live under the poverty line, that’s 14.2 million people. If the movement does not include these people, if these children do not feel empowered, then it’s not going to work. As a child from a council estate, I can tell you that there is nothing more empowering than family and teachers who push you to become more.
The purpose of writing this article is mainly to inspire people to make change and have fun. There are people out there that have not had the education, support, opportunity or time on their hands to begin to even fathom the true extent of plastic pollution. It doesn’t even have to be plastic pollution, it can be any issue that you resonate with. Unfortunately there is a lot of wrong and maltreatment in our society but we can’t just wish it away, hoping the politicians might solve it because they simply will not. I encourage you to take action, signing and sharing a petition is a start. But lets become the change we want to see, you will be surprised by the friends you make along the way as well as the conversations you will have.
Show the world what you are capable of and good luck.