Our Ranger goes plastic free for July

Fiona Bennett-Meere, Chiltern Society Ranger, decided to give up single use plastics this month in an effort to do her bit to reduce plastic waste. She tells her story below:

FACT: if we do nothing to reduce our plastic consumption, then – based on current projections – by 2050 there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish (by weight). Quite a startling thought, isn’t it? How many of you watched ‘Blue Planet II’ in which Sir David Attenborough showed in graphic detail our damaged planet as a result of plastic pollution? Was it the fact that 8 million tonnes of plastic a year enters our oceans, or the emotive images of the wandering albatrosses ingesting plastic and the hawksbill turtle tangled in a plastic sack that finally got the Government’s attention? Policies are slowly being changed such as banning the manufacture of products containing microbeads in the UK and phasing out plastic straw use. But how can we each help?

This month my husband and I are taking part in the Plastic Free July challenge – quite simply we are cutting out all single use plastic. But why? In April we went to the incredible Galapagos Islands to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday, and were reminded of how precious our planet is. Known for their unique biodiversity, containing 1300 species only found in the archipelago, they too are having a plastic crisis. Did you see the ITV news report which showed the sea lion playing with a plastic bottle; a hermit crab with a plastic lid as its shell; and Darwin’s infamous finches using plastic fibres to line their nests? This was the turning point for us and we vowed to change our habits where possible, starting with my husband’s penchant for collecting non-recyclable coffee cups; (He would frequently get takeaway coffees at service stations and from his work cafés). I confronted him about this and following  a ‘discussion’ I am pleased to say not only does he take a bamboo cup with him everywhere, his colleague  purchased one too and his team all use reusable bottles and cups. Small changes can make a difference and affect change – a local café in Chesham, ‘Thé, Stay and Play’, provides half price tea and coffee if you take in your own cup. Just brilliant!

Our weekly food shop is a challenge as many supermarkets wrap their produce in cellophane; we are both vegetarian which makes meals a trial when they are all in plastic. Farm shops and companies offering organic vegetable boxes are the best at not wrapping up their produce, but these can be expensive and not an option for every household. Some businesses need to do so much more to change their habits, but we need to tell them where they are failing to affect change – something I am doing frequently now on social media. The internet is also a great place for inspiration in swapping plastic items. We purchased shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush, we line our bins with paper instead of plastic, plastic tubs are becoming plant pots and we always carry around a reusable water bottle.

As a ranger, I come across rubbish daily that people have tossed aside and plastic bottles, non-recyclable cups and of course full dog mess bags are a regular feature of the nature reserves I visit, often more so than wildlife. I want to try and change this and I need your help. I want to get the local community involved to create a sculpture made from recycled material, based on a species that is local to the Chilterns and display this locally. Are there any artists out there who could offer advice and inspiration on this project?

So far our plastic free July is going well, and we genuinely feel we are making a difference. It is not about being an eco-warrior and dressing up as a plastic bottle or chaining yourself to a vegetable aisle; it is about trying to make small changes in your lives that will impact the planet in a big way. If each of you that reads this article makes one small change, what a huge different this could have on our planet.”

We’d love to hear about your plastic free wins by tagging us @thechilternsociety Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Fiona would be very grateful to receive any ideas and inspiration you may have at ranger@chilternsociety.org.uk