The first time the phrase “there is no such place as away” hit home was on a dive trip about ten years ago in the Maldives. Very early one morning a boat arrived at our tiny island and was hastily filled with a lot of plastic.
I asked where it was going and was told “don’t worry about that, it’s all going away.” When I asked where that was, I was told it was to be taken to a neighbouring island to be dumped. I felt so ashamed. I had just assumed that the plastic we were using would be recycled, but it hadn’t occurred to me they might not have the facilities to do even that.
When I spent a week trying (and largely cheating and failing) to live without plastic and anything else that went to landfill, I realised the scale of what we are all up against. So many of the things we use everyday aren’t even recyclable, let alone reusable, and it takes a lot of time, research and organisation to cut it out.
Over the years I’ve done a lot of work helping different companies tackle lots of environmental issues such as cutting non-recyclables and single-use plastic out of their supply chain, including Marks & Spencer, SSP Group, The Boots Company Plc and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd (where we took a lot of these out of the clubhouses, back in 2009). I’ve also done a lot of work to engage senior teams on why it matters, including a really memorable Virgin Holidays beach clean up back in 2007 – unconventional, but very effective at getting everyone excited about what they could do as a company!
So many of the things we use everyday aren’t even recyclable, let alone reusable, and it takes a lot of time, research and organisation to cut it out.
However, progress on a global scale still felt so slow, and I felt that our media were doing an excellent job of confusing most people about this issue and what they could do about it. I wanted to find a different way to get across the things that we can do.
I started a radio show on sustainability on a local station, covering a different environmental topic each week. The focus was always on simple things everyone could do to make a positive change and we talked about plastic waste a lot! We also had some fantastic guests, but despite it being a lot of fun, I knew that not many people were listening, and more importantly, not everyone wants to learn about waste or other environmental issues for an hour (no matter how good the presenter and the guests are)!
It was at a brilliant lecture at Bafta on screenwriting about sustainability when I had my “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” moment. I suddenly realised that I should write a series of children’s books about environmental issues, which were funny, but also gave simple tips on what we could do on each issue. Even though I hadn’t written a children’s book before, let alone in rhyming verse (which I was told is a big no-no for a new children’s writer), I realised I just needed to get on with it, because it was how I could make the biggest impact.
I launched the first in the series, Finn the fortunate tiger shark and his fantastic friends – all about ocean plastic – on Earth Day this year. All profits are being split between Greenpeace and the Social Plastic Foundation – who are both doing amazing work on this issue.
Not being a celebrity or a well-known author meant I had to think outside the box to get my book noticed and luckily I had an interesting idea up my sleeve. I had been helping games company, Future Games of London, develop partnerships with shark and ocean charities and when I asked if they would feature my book, they didn’t hesitate – they even built a new version of a game where sharks pick up plastic and fire it back at the humans. Finally, a fun way to engage a lot of people (some 300 million have played their game globally) on perhaps not the most exciting issue.
I will be launching the audio book version on World Ocean Day this year, featuring the dulcet tones of Jeremy Irons. The formal book launch will take place in September and will, of course, be a beach-clean party with signed books for all volunteers! Keep an eye out if you want to come along to the launch.
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