For Plastic Free July I have interviewed local campaigners, business owners and community heroes from Devon and Cornwall, who have put living plastic free at the heart of the way they work.
Meet Sam Gill, founder of ocean positive business, Behaviour Change Cornwall
Tell me a little about yourself and the work that you do.
I’m 25, Cornish and have two degrees in Behavioural and Evolutionary Science and Sustainability. As far back as I can remember I’ve been passionate about science and the ocean – and up until very recently was pursuing a career in scientific research & communicating science to the public but kept finding that there is an awful lot of effort spent finding the myriad of problems besieging the ocean – but far less time spent actually trying to solve them.
To the end of finding solutions, I channeled the goals of my research project (to use behavioural science to reduce plastic waste in cornwall) into various different campaigns and projects. Our most successful to date in changing how people view ghosts nets & marine plastic – the concept being if you can make marine plastic and ghost nets valuable and interesting by transforming them into art and jewellery it’ll no longer haunt the oceans and instead be the start of conversations about plastic pollution.
What first got you started on plastic free campaigning?
I never really fit the stereotypical plastic campaigner mould. Not too many years ago If you’d have asked me about plastic being an issue I’d have quipped some dismissive comment about the problem and make a joke about some people being obsessed with straws, considering it small fry compared to other environmental crisis.
My arrogance and dismissal was first eroded and then shattered away though when my passion of Freediving increasingly became a series of first hand experiences with the hidden scale of plastic pollution – seeing plastic gyres in Looe Bay, finding underwater amongst sea grass beds tennis-court-sized shifting surfaces of micro plastics and witnessing wildlife entangled in fishing gear.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Evaluating the sustainability of pro-environmental behaviour change is supremely difficult – measuring the impacts of the information we spread, the signs we put up and the plastic we remove is incredibly hard – if not entirely pointless as the more you try to measure it the more you refine what you include and distance your findings from the reality.
So instead of quoting the miles of nets we’ve removed or the number of people we’ve positively engaged with – I think our biggest achievement so far for me personally has been seeing and hearing from people who’ve engaged with us out on the beach and on social media – who’ve gone out to find plastic on their shore, who’ve learnt something new and amazing about the sea and who’ve come to care for it.
What would be your advice for people trying to live a life with less plastic?
Avoid plastic unless it’s a product built to last.
If you can’t avoid – or find some: Reuse, Repurpose or at least Recycle.
Also remember removing all plastic is not the goal – sometimes it’s the most sustainable option – plastic isn’t good or bad, it’s only harmful when it ends up where it shouldn’t – in the environment.
And to add a different point: investigate the plastic used to make, catch or package what you buy. From Fishing Nets used to catch fish that you eat to Shrink Wrap that wraps nearly every parcel to a shop – often the biggest proportion of our plastic footprint is the part that we never see on the product.
What do you love most about Cornwall?
The hidden alien underwater world around its coasts.
How can people get involved or support your work?
We’re currently working hard in a drive to pay a living wage to young Cornish environmentalists to collect and dive for lost fishing nets and marine plastic. To support our amazing recovery teams, you can check out the bracelets we make from the nets we find – we’re entirely self-funded thanks to the amazing people who’ve donated so far.
Check us out at behaviourchangecornwall.co.uk
Alternatively in October you welcome to join us on our first of many public recovery missions at Hannafore Beach (partnered with Looe Marine Conservation Group) find out more here -> http://looemarineconservation.org/beach-clean-behaviour-change-cornwall/
What are your plans for the future?
In the short term we’re currently, as part of our ghost nets project, getting a small boat up and running to let us reach the remotest coves and dive sites to collect ghost nets and plastic in the areas they do most harm and Covid-willing planning on doing more face-to-face engagements with the public.
Longer term we’re planning on new additional projects. We’re interested in mapping plastic pollution, where it’s found and where it comes from across Cornwall and finding new ways to help people turn their passion for the ocean into positive change by researching and helping people find behaviour changes that actually make a big difference.