Cat food packaging: exposed (New Zealand)

YRE Competition 2021
Litter Less Campaign Article
11-14 years old

Even though pet shops are filled with cat food, supermarkets are also worthy culprits. Plastic packaging comes in all shapes and sizes and cat food packaging is one of them. Although there are alternatives, there is little to no awareness. A glance across a supermarket or pet store would seem ordinary to most, but when scrutinised through a different perspective, may seem foreign altogether.

Casting a blind eye to our problems does not make them disappear. How can it be different with the environment? It is not.

After surveying multiple cat-owners, a majority buy their cat food from "New World". Therefore, I decided to interview "Thorndon New World’s" store manager. Although he was unable to answer my questions, I have gathered that "New World" is sustainable through waste-minimisation, carbon reduction and packaging sustainability. Unfortunately, none of these affect cat food.

47% of cat owners are unaware of the alternatives to single-use cat food packaging. Cat food suppliers need to take responsibility to raise awareness on alternatives. An interview with a dine rep concluded in the fact that it was impossible to recycle the packaging for that brand as they were soft plastics.ncnca

In the United Nations, Global Goals Target 12.2, it mentions that by 2030, the world will efficiently use natural resources. Plastic, being made from natural materials, should be included. This is an ambitious goal, but although people speak of it, no one acts.

After interviewing "Pet Centre Lower Hutt", “Croften Downs Countdown”, "Animates Kaiwharawhara", and the "City New World", all of them took an exceedingly long period of time to respond, and refused to answer any of my questions claiming either that their head office didn’t approve it or that it was sensitive information. Surely they could have answered at least one of my questions, such as “How do you act against single-use plastics related to cat food packaging?” This aroused my suspicions. If they had , would they not have answered promptly and with more detail?

However I received better results from “Nestlé Purina”. Purina is aiming to have 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025. Purina has also adopted the Australasian Recycling Label, which shows what product packaging is made from, so customers can correctly dispose of it. Purina are trying to reduce their bad impact in the world. It is also involved in the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme

Royal Canin has yet to respond but in its FAQ’s they said: “Our goal is to use environmentally friendly packaging wherever possible without sacrificing food quality. We have changed our entire canned product line to recyclable packaging. The bags are designed to maintain the nutritional profile and freshness of the product throughout its entire shelflife. Currently a recyclable option that meets these requirements does not exist. We are still searching for packaging that will maintain the freshness of the product, and our goal is to improve our impact on the environment when an acceptable option becomes available.

An interview with a dine representative ended better, with her mentioning the Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme, which has been embodied by Countdown in 24 Auckland stores. This is not enough. Not everyone has access to recycling soft plastics easily. There are other alternatives, such as Terracycle. Terracycle provides a successful way to recycle most cat food packaging. Not many people are aware of these alternatives though. Yet another choice is for industrial scale companies to use Mycelium Packaging; sustainable packaging made purely from plastic.

Suppliers, consumers and retailers all need to work together to help the environment. Is this how we want our world to be? Keep New Zealand green.


Queen Margaret College


Article 11-14 years

1st Place
Title: Cat food packaging: exposed
Country: New Zealand

2nd Place (shared)

Title: How has the pandemic affected the use of single use plastics?
Country: Wales

Title: Stop plastic!
Country: France

Is sustainability a joke? (Malta)

YRE Competition 2021
Litter Less Campaign Article
15-18 years old

Who is the future of our country?

Are we teaching them to be sustainable?

Junior College, a post-secondary under the University of Malta guidance this year decided to cover the school's common area chairs and benches with plastic to prevent students from sitting on them to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Paper wristbands were also introduced to monitor students entering the campus. 

When I saw this, an email was sent to the Junior College administration to meet a representative, they accepted and we met on the 9th of December 2020. The discussion started with the wristbands which was stated that these are a directive by the UOM, and they had no control over them, but they where in control of the plastic. This was a short-term solution for the 2020-2021 year. No alternatives for plastic were considered as the representative said that there was not enough time.

Communication with the UOM’s rector office started by a telephone call which the representative from the office explained that the wristbands were not possible to be removed as these were purchased in bulk and needed to be used. The representative also promised that when they finish alternatives will be considered. The office also said that they will be trying to work with the JC administration to reduce single-use plastic.

When the students entered after the Christmas holidays the plastic ended up getting damaged and the administration decided to re-lay the plastic instead of seeking alternatives.  

Another communication to the JC administration was sent with questions about the current waste pilot project, safety regulations which the school has to follow, what type of plastic is being used, if the environmental committee was consulted, if they know how much plastic is being used and if with this action is he helping the government in changing the mentality.

The representative refused to answer my questions, instead they answered by saying that we already met to discuss this issue and that the college over the years took lots of measures in favor of the environment and that the school was obliged to take these measures.

Another communication with the UOM rector’s office was done but the representative explained that the rector will not be giving me a statement as the JC representative already gave me one.

On the 28th of October 2020, the government released a legislation regarding restrictions on placing on the market single-use plastic products. The legislation, which was initiated by the ministry for the environment, climate change, and planning along with the environment and resources authority. The legislation aims to create a cultural shift away from single-use plastic by showing the public the potential benefits it has when we move away from the product.

Dr. Aaron Farrugia the minister for environment, climate change and planning sent me a statement saying that in his opinion plastic is not inherently bad as it is lightweight which reduces transportation energy and is durable which hence reduces material usage. Public health is important for the government and plastic played a crucial role in the fight against Covid-19. “unfortunate thing is when the use of plastic becomes indiscriminate in the context of an irresponsible attitude towards consumption and subsequent disposal” that’s why the government is working on projects to maximize recycling and materials which cannot be recycled be used in a different matter. Single-use-plastic ban on certain products is being prepared after a public consultation last year. Efforts towards raising awareness about plastic pollution and its impact is happening all over the country and he is impressed by the efforts of volunteers and citizens in them. His final message was “I am positive that together we can work towards a cleaner environment and climate-resistant future.”

Oxo-degradable plastic is plastic that is made of petroleum-based polymers that contain additives that accelerate their degradation when exposed to heat or light. When this plastic degrades it creates microplastics that are dangerous to the environment and if they end up in the sea, they will be eaten by the fish we eat. This type of plastic as of January 2021 is prohibiting their placing on the market. Is the plastic being used in Junior College oxo-degradable?

This year the Junior College Student Council started a new venture when it comes to litter as they partnered with Nature Trust in their litter less program to reduce waste in our school. Why is the school working against the council by generating unnecessary waste?

The environmental and resources agency states that businesses and private entities are working to help in creating the necessary shift. Is the school helping with this cultural shift by placing plastic everywhere?

The Maltese government is focusing on reducing single-use plastic and the school is placing plastic everywhere. Is this a contradicting message?

There were many alternatives to plastic. Some of the alternatives were: removing extra chairs and storing them for the future, using material which later can be re-used for example wooden strips, a stamp on the hand instead of wristbands, to mention a few. Why weren’t these considered?

In order for a cultural shift to occur we all need to join hands including; the private sector, education institutions and the government, for the reduction of single use plastic. If we do nothing about this issue, we would have failed the future generations with our actions. 


Benches at JC covered with plastic

By Isaac Sam Camilleri


Article 15-18 years

1st Place
Title: Is sustainability a joke?
Country: Malta

2nd Place

Title: Chews a Better Future
Country: New Zealand

Oh how we like to be beside the seaside; don’t we? The plastic problem facing our coastal town (Wales)

YRE Competition 2020
Litter Less Campaign Article
11-15 years old

It’s a beautiful Spring day in the Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl. The sun is shining, the smell of freshly cooked fish and chips hangs on the breeze and the beach is full…of plastic. Unfortunately, that is the sight that the thousands of tourists who visit Porthcawl each year are facing. Nobody wants to eat their ice-cream surrounded by plastic waste. Will they still come to Porthcawl and spend their hard earned money if this stays the same or gets even worse? How would that affect the businesses and residents of the town? 

One local resident said:

“I think the plastic on the beaches looks terrible, no-one wants to see that when they come for a day to the seaside.”

It’s not just the impact that plastic can have on the tourist trade that is worrying. It is estimated that around the world, more than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles die every year from eating or getting caught up in plastic waste.

A photo of some of the plastic collected from beaches like Porthcawl.

A photo of some of the plastic collected from beaches like Porthcawl.

Why is this happening?

80% of this waste comes from the land. How does it up in the sea? Well, for every 7 billion tons of plastic waste, only 9% is recycled, 12% is incinerated and 79% ends up in landfills or environmental areas like the ocean. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report into plastic waste (2016), if this doesn’t stop, then by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish! 

What do people of Porthcawl think?

We surveyed the residents and visitors of Porthcawl, to find out if they were aware of the plastic problem and why they thought it wasn’t getting better. 

Survey results

These results it shows that people know about the problem. So why is there no change? Is it that people really don’t care as our survey suggests?

wales survey.PNG

What can we do?

Education, education, education!

At west park primary in Porthcawl, children have been learning about the impact of plastic waste on the environment. They have shared their learning with the people of porthcawl, trying to get the message across by protesting through the town.

 The school’s eco -council has made over 30 eco bricks to send to Africa so they can build boats, houses etc. West park, along with other Porthcawl schools, has taken part in the ‘Porthcawl, love it, don’t trash it’ campaign learning about the negative impact of litter by carrying out clean ups on nearby streets and beaches. They have been designing posters, which have been displayed around the town, encouraging residents and visitors to bin their waste.

LLC wales 2.PNG

A plastic free town?

According to Wales Online, Porthcawl is set to become the first plastic free town in Bridgend. Town councilor Alex Harris, who formed the group Plastic Free Porthcawl said, “It’s something I’m passionate about. I want to try and reduce the plastic used in the town… with a view to getting the town accredited as plastic-free.”

More than a dozen business in Porthcawl have now started to realise this is a problem and have taken plastic bags, straws, cutlery off the menu. One of the biggest fish and chips restaurant, Finnegan's in Porthcawl have now started to use paper bags instead of plastic. 

Shopping in a new way?

A recent addition to Porthcawl is the Pantri Box, a zero waste, plastic free shop started by local resident Gemma Lewis. She realised when buying things for her children that she was throwing away a lot of plastic. She looked into all the dangers of this and that’s when the idea came to her to that she should open her non-profit shop. A regular customer to the Pantri Box said “Gemma’s is an alternative shop in Porthcawl and it is for people who care about plastic litter, someone like me.”

West Park’s Young Reporters for the Environment with Gemma Lewis at the Pantri Box.

West Park’s Young Reporters for the Environment with Gemma Lewis at the Pantri Box.

Why don’t all shops work this way? We asked the residents and visitors of Porthcawl what would stop them using a shop like the Pantri Box. The majority of people said that the cost and the extra time it would take to go to different shops to get all their shopping could stop them.  

One person stated:

“Manufacturers, aren’t changing, they could make laws about using plastic, it may be too difficult though”.

Prestige nightmare still haunts spanish government 18 years later (Spain)

YRE Competition 2020
Litter Less Campaign
15-18 years

The forgotten successful rock-cleaning method

13th of November 2002, the wind is howling and a storm is coming like an ominous threat of what’s to come: rain, lightning, thunder and the unexpected. Nothing noteworthy for the Costa da Morte (Death Coast) in northwestern Spain, but one event will transform this storm into the disaster of the century, poison spilling into the Atlantic Ocean in the form of fuel oil. The viscous, dark substance covering the clear blue sea with a blanket of darkness. A fortnight after, the ship finally sank 3,500 meters down to the ocean floor, 130 nautical miles off Spain's coast. The culprit, a single-hulled tank steamer called Prestige, bound for Singapore with more than 77,000 tonnes of fuel oil on board. The consequences, Spain and Portugal’s worst ecological disaster to date, 76,000 m3 of oil spilled in total. So, why did the Spanish government ignore the solution scientists presented?

Before the tragedy occurred, the French, Spanish and Portuguese Governments repeatedly refused to allow the vessel to dock in other to avoid pollution of their coasts. This selfishness and lack of foresight is what many experts cite to have been a huge mistake. Furthermore, the decision taken by Spanish authorities to tow the damaged vessel to deeper offshore waters has been described as the reason why the vessel ended up sinking and why such a large area was affected. While the Spanish government was cleared of all criminal responsibility during the 2012 trial, the Spanish people still can’t forget the image of thousands of volunteers on the coasts fishing out oil with gloved hands and all their might. 

After disaster had struck, most of the damage had already been done, 22,000 birds dead and subsequently there were 296.26 and 718.78 million euros in losses for the Spanish fishing and tourism sectors, respectively. It is clear that the damages were grave. It was time for scientists to come to the rescue with a solution to clean the beaches and prevent more consequences. Dr. José Luis Bourdelande from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona did just that, his method of cleaning oil from rocks with a solution of hydrogen peroxide metallic salts and sunlight was not only efficient, but also cheap.

This was a revolutionary discovery as the method that was being used at the time, which was manually cleaning the rocks was highly time-consuming and inefficient. He had a particularly vested interest in the project as one of the beaches in his hometown of Llanes was gravely affected by this tragedy. So, why did the Spanish government ignore his solution and refuse to fund it? Whether it was politics or other economic reasons, we may never know, but Bourdelande still feels the frustration and impotence as ardently as he did in 2003. It is however painstakingly clear that the solution was presented to them and that they actively decided to ignore it. 

It is evident that spills of this nature can be devastating to the ecology and the economy and since the Prestige oil spill there have been efforts to prevent this by several means. For example, there has been a lot of technological innovation to the tanker ships in charge of carrying this oil and there have also been several advancements in spill cleanup technology like the one proposed by Dr. Bourdelande. The European Union even introduced a Council Directive concerning dangerous or hazardous substances polluting European waters three decades ago (2006/11/EC) as well as enforcing legislation preventing vessels as old as the Prestige, which was 23 years old at the time, from transporting oil in European waters. These efforts are already a step in the right direction but the real solution lies in prevention of all accidental spills, raising awareness about the dangers of these spills and demanding a proper response from our governments. We must learn from our mistakes. 

prestige tank.jpg

Author: Helena Bremermann   

When life gives you lemons (New Zealand)

YRE Competition 2019
Litter Less Campaign
15-18 years

“You can eat something if you want!” A worker yells from the door of his tractor when he sees me staring at the bins upon bins of fruit. Lemons and mandarins, as befits the season. These fruits will not be heading to supermarket shelves. The worker is dumping them. The bins are emptied, yellow and orange fruits tumbling out onto the muddy ground. All of it simply wasted.

At the back of this Gisborne pack house, the sickly sweet stench hits me first. This smell comes from piles of discarded fruit, left to lie in an empty space the size of a greenhouse. It almost looks pretty from far away. Looking closer, it is revealed that most of these lemons and mandarins are fine. Sure, there is the odd fruit tainted by rot, but most are free from rot or broken skins. Yet they are simply dumped out the back, wasted.

The manager of this pack house says this is because these fruits do not meet the consumer standard. “There are physiological reasons, like the breakdown of skins, and cosmetic damage… more damage than the grade standard allows.” The fruit, while juicy on the inside, is imperfect on the outside, so cannot be sold on supermarket shelves.

Much of it can still be eaten – confirmed by the worker inviting me to eat some. I do and find that most of the fruit is indeed perfectly edible. Yet with these imperfections, they cannot be sold commercially. With no other options, they are dumped out back and left to fester in the sun. 

When you consider that agriculture and horticulture are two of the biggest industries in Gisborne, this problem could be much bigger than the bins of fruit discarded at this pack house. A sustainable society is one where waste is avoided to all extents – including food waste.

In a country that is aiming for sustainability, there are solutions to this waste problem. Of course, this fruit cannot simply be given away for free. The business, part of Gisborne’s biggest industries and employers, would suffer. The solution comes in finding sustainable ways to use this imperfect fruit. Other pack houses juice reject fruit if they have the means to. However, this is evidently not an option for these discarded fruits. There are programs, such as food donation services, which could serve as an avenue to reduce this waste as well as helping Gisborne people who are living in poverty.

In Tairāwhiti, approximately 50% of communities are considered highly deprived areas (Marsters, H., Shanthakumar, M., Fyfe, C., Borman, B. & Dayal, S., 2012, p. 19). As with many places, poverty has long been a problem for the Gisborne community, with many struggling to make ends meet. Poverty, in its absolute state, is defined as when “an individual does not have access to the amount of money necessary for meeting basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter,” defined by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Environmental issues and poverty often work hand in hand. “We can’t lift people out of poverty if we don’t conserve the environment and natural resources they rely on. And we can’t protect the environment if we don’t address the needs of people in poverty,” states World Wildlife Foundation. To preserve and protect the environment and achieve sustainability, we must also address the humanitarian issue of poverty.

The first United Nations sustainable development goal is to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere –so to address waste issues, poverty must also be considered. With food waste, solutions can be ones that kill two birds with one stone: while reducing waste of fruits unable to be sold on supermarket shelves, poverty may also gain some relief.

The Salvation Army, a charity service in Gisborne, is a “Recycle centre,” according to Janenne Nicolson, a community ministries team leader for the Gisborne Salvation Army Corps. The Salvation Army receives donations of everything from furniture to blankets made of wool from old sweaters, and finds someone who needs it.

Not to mention the Food Bank. Open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Food Bank is available to whoever needs it. “In an average week we would do 20 parcels,” Janenne tells me. Food is made up of donations by the community: local bakeries and businesses donate leftover food, and through a relationship with Countdown people can buy food that is directly donated to the Salvation Army Food Bank.

Although the need for the service in Gisborne is no different to that in other communities she has been in, Janenne sees an increased need from seasonal workers. “These people that, this week haven’t got the amount of money that they were expecting because of the bad weather, so there’s no money coming in, they don’t work those hours. “And then, of course, you get their families, young kids.”

The Food Bank sometimes gets fruit donated from people in the community, which sometimes results in volunteers going out to pick the fruit themselves. As for citrus from pack houses that would otherwise be dumped, they have had some donations in the past. “Usually it’s the growers themselves that will turn up with a truck out the back.”

The Salvation Army is “a hand up, not a handout,” meaning that their services are for those that need it. The Food Bank is not a source of ‘free food’, it is somewhere for people to go if they need help. Therefore it is not detrimental to a business to donate. If some reject fruit that would otherwise be dumped was sent to the Salvation Army Food Bank or other food donation services in Gisborne, it would reduce the quantities of fruit wasted while contributing to the reduction of poverty within the region.

For pack houses in Gisborne that discard reject fruit, creating unnecessary waste, solutions to find more sustainable things to do with fruit that does not meet the consumer-grade standard need only be looked for. 

Bins of mandarins waiting to be dumped. Behind these, there are many more bins of fruit.

Bins of mandarins waiting to be dumped. Behind these, there are many more bins of fruit.

Lower waste, slimmer waists (India)

YRE Competition 2019
Litter Less Campaign
19-25 years

Fighting food wastage, one grain at a time.

The Dawoodi Bohra community is a small, almost insignificant subsect of the Shia branch of Islam. Their population, although well dispersed all around the world, is approximately just 1.5 million people, making up less than one-thousandth of all Muslims worldwide. This predominantly Gujarati business community, however, is making a difference with its incredible innovation that is having a resounding impact on an endemic that is becoming all too relevant with the increasing global economic progress - food wastage.

The Bohras generally eat in a group (seven or eight while in community halls), sitting in a circular fashion around a Thaal, a large steel platter. While at home, it enables the family to spend quality time together and at community halls after every congregation in the Masjid, it helps friends catch up with each other over meals. Whatever their geographical location, the greatest feature of the Bohra community is their uniformity and their strong ties to their culture, which do not seem to fade away even after assimilating into other foreign societies. So across the world, the Thaal is put on a Safra, a mat on the floor. Food is served on the Thaal at the beginning, and additional servings are provided by volunteers who make several trips to and from the kitchens. Generally, food is served on a full-plate basis, and when the members are unable to finish the food, they signal to a volunteer and return the food. Bohra meals usually comprise of a combination of chicken and a rice-based main course, with a sweet dish to complement it. Due to hygiene issues, items returned to the kitchens tend to be uneaten by anyone else and they end up going to waste. Although the amount of food wasted per Thaal may not be very significant, over the hundreds and thousands of Thaals in cities across the world, the waste accumulates. It accumulates dangerously. The Bohra community is relatively well-off, so such a thing is easy to go by unnoticed.

But it didn’t go unnoticed. There was prompt action, something that is really rare when it comes to people preventing wastage of any kind. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the spiritual head of the community, came up with an initiative to completely eliminate food wastage by implementing the ‘Preserve every grain’ campaign, wherein it was made mandatory for everyone to finish each and every item that is on their Thaal, down to the last grain of rice. The move was hugely popular, as it was accepted by most people straight away. It has been around for a couple of years now, and it has become a cultural norm in the community, and it is often pointed out by the other members of the Thaal if any members are wasting even the tiniest amount of food morsels. People were instructed to only take as much as they needed from the volunteers who would be walking around with plates, and finish whatever they took. Essentially, the system allowed eaters to enjoy the benefit of an all-you-can-eat type meal, while also ensuring that there is none of the disastrous wastage that generally occurs with unlimited food.

In cities with smaller Bohra populations (less than 1000), wastage is estimated to have decreased by more than 60% and it has become nearly non-existent now, since the time the campaign was started. The Bohra populations in larger cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Chennai and Kolkata are significantly larger so community halls are decentralised, with multiple halls across the city and hence management is different. Wastage here is estimated to decrease lesser on a proportionate basis, but since the sheer volume of food is so high, the overall saving is highly significant in the larger scheme of things. There is a special committee set up to ensure that the order of cleanliness and non-wastage is maintained in the Thaals, and if indeed there are any grains of rice left at the end of the meal, they are collected by the members of this committee and they feed the grains to the birds around them.

A pleasing effect of this campaign is that the community has also subconsciously dealt with another issue that has been plaguing society recently - over-eating. Obesity rates in India have been higher than ever before, and it isn’t surprising. After all, a bulging physique is often seen as an indicator of wealth. The Bohras, however, have smartly avoided the misconception.

Portion sizes have indeed come down and people are eating healthier and just the right amount, both at the halls and at home. I have personally noticed this change within me as I only fill my plate with small amounts and eat only as much as I can. I have also spoken to people across all age groups and they feel that their body is adjusting well to the change. They feel more active, less bloated and are less likely to feel lazy and lethargic in their daily life. A workforce that is happy and well-fed is the most beneficial for society- economically speaking. Productivity is greater with the increased focus, and there is less absenteeism due to lower risk of diseases.

The value and importance of proper nutrition has been drilled into all the present generations. I personally feel this is on par with the Japanese tradition of making kids clean their own classrooms because Bohra children know that every grain is priceless, and in a world where millions are uncertain about where their next meal is coming from, one should not take this luxury of having food on their plate for granted.


It’s a nesting nightmare: The untold plastic story (Wales)

YRE Competition 2018
Litter Less Campaign
11-14 years

Imagine travelling 4000km through storms and rough seas to reach a safe place to have your family, only to find materials there to build your home could injure or kill you all? This is the journey and frightening fact faced by thousands of Northern Gannet seabirds flying from West Africa to the island of Grassholm off the Pembrokeshire coast in West Wales, to lay their one egg.

For six months of the year this remote island is home to the only gannet colony in Wales and the third largest in the world.[1] All eyes are watching as they struggle in a fight against marine litter choking our oceans and the wildlife they support.

What’s happening?

When 39,000 breeding pairs of gannets arrive in Spring, swirling plastic litter like fishing nets, lines, ropes, and packaging is picked up by the birds to build their nests. They return to the same nest each year so the plastic can’t be removed. When they leave in September, the island becomes a graveyard of dead birds. Young ones are trapped as the plastic tangles around their bodies. Adult birds hang on cliffs, strangled by plastic.

How big is the problem?

RSPB site manager for Grassholm, Greg Morgan, explains why there is so much plastic in the sea bird’s nests:

A gannet tethered and trapped on Grassholm. Reproduced with kind permission of RSPB Cymru

A gannet tethered and trapped on Grassholm. Reproduced with kind permission of RSPB Cymru

“The gannets bring in fresh material from surrounding waters to add layers to their nests each year. They should be collecting seaweed but if plastic is floating on the surface that will be taken back to the nests. We estimate 80% of nests on the island now have plastic in them”.

Global problem, local impact – does anyone care?

Huge amounts of marine litter are brought on the Gulf Stream from the North Atlantic garbage patch (a massive pool of floating plastic litter) to the west coast of Wales, including Grassholm. Lots of the litter comes from different kinds of fishing, but it’s been discovered that a lot of what gathers around the Pembrokeshire coast comes from as far away as North and South America, Canada, and Africa. Do people from these places know their rubbish is turning up on our coastline? Would they care if they could see how the gannets are struggling to survive tangled in plastic? Do you care?

Northern Gannets are protected in the UK, so are they are under threat?

Surveys show bird numbers are increasing.[1] Some think the problem around Grassholm is tiny compared to what’s happening in the world’s oceans. With research saying plastic is getting into the human food chain, perhaps there is more to worry about?

“Grassholm is a small issue compared to what’s happening in the rest of the ocean”. GR, Fisherman

Yet surely dead and injured gannets on Grassholm flags up exactly what’s happening all over the world – showing that what we do can damage wildlife and sea creatures not just in our local environment but in other parts of the world. If we don’t see it, then perhaps we don’t care?

The gannet’s struggle is like what’s happening around the world. Oceans contain about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic litter, 269,000 tons of which float on the surface.[1] Laws were made over 10 years ago to stop boats and ships dumping plastics and fishing gear into the sea, but how is this being checked?

Over 90% of seabirds have bits of plastic in their stomachs.[2] Who knows how much is in humans already?

What Pembrokeshire people think

Interviewing Pembrokeshire fishermen, the RSPB, and others it’s scary how much we need to do for people to see the gannet’s terrible struggle, to understand the knock on effect to our planet. Most local fishermen know about the problem. Some have helped injured gannets, but as one explained:

“Most of the equipment used in the fishing industry is plastic. We can’t go back to hemp, it’s just not good for what we need. I don’t know what can replace what we have that would be strong enough or resistant to corrosion from the salt water.”

This recent survey found people were very concerned about what is happening on Grassholm, feeling education could make the biggest difference.


Retired cargo ship Captain, John Zipperlen, was so disturbed by the amount of plastic ending up in the sea that he joined Global charity Greenpeace.

When cheap, strong plastic was invented, who thought about it taking so long or maybe never degrading, that it would kill our wildlife?

NEWS FLASH: Some Good News…

Programmes like Blue Planet are helping us think more about how plastic is filling our oceans. People are starting to complain and take action. Every year, RSPB visit Grassholm to free trapped birds. Here are more ideas to help:

  • Put litter containers on fishing boats, trawlers, cargo ships, then on shore this gets recycled properly. The KIMO Fishing for Litter5 scheme runs in some countries but not in Wales. Let’s bring it here.

  • Before the gannets get to Grassholm, do a clean-up to get rid of marine litter.

  • Teach children about different materials, how to use less, reuse, recycle by:

  • Running fun activities

  • Campaigning for ‘look after our planet’ to be part of school work

  • Speak with Pembrokeshire Tourism - ask them to flag up about plastics in the ocean.

  • Put together clearer reminders to everyone on what to and how to recycle. Do local beach cleans!

How will we know we’re making a difference?

Gannet cliff rescue. ©Copyright Sam Hobson, reproduced with kind permission

Gannet cliff rescue. ©Copyright Sam Hobson, reproduced with kind permission

We will start to see less plastic in the gannet’s nests, less birds trapped and dying on the island.

The situation for the gannets will only get worse unless we change our ways and dispose of all plastics properly.

If attitudes and actions don’t change, it will be ‘too little too late’ – not just for the gannets of Grassholm, but for the whole planet.


Written by 1st Johnston Scouts from Wales.

Refocus and reduce….No to Junk Mail! (Malta)

YRE Competition 2019
Litter Less Campaign
11-14 years

We wrote this article to spread the word about the worrying data we collected about the local Junk Mail situation during our Litter-Less research. We managed to enroll 9 families in our school community and they agreed to keep the junk mail they received over a period of two months. We then weighed that mail and calculated the amount the families would have collected over a year. We also estimated how much junk mail would have been collected if we had to multiply the results to the number of dwellings in Malta. Moreover we estimated the number of trees that would have to be cut down to create all that paper that will end up as Junk Mail. The results we obtained were mind blowing and all this after the massive ‘Sort it out’ campaign. Are we really sorting it out?

Sort it out!! Sort it out!! Everyone agrees that this was the most popular environmental slogan in Malta in 2019. A vast campaign was carried out to promote a better separation of waste practice and to introduce the separation of organic waste. Around 150,000 food waste bins were distributed together with other bins for mixed recyclables, glass, sanitary waste and other waste. Still, we wonder…are we really sorting things out

Our teachers, often ask us to find pictures for projects and to our surprise, we find that we always have pictures available from the large number of magazines and pamphlets that we receive in our mail at home. This makes us wonder. How much of this so called Junk Mail do we actually receive? According to Collins English Dictionary, the definition of Junk Mail is “advertisements and publicity materials that you receive through the post which you have not asked for and which you do not want”

Therefore we set forth to carry out a research. We wrote a post on our school Facebook page to find parents who were willing to help out in this exercise. We found 9 families from different localities in our college catchment area who were ready to participate.  These families were asked to keep the Junk Mail that they receive for two months.

Once the exercise was over, the Junk Mail collected was brought to school. The results obtained were astonishing. The average Junk Mail collected over two months was an impressive 1.99 kg rounded up to 2 kg.  This mail mainly consisted of holiday brochures, toy shop promotional magazines, political leaflets and others advertising supermarkets and shops.

This figure itself was already alarming but if you had to calculate the mass of Junk Mail that we receive over 12 months (1 year) it would amount to 12 kg of waste. This 12 kg of junk is estimated to be received only by one household.  Next, we estimated the amount of Junk Mail distributed around the island in one year. Therefore we referred to the Census of Population and Housing report available online and found out that in 2011 there were 152,770 occupied dwellings. If you had to multiply the average amount of Junk Mail received at one household over a year, to the number of occupied dwellings in Malta and Gozo, you would end up with an impressive 1,833,240 kg per year of Junk mail. Nearly 2 million kg of unwanted stuff that you throw away anyway!  

We wanted to dig further into this problem. We wished to quantify the damage done to the environment as a result of the paper being produced for these magazines. We tried to calculate the number of trees being cut down to produce such useless mail. It is very difficult to calculate the precise amount of paper that one tree produces but after doing a thorough research, we estimated that 125 kg of magazine paper is produced from one tree.  By working a simple proportion sum, we were able to calculate the rough estimate of the number of trees that 1,833,240 kg of Junk Mail would use up. This amounted to a staggering 14,666 trees. And how large a forest area would that be?

According to The Mountain Area Safety Taskforce (MAST) in California, an NGO that educates the public to prevent forest fires, a healthy forest usually has between 40 to 60 trees per acre (4,046.9 m2). Therefore, the destruction of 14,666 trees for the production of our Junk Mail for a year, would add up to about 1,187,037 m2. Our biggest woodland area i.e. Buskett is 473,694.5 m2. This means that our Junk Mail is destroying the size of 2 ½ Buskett areas a year.

Since this Junk Mail mainly consists of commercial brochures, one wonders whether it is fair that for a couple of companies to increase their profits, the country has to suffer the consequences of that large amount of waste.  Other questions arise: Are these companies held responsible for this large amount of waste they are generating? Are they paying some eco-tax to make up for the waste their company is creating?

It is true that some might find this mail useful but for the majority of families, this type of mail finds its way directly from the mail box to the recycling bin, if not in the mixed waste bin, which would be a lot worse. And what about the large amount of mail that ends up flying off from the mail box when left half hanging and littering all our streets?

This research was an eye opener for us and made us realise how our countries’ priorities are still far from being properly set to reflect the severity of the local waste management problem.  We are still largely concentrating on the recollection and recycling practices and are not giving enough importance to a very important letter ‘R’, REDUCING WASTE.

So we set forth to make a difference and used the funds from the local Litter Less Campaign to produce No Junk Mail stickers. These were distributed to all the students at our school and given out to neighbours in our community. We believe that if we refuse this mail, the production of it will eventually decrease. This takes time, but every little helps.

We are ready to put a lot of effort into making a difference but we cannot understand how a commercial practice that is so obviously creating such a large amount of waste is still being allowed without any penalties in an era where everything can easily be accessible at the touch of a button over the internet through websites and social media. Therefore we urge local authorities to take things seriously and start to REFOCUS on REDUCING not just on recycling and eventually maybe really SORT THINGS OUT!!

The advertising brochure – a monster swallowing yearly a whole forest (Romania)

YRE Competition 2017
Litter Less Campaign
15-18 years

The advertising field extends the most convincing invitation of a company to a potential client. A hypermarket from Romania is using annualy for advertising materials the wood which equals with a forest providing the necessary oxygen for a population as large as the one of Bacau town. Unfortunately, the need for obtaining profit has transformed in a monster which swallows the forest!


Most hypermarkets are using advertising brochures for selling their products, but some really exaggerate when having sales. Despite their being made of recyclable paper, such brochures a a big waste.

Between 14-20 December 2016, I have investigated the advertising materials of a hypermarket from Bacau, which issues a weekly 24-page brochure, in big size (35/52 cm). There are offers for 163 products, the number of products per page varying between none (page 20, 21, 22, 23) and 13 (page 7, 15, 18). I consider that is an unjustified waste of paper on pages where half of the content is useless -”Live the Christmas Fresh” followed by an image of a specific Christmas product, without price and the next half there are promoted between 1 and 9 products. This is also in 1st, 2nd, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 and 24th page, so a total of 10 pages. This way, the mentioned 10 halves pages unnecessarily wasted pages sum 5 pages which could be economised.

If the total of 163 products were promoted properly, 10 or 11 per page, the brochure would be reduced to 16 pages, which means a cut of 33.3(3)%. The current paper which has 24 pages, weighs 100g and the new one would have 66.6(6) grams.

Fig. 1. - 100 grams of a tree life

Fig. 1. - 100 grams of a tree life

According to some statistics realised in June 2015, even by the target company, every single Monday there are distributed in Romanian houses over than 4.3 millions of brochures. If they were more economically formatted, instead of 430 tons of paper, there would be used 286.638 tons, which means an economy of 143,362t, or 717-1003 trees which will be not be weekly cut (5-7 trees for a ton of paper). And this only in Romania, where there are over than 100 markets, when Europe has over than 1000 markets. I do not have updated information at the European level, but I consider that what is happening at the local level is outrageous.

For a total of 52 weeks of release of such promotional materials, 22 360 tons of paper are consumed. Even if it were the most widely read brochure in Romania, if designed in an environmentally friendly way, we could save between 37.284 and 52.156 trees each year. Is it much or little?


I have designed a questionnaire and found the opinion of 25 citizens from Bacau city who accepted to answer 5 questions (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Completed questionnaires

Fig. 2. Completed questionnaires

Thus, found out that 72% of the people questioned do their shopping in one particular hypermarket and 28% don’t . 48% answered that they receive the supermarket brochure and 52% don’t. When asked if they read it, 20% answered that they always do this, 44% rarely, 32% never and 4% didn’t answer. 80% agreed with the material reducing by removing the blanks and the huge images, 12% disagreed and 8% didn’t answer (graph 1).

Answering the question ”What are you doing when the offer is no longer available?” I have found the following: 16% throw it, 44% use it in different purposes, 25% give it to be recycled and 15% didn’t answer (graph 2).

Graph 1. Do people wish the folder to be shortened? Graph 2. The whither of the folder

Analising the questionnaire, a lot of the hypermarket clients (32%) do not read the brochure. What is more, a lot of materials are delivered to uninhabited houses. In the block of flats in which I live, from 20 flats, 5 are not inhabited, so 25% do not have a consignee. Most respondents consider that the folder should be reduced (80%), even though 44% reuse them in other ways (for packaging, for animals, putting shoes on them etc.) and 25% recycle it. What is worrying is that 16% throw it away, whereas 44% who use them in other ways ignore that dirty or wet paper could not be recycled. Thus, assuming that 16% Romanian people throw away the advertising brochures, we obtain a value of 688 000 papers which reach the paper basket every week nationwide, or 68 800 kilos, summed at the end of every year 3 577 600 kilos, which is really concerning.


The study results of and the suggestion of recycling paper were communicated to the hypermarket (via e-mail) on 5th of February 2017. On February 9th, we received a response from the Broadcasting Department Director, who agreed with the ecological outlines mentioned in our suggestion so a project has been implemented for the paper recycle, project which will be also present in Bacau (fig. 3). On February 17th, I received another e-mail, this time from the Public Relations Department.

Fig. 3. Screenshots of the messages received via e-mail from the company

Fig. 3. Screenshots of the messages received via e-mail from the company


In conclusion, at our country level, there are are some solutions to be taken such as:

  • Reducing the page number by removing the unnecesary blanks or the over-sized images

  • Having a more efficient advertising distribution

  • Suggesting at the end of the brochure that it would be helpful for the environment if the population recycled it

  • Promoting the market and the products electronically (e-mail or text message)

In the interval 27.02-27.03.2017 I received smaller brochures from the hypermarket targeted, so I consider that the study has reached its goal. The company’s reaction was positive and I believe that, every year, a small forest could be saved from the WASTE monster’s teeth.


Author: Bîre Iulia-Gabriela (Romania)

Litter - Old issue, New chapter (Portugal)

YRE Competition 2017
Litter Less Campaign
19-21 years

How informed are you about the impact of your garbage? Does it remain only on land? Does it travel the seas to the other side of the globe? In order to find out how well informed people are, in March we held a series of interviews about marine pollution.

Ever since the last century we have struggled with the amount of garbage we produce, but only in the last decade have we really cared about the impact we have on the environment, with the growing accumulation of waste that has reached alarming proportions! One of the most focal points has been pollution of the marine environment and it is in this perspective that several people were interviewed in order to ascertain how informed they are about the influence that man has on the environment. Among them, Maria da Conceição Lopes, an activist from Quercus, who provided a more in-depth look at the seriousness of this problem, stands out.

The questions posed ranged from the basic concept of "marine litter" to the behaviours common citizens may or may not have, such as throwing trash to the ground. The interviewees were chosen to reflect the various sectors of our society, from workers to students and, within these, to young people with an interest in the environment, such as scouts.

After analysing the obtained answers, the amount of insight that each of the interviewees presented seemed more or less the same. However, when confronting other respondents' responses with those of the Quercus activist, we realized that most are unaware of the impacts they cause on a global scale, focusing heavily on local issues.

"People are very poorly informed about the consequences of their daily acts and activities", says the activist, explaining how the irresponsible consumption and disinterest of a large part of the population help increase the rampant accumulation of garbage. This lack of information can be seen because when asked what the impact of marine litter is on the environment and society all interviewees responded with the more "common" problems, such as the death of animals and the accumulation of litter on the beaches, but only a few addressed the fact that Man could be directly affected. "It impacts us directly because this waste enters the food chain", explains the activist.

Another discrepancy in the level of awareness of our interviewees was found when asked about solid and liquid materials that can contaminate the marine environment. "It's a world!", says Maria da Conceição Lopes. Other respondents always refer to plastic, coming from packaging, as the main contaminant. However, in this list we find other materials such as fishing rods, fishing nets, latex, insulating material, glass, etc ... From straws to domestic appliances, several are the items found in coastal areas or drifting in the sea, agglomerating in the so-called plastic islands. But this is a small section of the list, where the visible contaminants are pointed out, because "pollution that is not seen is the most problematic" the activist explains.

One example of this type of pollution is microplastics - plastic in its most fragmented state. It is an issue that has been aggravated over the years. Aiming for a more "environmentally friendly" approach, companies began to mass produce these plastics thought to be biodegradable, when in fact they were oxi-degradable, that is, degraded by the continuous exposure to air. With the false mass biodegradation of these plastics, the amount of microplastics increased exponentially. Thus, even if the rivers and seas are cleared of all visible pollution, they remain contaminated on a microscopic scale.

When asked about human actions which harm the environment, there is consensus on the lack of interest, that is, the lack of an "environmental conscience", as Miguel Ines, one of the interviewees, answered. But again, the answers are very much about the local situation. "This is not a local problem!" The activist recalls, explaining that the problem lies not only in large cities. In fact, it is in developing countries that we find a good part of this problem, because information in these places is not half of what we receive daily in developed countries. And the problem worsens when we explore this issue, "in addition to not being sensitized, they do not have the means to start doing so", says Maria da Conceição Lopes.

So how do we solve a problem this big?

This is the question that hangs over our heads when we realize the monster that the pollution of the marine environment has become. However, the solutions may be simpler than you think! "It is urgent to create legislation and fines", says the activist, explaining "people do better if they are penalized than if they are sensitized." In addition to these policy issues, there are a number of actions we can all take to help reduce waste. "Give a proper destination to your waste"suggests Maria da Conceição Lopes, and this is a suggestion which is also present in all the respondents' answers. Another proposition, coming from a group of scouts, is choosing to buy products with less packaging.

One more measure, suggested by Maria da Conceição, is to make more awareness campaigns and calling out to more participant. As a last suggestion, this time aimed at youngsters, is the promotion of environmental programs, such as the well-known “Maré Viva” that should be open to a greater number of interested parties.

As you can see, the “Litter problem” people are talking about nowadays, is no longer “candy wrap left on the sidewalk”, it has evolved in an uncontrolled way and spread all over the globe, invading the oceans and, therefore, bringing higher health risks to all of us. However, although it is a problem of monstrous proportions, a small act (such as putting candy wrap in the appropriate container or not leaving litter on the beach) can be a major contribution to the beginning of its eradication.

Cigarette beads collected during the Maré Viva program exposed at the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Pedra do Sal.

Cigarette beads collected during the Maré Viva program exposed at the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Pedra do Sal.