Watching news about the environment on TV can be depressing. Whether it’s climate change or the disappearance of another animal species, it seems as if there’s nothing we can do to change things. The problems seem so big that it’s difficult to imagine how we as individuals can do anything about them. Rebecca Hosking however thought differently and her story can be an example to all of us.
Rebecca is a wildlife camerawoman and she was filming a documentary for the BBC in the Pacific Ocean when she saw something that made her cry—hundreds of dead birds that had died because they had accidentally eaten some of the tonnes of plastic that is thrown into the sea each year. Beaches in Honolulu and other Pacific islands that should have been some of the most beautiful places in the world were covered with plastic toys, drinks bottles, keyboards, pens, cigarette lighters—every plastic thing you can think of. As well as seabirds other animals were suffering—whales, dolphins, seals, turtles—Rebecca saw the suffering that was being caused by thrown away plastic.
At this point, most of us would have felt sad and helpless but Rebecca decided she had to do something. Back at home she thought about what she could do to help solve the problem of throwaway plastic. In her home town of Modbury in the south west of England she showed a film from the island to local shopkeepers and asked them if they could do one thing to help. She asked them to stop using plastic bags in their shops.
Rebecca expected the shopkeepers to refuse. Plastic bags are used everywhere in Britain—every supermarket, every corner shop—and customers expect to be given something to carry their shopping in. The numbers are amazing. Britain uses nearly 17 billion plastic bags each year. That’s 300 for every man, woman and child in the country. And the bags can take hundreds of years to break down because they are chemical rather than natural so each year the sea and the environment become more and more polluted.
To Rebecca’s surprise, the shopkeepers agreed and Modbury became the first plastic-bag free town in Britain. Shops offered reusable cotton bags or biodegradable bags. People in the town got used to taking a shopping bag with them to the supermarket—just like their grandparents had done beforeplastic bags were invented.
In the months that followed, other towns in Britain followed Modbury’s example. The small town of Hebden Bridge in northern England became the second plastic bag free town when four women there saw Rebecca’s film and decided to act. Like Rebecca, they expected opposition from shopkeepers but found that they were pushing an open door. ‘It’s a no-brainer,’ says one of the Hebden Bridge ‘bag ladies,’ ‘Plastic bags are not greatly loved. They’re useful but we don’t really need them and people are happy to help try to change things.’
More and more towns around Britain and around the world are becoming plastic bag free. It won’t solve all of the world’s environmental problems but it shows that people are becoming active and starting to think about how the little things in their daily lives can have a big effect in the world. It also shows us that when we watch the news and feel helpless there is something we can do and that one person can make a big change with a strong enough belief.