Keynsham Wombles started as a reaction to the increasing amount of litter in our community, but we soon started to realise we’d created something really special. Not only were we a growing band of really effective litter pickers, but we were also bringing our community together to solve a problem which affects everyone by devising creative ways of reducing litter before it even hits the ground.
We’ve realised the power of working together across communities, how great tackling something shoulder to shoulder can make us feel and how by involving more and more people in our community that we can actually start to change what is considered to be ‘normal’ behaviour as well as redefining what we mean by litter.
Changing the mindset of a whole community may seem to be an impossible thing to do, but we really believe this is starting to happen in our town. Just seeing other people litter picking is a start, talking about it and writing about it over a period of time does make a difference.
If streets covered in litter in your community is normal, then people will just accept it, but if they are usually clean, people will see litter as something which shouldn’t be there and their subconscious behaviour changes accordingly. Of course not everyone changes immediately, but by keeping going and gradually influencing some people, eventually, a tipping point is reached where the majority of people are interested and aware.
Keynsham Music Festival
We’ve been litter picking our local Music Festival for four years now. Prior to this it was normal for the festival to be knee deep in litter with the local council workers doing their best to clean up the mess on the following Monday.
In 2014 Keynsham Wombles became the ‘official’ litter pickers for this event and it has become one of our major fundraisers for the year. However, raising money for our work year round is only one of the benefits, having such a visible presence at our town’s biggest annual event has raised our profile hugely - awareness of our group and work is now high.
The festival goers expect us to be there and patterns of litter have changed accordingly. We are constantly asked if we are recycling (we are increasing the available recycling year on year working with the event organisers) and the amount of litter left behind is greatly reduced. The festival organisers work with us, changing the information given to traders in advance of the event so that now all food containers and cutlery are biodegradable. They also introduced reusable beer mugs which have had a transformative effect and are looking at every aspect of plastic use over the festival to reduce it in future.
Cigarette butts were (and to an extent still are) a significant problem at the festival. To counter this we have been giving out free pocket ashtrays which are being increasingly used at the festival, and some people even come to visit us each year for a new supply which they use year round. There is still work to do in this area, but this is always a great opportunity to explain about cigarette butts and their harm to wildlife.
Keynsham Plastic Re-Action
Kathy Farrell of Avon Wildlife Group put on a showing of Plastic Ocean in June 2017 as part of the Festival of Nature, and a few members of Keynsham Wombles were in the audience. Even for those of us who regularly litter pick and do what we can to reduce the amount of plastic in our weekly shop it was a wake-up call.
Afterward, Helen Stone and Fiona Edwards met with Keynsham Wombles and asked the question ‘How can we change things in our community?’ - driven forward by Kathy, Helen and Fiona, Keynsham Plastic Re-Action was formed.
Little could we have anticipated the reaction we would cause. We planned a shop at our local Tescos store where we wrote to the manager in advance. The store staff were helpful and understanding of our protest, but as things turned out, they probably should have had their national media manager in attendance! Kathy had the foresight to film us shopping, removing the packaging and talking about why we were doing it and why we felt so strongly about plastics. Kathy then posted this to our Facebook account and we all shared it with local media contacts.
We were really lucky that Michael Gove chose that weekend to make an announcement on the government’s targets for plastic reduction. BBC Radio Bristol picked up ourfilm and interviewed various of us for their morning radio programme - and then it just went viral with TV and radio interviews and social media views climbing, eventually reaching 18.5 million, the kind of reach most professional media consultants can only dream of. All this has resulted in a worldwide movement of people taking reusable containers when they shop and then leaving the plastic packaging behind - just making the point to the retailer that we want them to change the packaging they offer us. Of course, we still need packaging to keep food fresh and free from contamination, but does it have to be plastic which will be in our environment for ever?
You can see the video on the BBC website here.
Have you tried to reduce the amount of plastic packaging you buy? It’s not easy I know. I’ve started by always taking a bottle of water and a reusable coffee cup with me. We’ve also noticed a change in the shops in our town and increasingly I’m finding I can use own container - is this happening in your community? If not, are there any local shop keepers you could ask to change their packaging, or allow customers to bring their own containers?
Photograph credit, Clare Anderson | www.nowandforalways.co.uk
Keynsham Cigarette Project
Cigarette litter is a considerable issue in our town due to the volumes discarded in our streets and parks. For us this is a significant issue as they are fiddly to litter pick and because of the harm they cause to animals, such as hedgehogs, who become addicted to the nicotine and so actively search out cigarette butts causing them to starve to death.
We believe many smokers don’t realise cigarette butts contain plastic and so mistakenly think they will just break down harmlessly. To counter this we hoped to create a smoking area (we’d seen an example at Euston Station) and managed to get funding for the project, but were unable to agree a spot for this to take place with our local authority. We adapted the plan and produced posters highlighting the fact that the bins in our town centre all have integral ashtrays (they were black and so hard to see), plus we designed Womble footprints from seating areas to the nearest bin. We are currently monitoring cigarette butt numbers to see if this has any effect on behaviour.
In addition, we commissioned ‘flower pot’ ashtrays, hand painted by the lovely people at Banwell Pottery. These are all unique and feature pictures of animals and fish and a message saying ‘thank you for stubbing your butt and keeping me safe from harm’. We’ve given these to each cafe and pub with outside seating in our town and they have been hugely popular - we hope spreading the message in a way which breeds cooperation, rather than ‘telling’ and risking resistance. We have had some stolen, but are having more made to give this project a proper try.