SHETLAND’s long-running environmental awareness campaign Dunna Chuck Bruck has positively changed attitudes and has certainly not failed despite the problem of ever-growing amounts of plastic litter.
That was the verdict of the Althing following a two hour-long debate at Lerwick’s Islesburgh Community Centre on Saturday night.
Just 20 folk had followed the debating society’s invitation to hear four speakers talk in favour of and against the motion that Dunna Chuck Bruck has failed.
A straw poll at the start of the evening revealed that the vast majority of those attending hadn’t made up their mind: twelve people were undecided, five raised their hands against and just one agreed with the motion.
The awareness campaign was launched more than 30 years ago by Shetland Amenity Trust to educate islanders about litter and its negative impact, cleaning up Shetland’s country side of disbanded cars and agricultural machinery, tackling the issue of coastal litter, and organising the annual spring clean-up Da Voar Redd Up.
The first speaker, isles councillor and anti-plastic campaigner Ryan Thomson, had set himself the somewhat difficult task to explain why he thought the awareness campaign had failed while at the same time praising it in the highest tone.
“The work they do is fantastic,” he said. “The interaction with the schools and youth groups, the information packs, Da Voar Redd Up, the Dunna Chuck Bruck challenge, the Dunna Chuck Bruck scavenger hunt.
“Do I think Dunna Chuck Bruck is a fantastic initiative? Yes, it’s brilliant. Has Dunna Chuck Bruck failed, Yes, it has.”
And that’s because attitudes toward littering hadn’t changed, he insisted, as a majority of people were still chucking bruck, and Shetland’s roadside ditches and beaches were full of rubbish year after year.
“Joe Bloggs will pop along a shop, drink a bottle of water, and fling it out of the car, never to be thought of again. Out of sight out of mind,” he said.
Despite being a necessary organisation, Dunna Chuck Bruck has not been successful in changing current human habits and therefore had “unfortunately, failed.”
Speaking against the motion, Jonathan Wills said the initiative has been highly successful in removing 20,000 tonnes of old cars and scrap metal from across the islands, has attracted 20 per cent of the population to help cleaning beaches and roadside ditches every spring, and has been the brainchild behind the now national Fishing for Litter campaign which removes marine litter from the sea.
Far from having failed, the awareness campaign has punched well above its weight for many years, and should be valued in its own right and should not be mixed up with the public’s sudden awareness of the dangers of microplastics.
“Some would argue that David Attenborough has succeeded where Dunna Chuck Bruck has failed,” he said.
“Certainly public awareness has massively increased since the revelation that minute fragments of plastic were threatening the ecology of the sea by getting into the food chain.
“I am extremely glad that Blue Planet II seems to have persuaded at least some of our lawmakers to look at some of the solutions that have been obvious for at least two decades: ban some single-use plastics altogether, use the tax system to penalise problem plastics and favour traditional and renewable substitute like jute, cotton, wool, glass and wood.
“The failure is not a failure of Dunna Chuck Bruck, it is a failure of government.”
Second speaker in support of the motion, southend councillor Robbie McGregor, said Dunna Chuck Bruck had failed not of its own making but because of the irresponsible use of plastic.
A single once used plastic bottle takes 450 years to break up, and the only sensible solution was a general of ban of single-use plastics, he said.
The final speaker before the tea break was Chris Bunyan, who challenged Thomson and McGregor’s stance by saying they were confusing the arguments as it was not plastic that was the topic here, but whether or not a local organisation had failed in its objectives.
He added: “Just because our roadsides and beaches are still polluted – although I think less so than 30 years ago – it doesn’t mean this campaign has been a failure – just the opposite.
“The Dunna Chuck Bruck campaign, including the Voar Redd Up, is primarily intended to change things in Shetland and, in that, it has been remarkably successful. Attitudes have very definitely changed over the past three decades.
“I’m willing to bet a good number of the older folk here tonight are guilty of chucking bruck in times past – pushing old cars over the banks is just one example – but today most of us would never dream of chucking a sandwich pack out of a car window.”
Following the break, Althing chairman Andrew Halcrow opened the debate to the floor and invited questions and contributions.
Councillor Stephen Leask advocated plastic bottles to be returned to the retailer for a refund, a scheme that has worked high successfully in other European countries and recycled 97 per cent of plastic bottles.
A similar scheme for agricultural plastic also needed to be urgently re-introduced, he said.
Dave Pepper said it was clear to him that little had changed; in fact, it had got worse.
“We say the right words but we haven’t changed the way we act,” he said, pointing out that the audience were sipping their tea and coffee from cardboard cups that had plastic liners.
“How many of you have stopped to pick up rubbish last week?” he asked, and concluded that that “our mindset hasn’t changed”.
Chris Bunyan responded by saying that the motion was that Dunna Chuck Bruck “has failed”, not that “it is failing”.
Pepper replied: “The aim was to make us act better. It hasn’t and therefore it has failed.”
Stuart Hay asked the audience to consider that back in 1986 the campaign had worked, however today perhaps it needed rethinking.
“There is less chucking,” he said, “but we are using more stuff.”
In summing up at the end of the night, Wills said: “Dunna Chuck Bruck has changed attitudes, it has been trying for 30 years, has often succeeded and has certainly not failed.”
Thomson said he didn’t want the campaign to fail but since people are still chucking stuff away it appeaed to him that Dunna Chuck Bruck had failed.
When Halcrow asked the audience to raise their hands again there were only three left who weren’t sure how to vote. The motion was clearly defeated by 13 to four votes.