YOUNG people are regarded as the worst offenders when it comes to littering and recycling, writes Iona Nicol.
Almost a third of young people across the UK are not confident in their recycling capabilities, and 19 per cent admitted to not putting much thought into what they throw away, according to a BBC report.
In recent years there have been numerous pushes to improve recycling habits amongst young people, and this urge is only growing stronger.
Each year our plastic usage drastically increases, adding to the estimated 150 million metric tons of plastic and waste already holding our oceans and landscapes in a deadly chokehold.
To put this into perspective, roughly one rubbish truck full of waste is dumped into the ocean per minute. Not only is this harmful to our oceans, it is harmful to the hundreds of species that call it their home.
Most plastics are not biodegradable, never fully break down and typically take more than 400 years to degrade.
The plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces and will be digested by marine life; entering the food chain. This will eventually be successful in killing thousands of animals that do not have the ability to regurgitate or digest the harmful pollutants.
With Shetland’s annual litter pick Da Voar Redd Up in full swing this weekend, three young people have lent their voices to provide unique insight into their views on recycling and littering.
“I have only taken part in Da Voar Redd Up during primary school. The experience was enjoyable just as any activity outwith school was,” Joe Smith, 18, from Burra stated.
However, when asked if the experience made him more conscious about recycling and littering he added: “Not really, I was a bit young for that.
“I’m pretty sure I received information on recycling and littering in primary school, I can imagine I did in secondary as well, don’t remember anything specific though.
“I think that it should be something that is covered in school. Maybe in a class like PSE. It’s important to know but really, it’s limited how much you can say to recycle. I recycle glass but that’s it at the moment.”
Over 20 per cent of Shetland’s population take part in the annual Da Voar Redd Up. Now in its 31st year, the organisation can be credited for successfully removing over 1,800 tonnes of rubbish from Shetland’s environment.
However, Joe added that he will not be taking part this year: “I just can’t be bothered. I would say it’s partly because of my work, but really if I didn’t work anywhere, I probably still wouldn’t.”
On the contrary, Damian Ryder, 19, takes pride in educating himself on issues such as recycling and waste: “I’ve been vegetarian for almost ten years. The environment and the conservation of it is just a subject that I am particularly interested in.
“At school, I never had the opportunity to take part in Da Voar Redd Up, however, I have previously taken part through my own initiative and my continued interest in the subject.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t even know that this year’s Da Voar Redd Up was coming up. It hasn’t been advertised as well as it should be.
“I was also not aware that smaller redd up’s take place throughout the year. I think that if the group want to engage with young people more and encourage them to take part, they should be utilising all forms of advertisement, social media particularly.
“I currently try to recycle as much as I possibly can. Though I think that it is terrible that the council don’t provide recycling bags for all areas of Shetland, and I feel that most Shetlanders don’t even know if there is a publicly accessible recycling plant.”
‘We all can do something’
In January, SIC councillor Ryan Thomson began a campaign to end the use of single-use plastics in Shetland. Beginning with his own business Tagon Stores in Voe, he stopped selling plastic cups and plastic straws.
Five other local shops from across the islands have since followed suit.
“No, I don’t think that stopping the use of single-use plastic will save the world and the mess that we have created. However, we must begin with small changes and then work our way up to implement larger. We can all do something, we all have to do our bit, even if ‘our bit’ that is not using plastic straws or cutlery,” Damian added.
More recently, in March, Shetland Islands Council implemented a recycling scheme over two areas – Brae and Muckle Roe. The two areas are part of a recycling scheme that will be rolled out across the whole of Shetland in the summer.
The scheme was approved to improve Shetland’s pitiful recycling rate of just nine per cent compared to the average national recycling rate of 44 per cent. The Scottish Government has pledged to increase this to 70 per cent by 2025.
Jordan Clark, 23, from Brae said that this figure is “completely attainable.”
“I think that this can be done overnight. With the right starting point, the change should not be difficult.
“People should just get on with it. Our generation has decided that this is something we want to focus on. If you disagree, you are behind the times. We must learn to accept progressive change.”
Jordan added that he is an avid surfer and spends a large amount of his spare time at many of Shetland’s beaches. While there, he takes the time to pick up any litter and makes sure that it is disposed of properly.
“It is our duty as humans, to take the responsibility for the waste that we have produced. It is our responsibility to look after our beaches and I want to see them clean.
“I was bullied when I was younger because I used to pick up litter after school had finished. I’ve always cared, it’s natural to me to care, and this has carried on into my adult life.”
As well as being an keen surfer, Jordan also takes great interest in art and creating art that has an impact.
“My girlfriend and I found a dead seal on the beach a few weeks ago. I have plans to make a cast of the bones and then fill the cast with bits of plastic and rubbish. I think it will absolutely have a positive effect as it shows the situation in a truthfully gruesome light and it would hopefully influence people to review their actions.”
In late 2017, the BBC released the highly anticipated documentary series, Blue Planet 2. Millions of viewers were left shocked by the final episode of the series that shone an unflinching light upon human activity and its impact on marine life. For example, a mother albatross unknowingly feeding her babies plastic.
“I think that to get young people to care, we need to push the harsh reality of littering and plastic waste. Short educational videos that feature the heinous impact of human waste on marine animals would definitely have an effect just as Blue Planet 2 did.
“I think we should make Da Voar Redd Up a Shetland wide event. It would be good to see everyone taking part in something so crucial.” Jordan added.
“Littering is just laziness. If you buy something, it is your responsibility to make sure you dispose of it properly. We should be working to make a difference.”
Jordan added that education was “our greatest tool” and that we should be using that tool to make the necessary changes to heal the planet. Everyone, young and old should be working collectively to decontaminate our seas and to power an anti-plastic revolution.