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It is easy to get wrapped up in the fact that there is no hope when it comes to the environment or biodiversity crisis in a tough year like the one we’ve just had. But there are glimmers, in fact.
It is when we see tangible progress, rather than declarations of purpose, or the survival and return of things considered lost, that we see the brightest hope. It’s a golden eagle returning to a forest where no one has nested for decades, it’s a flame shell reef that lives in the Firth of Clyde, it’s people turning waste into something useful, it’s initiatives that help to build our carbon-free home heating future, it’s a song that reminds us we can come together.
We need to remember these things when we get demoralized. It is still not done. In some areas, nature is already rebuilding itself and thriving. There are individuals who are changing things for the better already. In the darkness, there is light.
Divers produce seed pots from marine debris.
What commercial diver Ally Mitchell saw on the job led him to build Ocean Plastic Pots, a business that transforms plant pots into marine debris. He got a job earlier this year, saving a ship, the Kaami, which had run aground on a reef north of Skye.
The ship,” he recalls, “had on it 1937 tons of pelletized refuse related fuel, which is essentially shredded waste material that they burn to produce ash as part of the concrete manufacturing sector. There was a pretty startling sight of the plastic floating in there. If some of that pellet waste had entered the environment, it would have been a pretty big spill, but luckily none of that happy spill, if any of that pellet waste had entered the environment.
Coincidentally, at the time, he was still thinking about the 26-ton sperm whale that had washed up four months earlier on Luskentyre beach with 100 kilos of dew and a fishing net in its stomach. It was the start of the lockdown, and he went home every night to read about recycling and plastic waste in the oceans, finding that every year 10,000 tons of plastic are poured into the North Sea – and that 11% of it is string.
“He says, “I have two young children, a three-year-old and a five-year-old who are really interested in planting and growing stuff in the garden, and I had this idea that we might use polypropylene to make plant pots. I knew that we threw away a phenomenal amount of polypropylene rope in my work – a bag of a ton every four weeks.”
With the concept of using rope and netting, as well as plastic obtained from beach cleanups, Mitchell started to experiment with the idea of making such plant pots by compression molding at home. His first try, he remembers, looked like a cracker of rice, but he soon made a real pot. “We kept playing and got better and better from then on. We wanted to take advantage of the raw material’s color.”
Now, to set up his own production line for such pots, he has partnered with a product design company and a producer, both based in Scotland. “We have embraced this concept of a circular economy – our pots are made from a waste material.” In no way can we adulterate it, and it’s very easy to recycle at the end of its life because it’s made of pure polypropylene. We even modified our stickers and started using a sticker made of polypropylene, which ensures that it doesn’t have to be removed and is easy to recycle.
However, the company of Mitchell offers hope because he’s not alone – he’s just one part of the growing circular economy. As we try to reuse our resources instead of throwing them away, he shows what we can accomplish.
Discovered flame shells near Arran
When divers discovered a rare living reef of flame shells in the Clyde, south of Arran, in December, it seemed like a small blazing beacon of hope. Such beds had all but vanished from the area of Clyde, having been ruined by bottom trawling, and in Loch Fyne was the only known remaining bed. But here was another, 10,000 square feet of enormous carpet.
The beds are our very own Great Barrier Reefs, living ecosystems that shelter enormous diversity and that, as defined by the community organization that discovered them, Jenny Stark of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST),