Anti-plastic activist Martin Dorey says children should ‘pester their parents’ to make better choices

Edwina Langley

“The original inspiration came from when I went to a beach 10 or 12 years ago and found it knee-deep in plastic. I vowed there and then to do something about it. I never imagined that it would turn into a book for children, I have to say.”

Martin Dorey is an anti-plastic activist, surfer and author who has recently penned Kids Fight Plastic, an illustrated and fact-brimming anti-plastic manual for children. Made-up of no less than 50 two-minute missions, each details how youngsters can do their bit in the battle against plastic – at home, at school, and beyond – earning themselves the title ‘#2MinuteSuperhero’ in the process.

The tasks laid out are straightforward and easy to follow: set up a recycling point at school, one suggests; be the ‘bag police’ banning your family from using plastic bags, says another; have a ‘pen amnesty’ and send your pens off for recycling, proposes a third. Packed full of statistics, it is informative, engaging and educational – and any adults who come across it may learn a thing or two from it as well.

“I just want children to think about what’s happening and what this plastic is doing,” Dorey says. “And to pester their parents into making better choices, to lead by example.”

If anyone knows how to do that – lead by example – it is Dorey himself. In 2009, he co-founded the not-for-profit organisation The Beach Clean Network Limited, encouraging Britons to take part in regular beach clean-ups. Following a series of storms four years later, he introduced the #2minutebeachclean; an initiative to highlight that beach cleaning needn’t be arduous and that much can be achieved in mere minutes. He’s been an anti-plastic campaigner ever since.

“#2minutebeachclean kicked off in 2013 and since then I have spent a lot of time on social media looking at what's happening,” Dorey explains. “I’m immersed in the subject ­– day in, day out – so actually the research [for this book] has been coming for a long time.”

Based in Bude, Cornwall, overlooking the sea, Dorey witnesses the devastating effects of plastic waste on Britain’s beaches first-hand. While he concedes the situation is “better than it was” – owing largely to local beach cleaning activities – he stresses, “as soon as you go off the main beaches, there’s quite often a lot of stuff that accumulates.”

“It’s quite heart-breaking,” he continues. “And I think over the last 10 years or so, we’re seeing less of the big stuff and more of the tiny stuff.”

(Martin Dorey)

By ‘tiny stuff’ what he means is, rubbish thrown up by Britain’s sea beds: cotton bud sticks, remnants of plastic bottles – from lids to smashed little fragments – discarded fishing gear and wet wipes. But where is it all coming from?

“The simple answer is that it’s coming from us,” says Dorey. “The more complicated answer is, it’s waste that’s been tipped or lost overboard; it’s coming down the rivers, from inland, and through waste treatment plants – cotton bud sticks escape, which is why we see so many of them.”

Bud sticks, wet wipes and sanitary products are often flushed down the loo, he explains, and as they don’t decompose – “wet wipes are basically plastic, as are a lot of tampons and pads” – they often end up in the sea. “It’s a simple connection,” he says.

“The other point is that, everything matters. Even if you live in London, if you chuck a bottle out of your car window, it’ll end up in the Thames and I’ll be picking it up from the beach a week later – metaphorically speaking,” he explains.

The solution, he thinks, is a concerted effort by all: bold action taken by governments (MPs ready to listen to the plastic lobby); bold action taken by corporations (businesses willing to take losses to cut plastic from their products and/or supply chain); bold action taken by individuals (thinking about each item’s ‘end of life’ – “if you can’t guarantee you know where it’s going, don’t use it,” Dorey advises).

“Education is key in all these areas,” he continues. “We need to educate people that there is plastic in most tea bags. We’ve been putting them on our compost heap for years, and they’ve been going straight on our garden. Why didn’t someone tell us? I find it really shocking, even now.”

Of course, what is perhaps most crucial of all is ensuring the next generation is aware of how prevalent the problem actually is. And this is where resources like Dorey’s book come in.

“I just want children to turn being a #2minutesuperhero into something their friends will want to do,” he says. “[Through each mission] they accumulate points – and become really good citizens of the future.”