Raising awareness of plastic pollution at the Tokyo Olympics
This week, British Olympic Champion Hannah Mills retained her gold at the Tokyo Olympics, becoming the most successful female sailor ever at the Games. That is not her only achievement: she also brought an Interreg-funded initiative all the way to Japan, to gather momentum in the fight against plastic pollution.need translation with this page?
Ahead of departure for Tokyo, British Olympic athletes could find an intriguing item in their kit bags: a flyer from Interreg project Preventing Plastic Pollution. The handout entrusts the members of Team Great Britain with a mission: to become plastic pollution prevention ambassadors during the Tokyo Olympics and beyond.
This initiative is the result of a collaboration between Preventing Plastic Pollution, the UK Environment Agency and Hannah Mills, British Olympic Champion in sailing, flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony and founder of the Big Plastic pledge.
Hannah Mills’ Big Plastic pledge is a global campaign supported by the International Olympic Committee addressing the issue of plastic pollution, aiming to combat single-use plastic in sport.
Mills recently told the story behind her campaign in a BBC interview:
“Being a sailor, out in the oceans, I have seen first-hand the plastic pollution crisis that we are facing – particularly in the Rio Olympics […]. We would sail through tidelines in the sea, which are bits of water where debris just collects, and we would just see hundreds and hundreds of bits of plastic. It was heart-breaking and that inspired me to set up the Big Plastic Pledge.”
The Olympic Champion decided to use the Tokyo Olympics as a platform to involve Team Great Britain and the wider public in her fight – with the help of Preventing Plastic Pollution project. The flyer included in Team GB kit bags features the Preventing Plastic Pollution ‘Make Your Pledge’ initiative, with three key messages for the athletes:
- Make one simple change, like using a bamboo toothbrush instead of plastic varieties,
- Shout about your preventing plastic pollution support, and
- Use your position as worldwide role model to influence others.
Prior to her departure for Tokyo, Hannah Mills expressed her enthusiasm regarding the initiative: “It’s great to have this message in the Team GB kit bags. I believe through the power of sport, we can change the fate of our planet.”
It’s great to have this message in the Team GB kit bags. I believe through the power of sport, we can change the fate of our planet.
This enthusiasm was shared by Carolyn Reid, Programme Manager of the Interreg France (Channel) England programme: “We are extremely proud to see plastic pollution highlighted as a key issue at the Tokyo Olympics. Thank you to Olympic champion Hannah Mills for getting behind the Preventing Plastic Pollution project and using her platform to inspire many other people around the world to make a small change that collectively can have a huge impact in protecting our planet.”
Thank you to Olympic champion Hannah Mills for getting behind the Preventing Plastic Pollution project and using her platform to inspire many other people around the world.
Environment Agency project officer Hannah Amor commented: “Everyone has a part to play in minimising the amount of avoidable plastic they use. It is estimated that 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the environment each year – that is a bin lorry load every minute. If everyone kicks plastic out of sport and is kinder to our planet, we could see this staggering figure reduce, helping to protect our wellbeing and wildlife for generations to come.”
The mission of cross-border project Preventing Plastic Pollution is to understand and reduce the impacts of plastic pollution in the marine environment. Together, with its partners in the UK and France, the project is out to identify origins of marine plastic pollution, in order to effectively target its sources in the future.
Besides the Olympic Games, the project has also raised awareness on plastic pollution among various communities and industries, through organising events such as workshops and sea trekking expeditions in Brittany to repair cafes in Normandy and litter pick events on both sides of the Channel.
One of its biggest initiatives to date has been its ‘Pick a Pledge’ campaign, which encourages businesses and members of the public to make some small changes in their everyday habits, that together can make a huge difference for tackling plastic pollution. It is not too late to take part – there are a range of resources available for individuals, schools and communities.
As we’ve seen, Preventing Plastic Pollution is now tackling the issue of single-use plastics in sport. The next steps in the battle after the Olympics campaign will consist of sending leaflets and case studies about reducing avoidable plastic waste at events and stadiums to actors across the sports industry. The materials encourage the sports industry to address the issue by introducing water refill stations, minimising food packaging and recycling bins, among others.
As we currently discuss the EU Plastics Strategy, with the EU Directive on single-use plastics entering into force in July, the Tokyo Olympics are a timely reminder that all sectors of society need to come on board to fight this pressing environmental issue.
Barzin Viel-Bonyadi works as a Communications Support Officer at the Interreg France (Channel) England Programme