2019, an outstanding year, ends on 2020 hopes

2019 was an exceptional year for Plastic@Bay. We have been very lucky and met so many fantastic people it is impossible to thank them all. We have received a lot and we would like to show you what we have done with your help, encouragement and money.

First We got funding!

We started with a very generous donation and we where aiming at do what we can with it. Then two of our applications were successful. First, we received from 100% SSE Sustainable Development Fund to start up our plastic recycling workshop, and the second 75% funding from FLAG to purchase an electric quad and trailer. It was hard to believe our luck but we decided to invest all our energy in it. Joan was to be the manager, Roz our advisor and Julien quit his job and became the strategic operator. Our first difficulty was to find a building

We got a building!

At start, we wanted to install our lab into a self-sufficient container. That was expensive but easy to set up. Our friend Charlie had a room where she used to have her shop in Balnakeil Craft Village. The room was in a terrible state and we spent a lot of time and energy to make it into a public space and a working lab.

Meanwhile the machinery was starting to come together. Here is the shredder arriving. It is an industrial one, so 3 phase power was needed. The room was not even empty from stuff people had left in Charlie’s shop. Needless to say we had no mean of running it anytime soon.

We also found Sam Barlow, Blacksmith and owner of Mooreworks in Lairg. He helped us making the frame of the compressor which would be the base of all our future tests.

We recycled marine plastic pollution!

For some people it might be obvious but we didn’t know what was the composition of the ropes and nets we were collecting. We didn’t know much to be honest. Multiple reports and people were advising us not to try to recycle marine plastics. However we knew of some factories which were doing it abroad. Since Joan and Julien are scientists, they read the scientific literature and could not find why not.

This is the very first attempt of recycling a fishing net we found on the beach. It was kind of a special moment where things worked properly when we didn’t expect it to. For the story, the net we melted is so large that we have not yet finished extracting it from the sand dunes of the second beach of Balnakeil.

We have since made quite some progress. We now make stock jewelry, clocks, tidal clocks, tiles, coasters, fridge magnets (numbers and letters) and mobiles, all made from recycled fishing ropes and nets, and shredded old fish crates and oil drums.


We also learned to upcycle marine waste, here we are in Orkney with Mark Cook from Afrayedknot learning to make door mats from old fishing ropes. We also upcycle buoys into soap dishes and tooth brush holders. We have integrated a lot of material into our building. We are planning to make shelters from fish farm feeder pipes to give ideas of upcycling to other beach cleaners.

We hired rangers!

Scott Galbraith at the end of Balnakeil Bay

Spring 2019, we hired Hannah Smith our first Beach Ranger. Scott Galbraith took over the position from November 2019 to January 2020, and we will have Jim Bunting starting with us February 2020. Having a Beach Ranger on board has significantly increased the amount to plastic pollution removed from the beaches weekly. Beach rangers also monitor much more parameters than we used to. They are critical as the interface between us and the visitors which are generally oblivious of the quantity of plastic received in NW Scotland. In 2020, we hope to secure funding for two Beach Rangers, to continue the amazing work.

Plastic Lab: Plastic alternatives and workshops

We now stock plastic alternatives at the Plastic Lab, to promote Plastic Free lifestyle. We make a point of selling affordable simple products which are difficult to find in the area. We also offer workshops on recycling plastic waste to groups wanting to setup similar workshop to the Plastic Lab.

Plastic@Bay in the media

The media have been very interested in our activities this year. The Northern Times (click here for catalogue of news stories) have been very supportive and regularly ran stories about our beach cleaning and recycling workshop, sometimes these stories even made it on national newspapers. We have been on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Alba. We have slowly gained subscribers to our newsletters, followers on Facebook, on Twitter and on Instagram. We also have some cool projects in the pipe line, like a video documentary made by students at the film and television degree of the University of Edinburgh (the first short and descriptions: Think plastic). We also got the visit of an amazing person and photographer Elke Frotscher. She is preparing a book on our coast, what is going in terms of pollution and what we are trying to do. We have seen some of the shots, it will certainly be a beautiful piece.

We got some cool research results!

December Balnakeil bay pollution report.

We have produced at least one plastic pollution report each month of 2019. Thanks to our 2 successive rangers we even had higher resolution measurements compared to the previous years. We determined that pollution should be measured every 4 days to be sure of capturing change of pollution rates. In 2019, we did 49 beach cleans on Balnakeil Bay and we recovered 959 kg of pollution. That’s roughly equivalent to the 1025.5 kg we collected in 2018. Bringing the total of plastic removed from Balnakeil Bay since we started monitoring in April 2017 to 3410 kg. Overall we think we collected about 5 tons of plastic in NW Scotland this year.

This numerical simulation reproduces a typical storm pattern in the area and matches the pollution rates we obtain in Balnakeil Bay. The floating plastic particles are the red dots. notice that the tides pumps high concentration of plastic inside the Kyle of Durness. The wind then shores it in Balnakeil Bay beyond the tide line, creating a consequent accumulation of plastic.

We have started collaborating with an environmental consultant doing oceanographic transport simulations. We now have made some runs and obtained preliminary results illustrating the reason why plastic gets concentrated and accumulates in Balnakeil Bay and other local places we know are badly affected (see simulation above).

We cleaned and we cleaned and we cleaned more

We have many plans for 2020!

Expansion plans for the year to come. Red is extreme pollution¸ green is were we manage to cope with a single part-time ranger.

We are applying for funding to create small factories in active fishing harbours. The plastic lab has successfully produced many different type of objects and there is much to come again as we are currently testing continuous production. The plan is to produce construction material from marine pollution but also old nets and ropes. Ideally we hope to be able in a couple of years to pay boats and cleaning groups/individual for the material they bring to the factories. We think that there could be as much as 1000 tons of plastic to remove from hard to reach areas.

We are also working on securing the salary for 2 rangers simultaneously as well as a boat to access hard-to reach coastlines. This will not be easy since most people are used to getting volunteers only to cleanup the coast. Considering the certain increase of plastic volumes at sea, we believe that this is a job which needs to appear in the most affected coastlines. Professionals need to be trained to access all parts of the coast, monitor the pollution but also participate in biological recordings in these places where nobody goes.

Finally, we are developing new research in the domain of marine plastic pollution. We recently started monitoring the ratio of sinking plastic against the floating one. We realised that up to 50% of plastic was traveling on the sea-bed. We are thus trying to finance a small bathymetric campaign to find potential local plastic sinks. We also plan to survey with an autonomous vehicle which has been lent to us. This with a new coring campaign will complete our vision of plastic movement in the Balnakeil Bay area, increasing our understanding of the flow of plastic in our environment from the ocean towards the coastal area.

We could not do without your support and your help, thanks again! We wish you a great, exciting and prosperous new year 2020!

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