2020 was a roller-coaster

We started the year with important cleanup operations while in the background, the news of the virus in Asia and the reports from the Precious Plastic community getting more and more alarming seemed odd until it got scary. We really feared for people and for Plastic@Bay. We feel lucky that the company still exists and that we are still here to combat both plastic pollution and the death of our ocean. A few stories about what happened during the year while we were maybe a bit less communicative than usual because of the shear amount of work to do and the responsibilities we shoulder.

The ranger service ended in April 2020

That was probably the worst for the area in terms of plastic pollution control. We have written so many applications over the years to finance this essential service, we lost count. Rangers are at the forefront of the battle we are having with the endless income of plastic on our coastline. Unfortunately, Plastic@Bay doesn’t generate enough income to continue the service and a large number of institutions do not want to pay the salary of a ranger. We are working very hard to change this situation.

COVID, PPE and crowdfunding

In February, the reports of our friends in Asia where very alarming. The world of the open-source quickly organised to support the health system of different countries that ran out of basically everything in a couple of weeks. Numerous people in the Precious Plastic community worked toward producing a large number of efficient PPE equipment and other utilitarian objects to limit the spread of the virus.

We decided to make face shields because that was what seemed the easiest and most efficient to make for protecting people. We have developed a unique design that could be used all over the world. We have also communicated this design to the Precious Plastic community with a How-to.

Thanks to a successful Aviva Crowdfunding campaign, we got £5000 for this project. This allowed us to pay for the modification of the workshop to include continuous extrusion and the development of new low-tech techniques in the Precious Plastic environment.

Unfortunately, the legislation around PPE changed in the early summer and small companies like us had to pay £4000 to apply for certification by the state (while there were still stock issues) without any guarantees we would have it although we had all our equipment tested. Then the final blow was when businesses were asked to not use face shield but only masks. We ended up with a massive stock and an investment we could not get back.

The Plastic pollution

Looking at our dedicated page, we can see that 2020 shows a similar pattern than the other year, insane pollution during the winter and limited pollution during the summer. The main difference was that the pollution peaked in February while previously it was in December. We collected 1500 kg on Balnakeil Bay only. It is c. 50 % more than the previous years with about 5kg/day of average pollution. We haven’t surveyed the size of plastic debris but it seems that we receive more and more small plastic fragments and nurdles too. 2021 is ramping up in terms of pollution at the moment and we cannot catch up with what is coming in. We need to hold on and continue cleaning as much as we can.

The lab was mostly closed

When the virus hit the area we had to close the workshop until further notice. We continued to clean up the beach and do our R&D but the public was not allowed in most of the time. The reason is that the lab is pressurised so that plastic particles are trapped and the air gets filtered inside. However, we thought that if someone contaminated would come in, because of the airflow, we would cover our lab with the virus and risking infecting ourselves or our customers. We then popped up a large tent for a while to welcome people in the summer but it got broken by a storm. So basically without our online sales, donations and grant we would have had nearly no income this year.

From the ATV … to the UTV

Our new UTV

We had an electric quad with which had quite some previous issues early on but we managed to get over it. Finally, the quad broke down in April, the motor clearly not meant to be in a tough outdoor environment like ours. After several months of conflict, attempts to repair, we managed to get rid of it an get back 40% of the initial price after only one year of light use. Thanks to a very generous donation by the same people that helped us launch Plastic@Bay CIC, we managed to buy a new off-road vehicle which is actually build for the job. We are sorry it runs on petrol but we thought that the carbon footprint of changing vehicle each year was a bit too high compared to a reliable thermic vehicle. So we have a Polaris Ranger with a tipping flat bed and a winch. It is going absolutely everywhere, has 10 times more range, doesn’t use much petrol and you can sit 2 rangers in it.

We have an intern engineer

We had Guillaume Pic-Rivière from INSA-Rennes coming over this summer to develop our new system of continuous extrusion. He helped us with many things that included the cooling system of the extrusion line, the design of a new die and diverse other tasks. It is not over! he will be working for us again in 2021 on a new exciting project. It is still a secret, be patient.

We launched a citizen science portal

At the end of May we put online a system for individual or groups to record their beach cleaning data. The idea is to empower people by illustrating how much they collect, to allow communicating with the authorities and finally to generate data to calibrate our oceanographic models of plastic motion. When compiling data, we were stunned by the quantities of plastic coming out of the ocean. We are convinced that the public doesn’t realise how much plastic is out there and how dangerous this could be for life on our planet.

And tried to do a bit of science

We were sponsored by Marine Scotland to try finding plastic denser than water on the sea-bed. We did a little tour with an underwater drone lent to us. Unfortunately we didn’t find any. We are hoping for a good day to have a look during the winter as we collect up to 70% of plastic denser than water.

We communicated a bit

We have participated to a few conferences, TV shows, scientific paper and press releases during this year. Instead of repeating the content, we have dedicated a page where we share the content of these communications. From the interest of having an online portal to record plastic pollution to the links between plastic pollution and climate change, and passing through the oceanography /sedimentology of plastic pollution, we have tried to transmit what we are learning. You can also visit our YouTube channel where we post ours videos and link videos we are involved with.

We entered a new market

Over the year we accumulated quite a bit of plastic and we don’t have the time to process it all. Because Ocean plastics are such an issue but not so easily available, a lot of groups are interested in making object or testing the plastic to make use of it. So we have started selling shredded ocean plastics. This led us to communicate with people all over the place having some really interesting projects… The craziest being indeed the giant 3D printer of Bloft Design.

We had a few successful grants

On top of the Aviva Crowdfunding campaign, we managed to get money on different projects. The first one was a grant from Marine Scotland for the sea-bed survey. Nature Scot has allocated us a grant to design a mould for making skipping rope handles out of ocean plastic. We also had a grant from Scotland Loves Local to make a website promoting local businesses and paying for an adverted in the regional newspaper. This allowed us to keep afloat through 2020 as we carried on some core activities thanks to volunteers.

What lies ahead in 2021?

We have great plans for 2021 as we are hoping for some really disruptive technology to be developed. It seems that there are all the chances it will happen, we will keep you posted. We also hope to get our community events running and that maybe Redd-up, the beach cleaning festival we planned in May 2020, will happen this year. But first of all, we wish that we will see some concrete change into the plastic management at global scale. The ocean is in urgent need of help and we have to put all our energy into it. We would like to thank all the people and organisations that supported us directly and indirectly in 2020. We wish we will progress towards our common objective of safeguarding the Ocean.