Plastic-not-so-fantastic: meet Bristol activist Natalie Fee

A smiling woman standing in Bristol

Plastic-not-so-fantastic: meet Bristol activist Natalie Fee

Most of us are aware that the small choices we make in our everyday life directly affect the natural world. “Out of all of the environmental issues out there, plastic pollution is very much in our hands to change.”

But it can be difficult to know what to prioritise for a healthier planet. Cutting back on single-use plastic is certainly a good place to start, says Natalie Fee, Bristol activist and founder of not-for-profit City to Sea.

“Out of all of the environmental issues out there, plastic pollution is very much in our hands to change.”

Founded in 2015 by Natalie and other Bristol-based activists interested in plastic waste, City to Sea is a campaigning-based Community Interest Company (CIC) trying to reduce the amount of single-use plastics flowing from human habitations into our seas, rivers and oceans.

The organisation is concerned about action at individual level, as well as lobbying retailers and manufacturers to change policies around plastics and packaging.

Scale of the problem

“The UK consumes 18 billion plastic bottles a year and out of those only a quarter are recycled. That means 38 million a year end up in landfill and leak into our ecosystems every day”, says Natalie. City to Sea have focussed on trying to break down the taboo of asking for tap water for free with their Refill Bristol campaign, sponsored by Bristol Water.

Look out for a Refill Bristol sticker in the window of restaurants, bars and cafes where staff will readily refill your water bottles with tap water, or download City to Sea’s new app to find your local refill spots.

“There are 200 refill stations across the city, and if there isn’t one where you live, you can now add it on our new app.”


But I do my recycling, so am I part of the problem?

According to research from the Marine Conservation Society, one third of people in the UK buy bottled water. But many don’t believe they contribute to pollution because they recycle. Natalie points out that though a lot of people in Bristol leave out their plastic recycling each week, many forget to cover their recycling bins so that a lot of it gets blown around on recycling days.

“One really simple thing people can do is make sure they properly cover their bins, because small amounts of plastic get blown down the storm drains. Which is why if you come along to a beach clean on the River Avon you see thousands of bottle tops, as well as plastic bottles and other plastics.”


Start embracing a re-fillable life

Natalie recommends you invest in a good-quality water bottle and a reusable coffee cup that doesn’t leak to cut down usage. “If you go out drinking, get into the habit when you order a drink of saying ‘I’ll have a g&t with no straw’ because people just put them in automatically. Little everyday items like that make a difference”.

Switch the stick

City to Sea’s latest campaign, Switch the Stick, is trying to get manufacturers to switch from plastic cotton buds to paper. Supported by Wessex Water, the campaign started off with local networks and partnerships and got to 6,000 signatures. 38 Degrees then saw the campaign on social media and asked to run it there.

“As of last night, we’ve gone over 50,000 signatures. Social media is a way of galvanising people power which is a really important tool for us.”


Small steps

Natalie’s co-director Michelle Cassar founded a movement she calls PALL, ‘plastic a lot less’. This is the way Natalie tries to live, though with a 13 year-old-son it can be hard to avoid all single-use plastic.

One way to start is by doing a plastic-free July to get in the habit.

“You can get a little bit organised before it starts – I’m not saying you should stockpile all your plastics, but if you start off just doing it for a month, you learn where to go shopping with less plastic.”


Get involved

If you want to roll your sleeves up and do something about some of the plastic pollution building up along the Avon, City to Sea and Surfers Against Sewage organise regular beach cleans along the banks of the river.

You can also go to the City to Sea website to find out more about their latest campaigns and follow and share them on social media. The Refill Bristol app is available on iOS from the Apple Store and Google Play.

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