One of the more unfortunate long-term side-effects of the pandemic is the huge increase in single-use plastic that it has caused. I wince every time I do a lateral flow test, looking at the pile of single-use plastic that will be headed to the bin. The period of time when coffee shops refused to use reusable cups was painful. For the last 18 months we've been slipping backwards on single-use plastic.
But the worst offender is the disposable masks. Oh, so many masks. We've all seen masks in gutters, on lawns and — horribly — floating in rivers. Like a mocking plague of plastic pollution, they spread across the land, reminding us of the progress lost.
I want to believe that they've just fallen our of people's pockets, rather than being casually discarded, but I have my doubts…
Retasking the Mask
And so, when I heard about the Kickstarter from Waterhaul to make litter-pickers from old NHS masks, I couldn't resist backing it. We already have one good litter-picker from the 2minute shop, but my daughters are constantly fighting over it — so one each for them made sense.
And it was doing something with all those damn masks. Retask the Mask!
Sure, it's not the driftmasks I've been picking up and throwing away, but bulk masks from the NHS. But it's a start. Everything reused is less pollution to hit the seas, right?
Kickstarter projects rarely, if even, deliver on their original timescales. I've backed projects that have been literally years late in delivering. It wasn't a surprise to me when Waterhaul's schedule started to slip — but neither did I mind. I've backed enough projects there to expect some delays, even if some, less experienced backers, were giving the company a hard time over it.
And, sure enough, a few weeks ago, they finally started shipping.
And this is the result:
Time to test them out.
Litter-picking with the Waterhaul Retask the Mask litterpickers
My youngest and I had some time to ourselves while her elder sister was packing for Brownies camp, so we grabbed the litterpicker and hit the beach. The folding models are a bit smaller than our existing litterpicker, which made them ideal for Iris — who is only 6 — to pick things by herself.
She clearly enjoyed using it, picking away quite contentedly for around 20 minutes. She found a whole range of sea-left plastic, including an old pair of swimming goggles and — most memorably — a broken chunk of ruler that had been in the sea so long that the shattered edge had been smoothed off.
Quite a good haul, all in. Iris hit her limit after around 20 minutes, and passed the picker on to me while she tore around the beach, burning off energy while I cleaned everything I could. We stopped for well-earned drinks and croissants at the Pollinator Café before heading home, very happy with our backer rewards.
Pick #2: Beach Cool
Of course, on her return from camp, Hazel wasn't going to let her sister get away with hogging the litterpicking limelight. And so, this afternoon, we too took a long stroll up the beach, equipped with a litterpicker each. Hazel's best find was a pair of old, smashed sunglasses, just chilling on the shingle making the whole beach look very cool.
I had a rather sadder discovery. While slowly tugging a lump of tangled sea plastic out of some seaweed, I realise it stank. When we had it clear, it became obvious why:
Yes, there was a whole dead crab in the netting, slowly rotting away.
We can't let the pandemic stop us waging a war on plastics, folks. The price is just too high. Well done to Waterhaul for taking one of the consequences of COVID and turning it into something useful. Those litterpickers will help us keep our little corner of the planet that bit cleaner of seaborne plastic.
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