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This grandmother spent 2018 cleaning up British beaches — and she's not done

A 70-year-old grandmother who goes by the nickname “Action Nan” is celebrating the early weeks of 2019 with the afterglow of a successful 2018 campaign to visit and clean dozens of beaches throughout Britain.

“52 beach cleans in 2018 was my New Year’s Resolution and it’s finally done,” Pat Smith, founder of the environmental campaign group Final Straw Cornwall, said in a release. “I won’t stop as our beaches need me!”

Pat Smith and a furry companion during one of her beach cleans in 2018. Pat Smith and a furry companion during one of her beach cleans in 2018. (Photo: Pat Smith)

Throughout her campaign, Smith kept an online journal chronicling the state of the beaches she visited, the trash she collected, and her occasional frustrations with the near-endless barrage of litter in some locales.

“It is so disappointing when I cleared the same beach last week and find it in a worse state this week,” she shared during week 11. “More people need to get involved in witnessing the damage being done to our Environment which maybe would result in them being more thoughtful about casual littering.”

As word of her cleanup efforts spread, Smith was occasionally joined by friends, volunteers and even her grandchildren.

“I rocked up with my grandchildren to Harlyn Beach with a group of 20 or so volunteers,” she wrote during week 15. “The beach was remarkably clean except for micro-plastics on the strand line and a pair of beach shorts decorating a large rock. Yes I did try to find the pant-less owner but no luck …”

An example of some of the litter Smith collected during her 2018 beach clean campaign. An example of some of the litter Smith collected during her 2018 beach clean campaign. (Photo: Pat Smith)

As the beach clean campaign progressed, Smith began offering deeper reflections on the big picture problem of plastic pollution. Like MNN’s own Starre Vartan concluded in September, it’s an issue that volunteers cannot solve by themselves. To truly prevent our beaches and other natural areas from becoming overrun with plastics, change must first come through targeted legislation.

“I am beginning to feel that beach cleaning and litter picking, whilst helpful at the time, are only scratching the surface of a much greater problem which needs addressing by politicians,” Smith wrote. “A closed loop system needs to be developed so that single-use plastics must be recyclable and have an end of life reuse programmed in so they never become waste. We all need to wake up to the fact that we only have one precious planet and that every one of us needs to take responsibility for looking after it.”

Smith with her grandkids during a beach clean in 2018. Smith with her grandkids during a beach clean in 2018. (Photo: Pat Smith)

While her campaign has concluded, Smith has no intention of curbing her visits to beautiful shores that remain under threat. It’s a New Year’s resolution that in her mind has no expiration date. All she asks is that the rest of us take the time to rethink our own disposal practices.

“A lot of the rubbish I have picked up consists of everyday items,” says Pat. “These things are used by all of us and it is shocking to find them polluting our beautiful beaches. Please let’s try to be more thoughtful in this coming year. I’m driven to try and protect our living planet for my children and grandchildren, and I will continue to do everything in my power to achieve that.”

This grandmother spent 2018 cleaning up British beaches — and she’s not done

Pat Smith, 70, successfully completed a New Year’s resolution to visit and help clean 52 beaches in 2018.