Do you recall the very first time you realised the environmental impact of a plastic bottle?
When it comes to shaping pro-environmental behaviours, it’s important to start with education. That’s precisely the mission ACU Blue Charter alumnus Dr Andrea Clayton has taken on at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) in Jamaica, where she is not only the head of the sustainable development programme – but also the founder of an Earth Ambassadeurs Programme mobilising young people and communities to tackle plastic waste.
“Government policies controlling plastic can be imposed, but they won’t necessarily get at the root behaviours producing plastic waste, because people simply don’t realise the importance of good practices or don’t take ownership over their own behaviour,” Andrea explains. With this in mind, she designed the Earth Ambassadeurs Programme not only to teach students to manage and reduce plastic waste – but to ensure that they understand why all of this is urgent and significant for life on Earth.
“We not only get kids to weigh, count and sort the plastic bottles they collect, but also to learn about what would happen if they kept using these bottles. We want to reduce and ultimately eliminate unsustainable behaviours.”
Andrea explains that small changes such as distributing reusable bottles and installing water dispensers can go a long way. Beginning with primary schools located on the coast, she’s working closely with institutional staff across Jamaica to design customised interventions. The Programme has since gained considerable interest from inland schools as well. It is a significant step forward, given that inland waste travels down to the coast and accumulates in the sea.
Establishing Earth Ambassadeurs has had its challenges, not least because Andrea simultaneously lectures full-time at the CMU. But her pioneering approach has excited a lot of students about being a part of a grassroots movement for cleaner communities – and to truly take ownership of their responsibility to preserve the oceans.
Andrea traces all of this back to her ACU Blue Charter Fellowship to Dalhousie University in Canada, an experience which opened her eyes to the severity of the marine plastics issue and inspired her to begin addressing it back home.
“I had been focusing on human capital development in the blue economy when I applied for the Fellowship,” Andrea recalls. “I started off not really sure about the marine plastics issue, but when I got to Canada, I started looking into single-use plastics seriously and realised the extent of the problems. So, the Fellowship was instrumental for me to focus on the issue and the blue economy – especially because my home university is right on the harbour where you see the effects of plastic waste on the ocean every day.” She has made lasting connections with two other innovative Blue Charter Fellows at Dalhousie University, and they continue to work together and trade ideas.
Going forward, Andrea plans to expand her work with local communities close to the CMU campus. She would like to bring the communities of Port Royal and Rae Town together in meetings and training sessions with a view to establishing a new depository for discarded fishing gear and other plastic equipment left behind by fishermen on the shore. This upcoming semester, she’s also planning to organise an expo showcasing creative ways people use plastics and conducting lectures to educate the public. All throughout, she continues to advocate for a cleaner, greener CMU campus.
The COVID-19 outbreak may have delayed some of her plans, but Andrea’s impact on local student groups and communities will no doubt continue to grow in the future. “It’s all still a work in progress but I’m not giving up,” Andrea says, “and I’m hoping I will be able to influence in some way.”
Finally, Andrea reflects upon the importance of the ocean to us. “Our oceans help to keep us alive. If we do not take care of them now, the healthy oceans won’t be around to take care of us.”
The ACU Blue Charter Fellowships programme was generously funded by Waitrose & Partners and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The programme forms part of the Commonwealth Marine Plastics Research & Innovation Framework – a global hub which aims to share scientific and technical expertise in this vital area – and support the aims of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.