Tuesday Jan 18, 2022

Pat “Action Nan” Smith: The beach-cleaning granny

“People say, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something about that?’ And then they realize they are someone.”

Pat “Action Nan” Smith 

Grandmother who cleaned beaches every week for one year


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The artwork:

Ink drawing of Pat Smith picking up trash, drawn on a map of Cornwall, UK.

 

The story: 

Pat Smith was living an ordinary life in 2017 as a business owner and grandmother in the UK’s oceanfront peninsula region of Cornwall, when she watched a documentary on endemic plastic pollution in the oceans. 

“I was very disturbed by what I saw and I think it was the first inkling I had that there was a problem in the oceans regarding plastic pollution,” she says. “I couldn't sleep that night and when I woke up in the morning, I thought I've got to do something about this.”

Eventually, that “something” crystallized around the idea of cleaning garbage off Cornwall’s beaches. She’d acquired the handle “Action Nan” for completing a 300-mile charity walk a couple years before and on January 1, 2018, the 70-year-old Smith sprang into action again. She committed to cleaning beaches every week for the whole year. 

Armed with garbage bags, gloves, and a trash grabber, she travelled from one end of Cornwall to the other, picking up trash each week. Sometimes volunteers would join in the work with her, including her grandchildren. Other times, onlookers mistook her work for community service. 

By the end of 2018, she’d collected 13,000 pieces of litter during 104 hours of beach cleaning. 

“The vast majority is broken up pieces of everyday used items, like bottle tops, toothpaste caps, and water bottles,” she says. “You might get down to the beach and it looks perfectly clean. But then you walk along and look down at the seaweed and you find tangled up little pieces of net, bits of rope, and other things washed in by the tide.”

While her year of beach cleaning is completed, Smith hasn’t slowed down. “I won’t stop as our beaches need me,” she says.

“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,” she says. To that end, she founded Final Straw Cornwall, a campaign to eliminate plastic straws and other single-use plastic from Cornwall. As a result of her efforts, Cornwall’s plastic use has dramatically decreased. 

“I don’t know how much longer I’ve got left on the planet,” she says. “But in the time I have left I have to do something.”

 

Music:

This episode contains music by Geovane Bruno

 

Sources:

 

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