Five minutes with Sustainable Coastlines Samantha Walmsley-Bartlett

Sustainable Coastlines welcomes young wāhine toa, Samantha Walmsley-Bartlett, as their new Board Chair. 

An environmental enthusiast, botanist and inspirational writer, Samantha is inspiring the masses with her daily LinkedIn posts on circular practices. Her passion for sustainability has led her to dedicate her career to helping businesses care for our environment.

Looking ahead to Plastic Free July, Good caught up with Samantha to discuss Sustainable Coastlines approach to the challenge this year.

Tell us about yourself and your role at Sustainable Coastlines?

I’ve been a member of the board of The Sustainable Coastlines Charitable Trust for the last three and a half years and am proud to say, have recently been named Chair of the Board in May. My role is to help guide the charity to meet its strategic goals and scale its impact.

I’ve always been interested in our environment, and the problems that we face, from quite a young age. I have a grandmother who has been a very keen gardener her entire life and I think through conversations with her, I just became quite fascinated with how our natural world works. 

I studied Environmental Management at university, which led me into Botany – the science of plants. Through that, I was able to learn how our natural systems worked, and how our climate systems interact with our forests and our oceans. I was in awe of all those systems and became more motivated to protect them. 

When I left university, sustainability was ramping up on the agenda of businesses. I started in a role as a Sustainability Analyst in a large produce company and spent several years there as the Sustainability Manager, leading the development and delivery of their sustainability strategy and projects. I am currently a Circular Economy Practitioner at Circularity, a circular innovation and design partner helping businesses to design out the challenges of ‘business as usual.’ 

Through these experiences, it became clear to me that when people have a connection to the natural world, they develop a strong motivation to protect our environment. At Sustainable Coastlines, we refer to this as ‘people protect the places they love.’ And so, what I really believe in is sharing ways that provide people with the capability, skills, or tools to be able to improve the health and wellbeing of our living systems.

What do you hope to achieve through your daily LinkedIn posts on circular practices? 

On April 8, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared that the world has 999 days until we reach peak emissions. To me, this means that we have 999 days to forge a new path toward a safe, healthy future where people, businesses and nature can thrive together. 

A circular economy is based on three principles – designing out waste and emissions, keeping materials inflow and at a high value, and regenerating our living systems. 

Applying these principles can address 45 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions generated by the way we make, use and dispose of products. This can unlock the value of 91 per cent of raw materials that are wasted after a single use and reduce the 90% biodiversity loss associated with the extraction and processing of natural resources. 

I’m sharing one circular practice every day for 999 days on LinkedIn. In July I will complete the first 99 days and celebrate by sharing a book of the first 99 practices. What I hope to achieve within 999 practices is to shine a light on the important work that has already been done, the solutions that already exist, and the change-makers in our community globally and Aotearoa. 

We know that for each of the challenges we face – plastic pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss – there are solutions to each already. Right now, we need to work together to connect the dots by embedding and scaling regenerative and circular practices, increasing their impact and creating a future where people and nature thrive together. 

What is the role that plastic holds in our environment?

Plastic can become problematic when it ends up in our environment. Whilst plastic has many uses and lots of functionality, it acts as a pollutant when it is lost in our environment, and it can become dangerous for the animal life that exists in those systems. New Zealand is the most dangerous place to be a seabird when it comes to ingesting plastic.

When it is ingested by other animals like fish in the form of microplastics, we eat those animals. Therefore, we are ingesting that plastic, as well. So, it is problematic for the health of our flora and fauna, as well as our human health.

What is Plastic Free July?

Plastic Free July is helping people be a part of the solution to plastic pollution. It began as an initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation as a way of encouraging people to make simple swaps in their daily life to reduce their dependence on excess or unnecessary plastic, particularly plastics that end up in our environment.

The goal is to drive awareness around the plastic pollution problem and highlight the solutions!  

How are Sustainable Coastlines raising awareness for Plastic Free July?  

Every year Sustainable Coastlines promotes Plastic Free July across our channels, and we have conversations about the ways to address plastic pollution with our partners – corporate businesses and individuals that work with us. We share simple swaps through our networks and in our conversations, giving people tangible examples of plastic materials that they can swap. The charity actively promotes partnerships with organisations that are helping to deliver simple swaps everyone can make in their day-to-day life.

This includes things like replacing a disposable single-use coffee cup with a reusable cup as well as replacing plastic that shows up in places that you might not think about, like your toothbrush, your dish brush or even your clothes!

We also share the data on the kinds of plastic materials that are most problematic for our environment here in Aotearoa. That information is based on our Litter Intelligence data that we collect through our citizen scientists, which tells us what materials are most commonly ending up on our coastlines. 

How can Kiwis become more educated on the effects of plastic on the environment?

An easy place to start is learning about the kinds of plastics ending up in our environment. 

The Sustainable Coastlines Litter Intelligence program is Aotearoa’s national litter database. It provides data on the current health status of our coastlines by showing us what’s washing up on our shores. We cannot improve what we don’t measure, so having this insight will make it easier for us all to understand who the top offenders are and hopefully stay away from them in our own lives.

How can Kiwis participate in Plastic Free July?

Kiwis can take part in Plastic Free July by understanding what materials are problematic that end up as litter. They can visit the Sustainable Coastlines website to look at the different simple swaps that we recommend. They can then set themselves a challenge to swap different materials or products they use in their life for a plastic free alternative! 

We always say that it is better to start, and you don’t have to have a perfectly plastic free life, it’s almost impossible. Certainly, starting with the things that are within your control is valuable and important.

What do sustainable coastlines do in terms of plastic?

Sustainable Coastlines’ mission is to end plastic pollution and it aims to achieve this through its three core grassroots community programmes, Love Your Coast, Love Your Water and Litter Intelligence.

Love Your Coast revolves around litter prevention education and epic, family-friendly beach clean-ups throughout Aotearoa.  Love Your Water supports communities to restore their freshwater ecosystems. We do this through freshwater clean-ups and by planting native trees alongside waterways.  And lastly, there is Litter Intelligence, a programme that serves to inspire and inform better decisions for a world without litter. 

In short, Sustainable Coastlines exists to connect people to nature and inspire change. And anyone can support this mahi by volunteering at any of the charity’s public events, by signing your workplace up for a team-building day, or by challenging yourself to commit to a simple swap this Plastic Free July!

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