To save the environment, we must all pitch in – and nobody knows this better than 70-year-old grandmother Pat Smith who spent 2018 cleaning up litter from 52 beaches in Cornwall on the United Kingdom’s south coast.
Nicknamed “Action Nan” by BBC Three’s Amazing Humans, Smith set out on her eco mission in January to carry out her New Year’s resolution of making her community a better and cleaner place. The ambitious goal came to her after watching a documentary on plastic pollution the previous year, and she knew she couldn’t sit by idly. “Pat always says that people say, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something about that?” her media liaison Victoria Carpenter told, “And then they realize they are someone, that’s what happened to her. She wanted to be someone who did something about it but also to get other people to come to the same realization.” Since her beach cleanup project, Smith has embarked on multiple other environmental projects and shows no signs of slowing down.
This 70-year-old grandmother known as ‘Action Nan’ spent 2018 cleaning up 52 different beaches – and she doesn’t plan to stop
Over the year, Smith cleaned beaches from Coverack on the Lizard Peninsula to Blackpool Sands in Devon. Often, volunteers would join her in her efforts, including her grandchildren or she would collaborate with other campaigners such as Martin Dorey of Bude, founder of 2 Minute Beach Clean; Wayne Dixon who is walking around the UK coast as an ambassador for Keep Britain Tidy, and volunteers from Beach Guardian and Surfers Against Sewage.
During her beach cleans, Smith was sometimes mistaken for doing community service! She said: “People don’t understand I’ve been doing this voluntarily. We should all take responsibility for picking up the litter as well as ensuring we don’t drop litter in the first place.”
The trash from Pentewan beach cleanup (above)
Even before her beach cleanups, Smith had begun her first environmental campaign to eliminate plastic staws in her city of Cornwall. To date, she has encouraged 600 local companies to stop using unnecessary plastic. She strives to make her hometown an example for the plastic-free movement in the United Kingdom. In order to help achieve this goal, she founded The Final Straw Cornwall which was launched in the summer of 2017. “I founded the Final Straw to try and raise awareness of the catastrophic damage we are doing to our oceans from our casual consumption of single-use plastics. I feel I have a responsibility to my children and grandchildren to do something about it,” she said.
So what is Action Nan up to now – still on the warpath, “Pat’s now doing some work as Trash Warrior, heading inland to tackle the litter that is washing down from inland places into the sea. She’s recently been named as a Litter Ambassador for Keep Britain Tidy. She’s also still doing more beach cleans. Now that the UK government has announced it will ban plastic straws, she also wants to highlight other single-use plastic items such as coffee cups and the plastic used to wrap fruit and veg in supermarkets to encourage others to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we consume. She’s taken part in big Plastic Unwrap events at local supermarkets, for example,” said Carpenter.
Her liaison said the responses to her initiatives have been inspiring, “Really delighted and surprised and hugely inspired by all the people who have begun to turn up and start taking care of their local beaches and the many messages of support from all over the world. It’s particularly heartwarming to see young children getting involved and learning about how plastic affects our world, as this gives us all a lot of hope for the future.”
Her resolution year may be over but this environmentally conscious grandma continues her quest. “A lot of the rubbish I have picked up consists of everyday items,” said 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.”