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Plastic Education

The Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge

A community project set up by Queen Mary Sailing Club (QM) to educate young people about plastic and recycling has received a £17,000 grant from Heathrow Community Fund. 

Young people in school today will bear the brunt of the future environmental impact of inadequately managed plastic. This Challenge will develop awareness of the environmental impact of plastic through a Guinness World Record attempt using plastic bottles to make model boats. Our aim is to inspire plastic education in classrooms, to promote respect for our waterways and to increase sailing participation, to unite schools and create awareness of the global issue of plastic pollution which ends up in our oceans every year.

The project is called ‘The Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge’ (PBBC) and will attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the most Plastic Bottle Boats launched simultaneously, at multiple venues. It is anticipated that this will then inspire a wave of education in plastic, circular economy and recycling. 

Richard Steele, Commodore of QM said “Plastic Bottles seem harmless enough, they are convenient and disposable - or are they? In fact, here in Britain we are making a difference with initiatives taken by our local councils, although less than half our plastic bottles are recycled back into usable products. The campaign group Recycle now estimates that in Britain alone, 16 million plastic bottles are not recycled every day, but discarded. These bottles can take at least 500 years to decompose; in other words, we adults will be leaving an unmanageable legacy for generations to come unless we take further action now. Furthermore, if we include developed, under-developed Countries and our Oceans worldwide, the weight of plastic will equal the weight of all the fish in the sea by 2050 … a sobering thought.

Education is the key to spreading the word, if we are to tackle this problem for future generations of our children; the Queen Mary Sailing Club’s ‘Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge’ is a really fun way of doing just that. I look forward to seeing some marvellous examples of nautical ingenuity!”

In preparation for the multiple-venue Guinness World Record in 2018, a pilot World Record attempt took place on 6th October 2017 in Poole Park by St. James’ C.E. Primary Academy. Following lessons focussing on pollution, recycling, conservation, the environment and the circular economy, the children’s learning culminated in the dramatic World Record attempt for the largest plastic bottle boat launch in a single venue. 

The academy’s principal, Jeremy Payne, said: “Given the large number of curriculum opportunities for exploring floating, sinking, materials, the environment, local issues, philosophy, design, construction and much more, the PBBC was the perfect opportunity to deliver learning that was relevant to the children and supported the school’s ambitions of helping each child to believe that they have the power to make a difference in the world.”

Jeremy Payne described the event as ‘magical’ when 340 children boarded a flotilla of buses to travel to Poole Park where they played games, sang sea shanties and ultimately launched all their colourful little boats in a carefully choreographed process to comply with the Guinness requirements.  With the added pressure of BBC cameras, local radio and press on hand to record every moment, as well as a professional film crew with drones to capture the activity, Poole Park became the sight of a colourful and excited armada – the outcome is yet to be ratified by the Guinness auditors; however, St. James’ are confident that 330 boats met the specifications and are keenly awaiting the official ratification from Guinness.  

After the record attempt, all of the plastic boats were recycled into the back of a Poole Council lorry, underpinning the messages the children had learned during in the week.

Many parents shared positive feedback after the event, with one response summing up the impact of the week: ‘Our children have had the most amazing time this week and have been so engaged in their learning, one has even come home wanting to write every evening!  Not only have they learnt about making boats, but also about the wider world and how we need to look after this. Such a joy to listen to them telling us each evening.  Thank you so much, St. James!’

The funding awarded to the Queen Mary Sailing Club is now building the website that will enable the project to scale-up. Teachers will be invited to sign their class up and get involved at www.plasticbottleboatchallenge.com when the site goes live in December 2017. A venue needs only 25 participants with one boat each to qualify for the attempt at 14:00 on Wednesday 27th June, 2018.

The organisation was awarded the donation under Heathrow Community Fund’s Communities for Tomorrow grants programme. Quote from a community project spokesman: “Heathrow Community Fund is part of an independent grant-making charity set up by Heathrow’s owners to support and strengthen local communities close to the airport. In the past two years it has donated more than £1 million through three grant programmes, funding projects which support young people, help protect the environment and support active local communities. Funds come from an annual donation from the airport, fines imposed on aircraft that breach noise limits, Heathrow colleagues who raise funds for us, and John Lewis. The fund also supports and encourages Heathrow staff to volunteer and support the local communities where they live.”

More information about the fund and how to apply for grants is available on the website www.heathrow.com/communityfund

Queen Mary Sailing Club will be working with St James’ Academy to develop and deliver the project. There are also a number of high profile supporters, soon to be announced, for the inaugural Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge.