Man on a mission
All around the county initiatives, however small, are making a big difference as Wexford plays its part in promoting environmental awareness and helping protect the planet. In 'small world, big planet', a new series starting this week, our reporters shine a light on some of the people and projects leading the way and investigate what more we should be doing
Sean Ferguson from Ballymoney, Gorey describes himself as one man trying to become as sustainable as possible and help clean up the world as he goes using the message of reduce, reuse and recycle as his motivation.
It all began quite accidentally for Sean, when he was advised to take up sea swimming after he suffered an injury to his lower back over two years ago.
Being on beaches daily, mostly in Wexford, Sean quickly noticed the large amount of waste plastics he could see left on beaches and he was outraged.
He decided he wanted to do something about it, and so he got involved in the Clean Coasts two minute beach clean initiative.
The Clean Coasts programme works with communities nationwide to help protect and care for Ireland's waterways, coastline, seas, ocean and marine life.
Last year Sean won an award for his efforts from Clean Coasts, and ever since he can be seen in his local area with his trustworthy sidekick Molly the dog cleaning up the environment around him.
Sean has also been involved with the Wexford 2K Clean and he and his family try to try to live a life that is as environmentally friendly as possible.
He uses social media to educate others, documenting what he finds during his clean ups as a way to spread awareness of this issue which he sees as enormous.
Joining him on his daily trip to the beach, with litter pickers and bin bags in hand, we came across an abundance of used toiletries, false teeth, bottles and drink cans, food waste products, fishing and boat debris and much more within a short space of time.
Describing these scenes as his something part of his daily experience, Sean says this is what motivates him to keep going.
'What really surprises me is the sheer volume of everything. During winter it's storm waste blown in, during the summer it's tourist stuff left behind. I find plastic mainly, of every shape, colour, size and form out there. That's always the biggest shock of all,' he said.
Working closely with large-scale companies professionally, Sean says that it is the multi-nationals that are leading the way.
'Facebook, Google, Brown Thomas and such, these companies are doing things and using sustainability as a marketing tool. They're leading the way, but it's small scale. They need to make it bigger. Some companies have set up Clean Coast groups, and we don't really care why they're doing it, as long they do it,' he said.
'Anybody can set up a Clean Coast group, just go on to the website whether you're an individual like me, a school, a company, a shop in Gorey, a college, whatever it may be. It's as easy as a click and Clean Coasts will send out gloves, bags, litter pickers and high visibility jackets. It doesn't have to be a beach either, it can be a town or city,' he said.
As Sean works full time and has a young family, he said that the two minute beach clean suits his lifestyle.
'I love nature, it's my gym and my playground. There's nothing better because you get exercise, fresh air, it gets the dog out and it's great for the environment. Also I've made some good friends out of there, there's a community to it,' he said.
Sean sometimes gets free rubbish bags to use from Wexford County Council and he thinks the Council are going in the right direction, but feels that generally the government's Climate Action Plan isn't good enough.
'The government need to have the bottle deposit scheme, it's simple and so easily done and they're dragging their heels on it. They need to outlaw straws and plastic crockery like other countries have. The Climate Action Plan isn't good enough, we need things to change now. We've got about 30 years before the volume of the world's plastic in the oceans will out-weigh the number of fish, that's going to go quickly and if the oceans turn out like this, the planet is in serious trouble.
'If we got things started seriously and declare this an emergency, whether it's this year or the next five years, it's not going to be too late,' he said.
Sean feels that there needs to be a cross-sector approach, from businesses, farmers, schools, cafés and supermarkets.
'It's about us all being conscious about what we buy and what we do, even just small things to change like asking a barista if a coffee cup is compost-able. I don't just do the beach clean ups, at home we have a compost bin, I use bamboo tooth brushes, keep deodorants in recyclable containers, use compost-able bin bags and cardboard hoover bags. Sometimes we collect plastic for eco bricks at Seal Rescue Ireland, that gets the children involved,' he said.
Sean often finds items that could be reused during his beach clean, from toys to beach body boards, and at the end of the summer he plans to donate some treasures he has found to charities.
From Friday, September 20 to Sunday, September 22, Clean Coasts Big Beach Clean takes place on hundreds of beaches around Ireland, with events taking place in Wexford.
During the clean volunteers are asked to carry out marine litter surveys to quantify the amount and types of litter on Irish beaches.
This aims at heightening awareness about the issue and serve as an indicator of the magnitude of the problem.
Registration is now open online at cleancoasts.org.
To find out more about Sean's journey, you can follow his Instagram by searching @Seanferguson72.
Clean Coasts is operated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce and is funded by the Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government and Fáilte Ireland.