As a podcaster, I interview
influential guests from all over the world. Many are super accomplished and
work for the most prestigious media outlets and organizations.
Some have massive followings. One is
an Academy Award winner. Most are involved in projects that are socially beneficial
and contribute somehow to the greater good.
When I started, I was intimidated by
their pedigree; Fulbright, United Nations – you get the idea. Now, at least my
voice doesn’t shake during the interview.
But the guest who has inspired me most
recently is a humble grandmother from Cornwall, UK. Pat Smith, a.k.a., Action
Nan, is a stellar example of what one person with a laser focus can accomplish.
Pat rents out cottages in Cornwall on
the coast of Britain and was a former teacher. She was living her life like any
normal person until she saw the documentary film A Plastic Ocean. She was horrified. And it changed
When asked how she became Action Nan,
Pat quotes Lily Tomlin: “I always thought somebody should do something about
that. Then I realized I am somebody.”
She began picking up trash, most of it
plastic, on her local beaches. As word of her activities spread, TheFinalStrawCornwall was born. Pat made
a New Year’s resolution to pick up litter at one beach each weekend for 52
weekends a year.
She approached local businesses and
challenged them to do away with single-use plastic. 6000 of them agreed, and
some even took it further.
Pat appeared in the press all over the UK, with photos of her with her litter picker in hand. A 72-year-old woman with hearing aids and bad knees who was determined to make a difference.
Pat’s experiences picking up trash have
proven that there is no such thing as “away.” Years ago, a freighter carrying
LEGO boxes from Denmark capsized in the English Channel. She recently found
LEGO pieces on one of her beach clean ups.
Speaking with Pat, I learned that the
litter is not generally dropped on the beach itself, but rather, it finds its
way there after a storm washes items through the drain systems.
Through social media, Action Nan has
developed a sizable fan base, and others are coming out to help with the clean
ups. A local coffee shop offers volunteers a free cup after they’ve finished
their work (they bring their own cups).
I became familiar with Action Nan on
social media. I reached out because I loved her moxy, and I’ve always found
myself picking up random garbage on my regular dog walks. I’m especially
bothered by Styrofoam worm cups in otherwise beautiful places where people have
I’ve learned that carrying extra
garbage bags usually comes in handy. It makes me feel angry, frustrated, yet also
somehow satisfied, when I return home with a bag full of trash. I’m especially
pleased when I can recover fishing line snarls from around a stream, because I
know birds get caught up in them.
There’s a really wholesome, even
spiritual feeling when I’ve cleaned up a mess. It makes me feel generous,
caring, and responsible.
I like knowing that the wildlife will
be better off. It’s a little gift to the critters. And I hope I can set an
example for others. There’s even a meditative quality to it. Something to do
with karma. It feels good to do good.
When I asked Action Nan for
recommendations how to begin to address the plastic problem, she suggested
drawing attention to single use plastic at your favorite establishments, using
a refillable water jug, and bringing a refillable coffee cup to your café.
She’s seen first-hand the damage plastic can do to marine life, and she is determined to leave things better than she found them for her grandchildren. In early 2020, Pat gave a TEDx talk about her experiences.
Action Nan’s passion about reducing
plastic trash is contagious. She’s created meaning in her life by spearheading
litter pick up in the UK, and she’s influenced thousands of others along the
way. After all, we can all say, “I am somebody.”
How do you help negate the plastic
problem? Do you pick up trash around your neighborhood? Are you willing to
replace single use plastic items with reusable ones? What footprint will you
leave for the generations coming after you? Please share in the comments below.