The story of Plastic Free July

Plastic Free coverPlastic Free is a warmly personal narrative by the founder of Plastic Free July, a sustainability initiative which began less than ten years ago, almost by accident, in Perth.

Prince-Ruiz was working at the time as a community educator in waste management so she was well equipped to support the programme when it unexpectedly took off – and that was all it needed.

Her emphasis was always on community, on shared learning, and on doing what’s possible right now rather than aiming higher and missing the goal. It made Plastic Free July an achievable and therefore engaging challenge, which then became a gateway to engagement with other sustainability issues – avoiding other single-use products, reducing food waste, joining food co-ops, and so on.

‘I’m going plastic free next month, who wants to join me?‘

When Rebecca Prince-Ruiz asked her colleagues this question in 2011, she had no idea that less than a decade later it would inspire a global movement of 250 million people in 177 countries to reduce their plastic use. Plastic Free tells the incredible story of how a simple community initiative grew into one of the world’s most successful environmental movements. It also shares tips from people around the world who have taken on the Plastic Free July challenge and significantly reduced their waste.

Plastic Free is a book about positive change and reminds us that small actions can make a huge impact, one step – and piece of plastic – at a time.

That’s straight from the back cover and (perhaps surprisingly, given its source) doesn’t make any claims which Plastic Free doesn’t amply back up.

I intended to prove that point by quoting from the book but discovered that I wanted to share so many gems that I will simply say, “Highly recommended!” and leave it at that.

Citizen Science – iNaturalist

The internet and digital photography have opened up wonderful opportunities for ordinary people to get involved in citizen science as observers of the natural world. Online meeting places and forums come and go but the best at the moment seems to be iNaturalist – https://www.inaturalist.org.

It’s a global project and the numbers are huge: 54 million observations by 1.4 million observers from nearly every country in the world when I looked recently. That presents a management problem, of course, which is solved by having countries run independent branches, e.g. https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/

Anyone at all can browse the content of the site but people have to sign up to participate. When that’s done (at no cost and very little trouble) they can upload their observations, help with identifying others’ observations, and join the discussion forums.  It’s a big and complex site but not too difficult to negotiate because it is exceptionally well planned and because there is no need to use most of its functions until you want to. (I have to admit there are some that I haven’t bothered with in the year I have been a member.)

And ordinary people can make very useful contributions to the project, especially if they (we) are outside the big cities. It’s obvious, looking at a map of Australian observations of butterflies and moths, that any life outside the big population centres is under-represented. Zoom in on North Queensland and the pattern is even clearer – and it’s the same for birds, and will be the same for all other life forms.

iNaturalist observations
iNaturalist observations – Butterflies and Moths

This means that if you visit Mount Fox, Undara, Einasleigh, or even Ravenswood and submit an observation of any species at all it is likely to be a ‘first’ for the location. We really don’t know what’s out there – and how can we look after what we don’t know?

Other projects

Encyclopedia of Life is a similar but older project. It welcomed citizen scientists from the outset but was almost overwhelmed by them for a while and now is primarily an inter-organisational data sharing project.

Atlas of Living Australia was a founding partner of EOL and now collects observations from iNaturalist. It is an open-access data resource, oriented more to the professional community than to citizen science.

BowerBird was founded in 2013 as a citizen science project of Museums Victoria and ALA but was folded into iNaturalist about 2019.

flickr is a photo-sharing platform which hosts self-managed Groups, some of which are wildlife-related. I joined (years ago) so that I could easily contribute to EOL (which collected sightings via one such group) but also enjoyed the Field Guide to Insects of Australia and the similar Australian Birds and Spiders groups. Each of them had (and probably still has) enthusiastic, knowledgeable members willing to encourage and support newcomers.

There’s no need to be bored!

Odd bird portraits

These are odd portraits of birds rather than portraits of odd birds, although the Jacana probably qualifies on both counts. I took them on a ride along the Annandale side of Ross River from Aplin’s Weir to the Palmetum a few days ago.

There are always swallows flitting about the weir, resting on the weir wall between excursions over the water in search of insects. I liked the contrast of the small-fragile-soft, but absolutely nonchalant, bird against the massive-brutal masonry. For the record, it’s a Welcome Swallow, Hirundo neoxena, our only resident swallow species.

Welcome Swallows Hirundo neoxena on Aplins Weir wall
Welcome Swallow, Aplin’s Weir

Continue reading “Odd bird portraits”

Noisy garden

We live in a bird-noisy garden and suburb and we are usually suitably grateful. Our gratitude was somewhat strained, I have to admit, when this family of Blue-winged Kookaburras started calling at dawn, but I had enough goodwill left for them to spot them in the top of a neighbour’s eucalypt an hour later and immortalise them.

That’s Dad on the left, with Mum beside him and (presumably) their well-grown chick on the right.

They are very loud when they let loose. So are the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos which often pass overhead and sometimes pause in the Burdekin Plum tree. So are the Curlews which scream at night on our footpath and, at this time of year, the incessantly-calling Koels.

But we would be far poorer without them.

A sister site for Green Path

Green Path now has a sibling, companion, doppelganger or whatever you like to call it, which is the home for my non-environmental interests – primarily books and photography, so I have called it ‘words & images’. It’s a blog very like this one and I have been setting it up during the last couple of weeks.

It already has twenty-odd posts, mostly older book reviews republished from elsewhere; the first new post on it is an introduction to Discworld for those unfortunate enough to have missed that very special fantasy series.

Normal service on Green Path can now resume.