Saving the world one beach clean at a time

Saving the world one beach clean at a time
Flossie pictured with rubbish from a beach clean up at Sandycove.

Following in the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, Flossie Donnelly is also on the same mission to save the planet. Her efforts will be the subject ofa new RTÉ documentary, writes Paula Burns.

Teenager Flossie Donnelly is just back from another weekly beach clean at Sandycove.

Located just a few yards from her home, the idyllic sandy alcove made famous by the swimmers of the 40 foot with James Joyce tower guarding it from behind, is a favourite among locals.

While the surroundings may appear tranquil what lies beneath the watery shore is far from pretty.

On just one beach clean, Flossie and her fellow beach cleaners fill bins with rubbish left behind or what has been brought ashore by the waves. From dirty nappies to old saucepans, after three years of taking on the mission, nothing is a surprise to Flossie.

“At every beach clean we find at least one pair of men’s pants, plastic bottles and old broken cans,” says Flossie.

“During a recent clean we found 50 cat food packets and a Dunnes Stores tights package that is about 50 years old. This just proves how plastic doesn’t break down.”

Other items amongst the rubbish have included TVs, phones, wax sheets with the hair still on them and even drugs, including heroin and needles. So what is it that entices a 12-year-old to spend her weekends cleaning her local beach?

“When I was about eight years old on holiday in Thailand I was kayaking with my parents and noticed the huge amount of plastic and rubbish,” explains Flossie, “so I asked my parents if we could fill the kayak with as much as we could to put in the bin.”

On their return home, Flossie decided she wanted to set up her own beach cleaning club. With the help of her mum, Harriet, Flossie put together flyers and posters to put up around her local area and set up her Instagram page.

Since Flossie began her crusade against plastic, the dialogue has shifted enormously towards the negative effects of climate change and in particular the use of single-use plastics. Flossie took on the task to “swim in a place without rubbish and to protect marine life from plastics”, long before climate protests or visits to the UN by fellow teenager Greta Thunberg.

“I really believe Greta can help solve climate change,” says Flossie of her peer.

Flossie’s own approach to raising awareness of the climate crisis is a positive one. While she’s acutely aware, for someone of such a young age, of the urgency that surrounds the crisis she likes to remain calm.

“I’m a kid and it’s my future so I want to help make a change, but I also have to stay positive. There’s no point in shouting about it because people don’t listen.

"They listen when you speak quietly and calmly so that’s the approach I like to take,” says Flossie.

Like thousands of other students, she has protested outside the Dáil on a Friday. However, since starting secondary school she has changed the venue to her school, where she and a few other students protest for an hour.

“I couldn’t take the time off every Friday so the principal agreed that it would be ok for us to carry out our protest for an hour on a Friday at the school. Our own strike is a lot more fun.”

During the summer Flossie brought her war against plastic across the globe to Indonesia. Along with her Mum, she visited the Java area along the Citarum River, which has been deemed the ‘dirtiest river’ in the world.

“My mum showed me this plastic river on social media I wanted to see if it really is that bad and it is,” explains Flossie. “It’s filled with plastic and the water has been poisoned from nearby clothes factories and waste.”

On a visit to a school, Flossie got to see first hand what effect plastic pollution has had on their lives. We got to meet an eco-school where you have to pay in plastic bottles to get in. It’s a sustainable school,” says Flossie.

Parents collect plastic bottles from the river. How many plastic bottles you give in depends on how much education your child receives.

The trip, which was filmed as a two-part RTÉ documentary to be aired in November, connected the Flossie and The Beach Cleaner charity with schools and children from the area.

Formed by Flossie with the help of Harriet the aim is to empower children by engaging in effective activities to help the planet both locally and globally.

“Within five years we hope to send transition year students to areas like this where there is no refuse system and little education,” explains Harriet.

“The end goal is to join with locals to build schools out of eco blocks.”

Though the future may be bleak, Flossie remains upbeat and positive. Her ambitions of being “a marine biologist by day and a rock star by night” have not wavered under the dark cloud of climate crises. Positivity is the message she continues to convey.

“Be positive and don’t be annoyed. As President Mary Robinson once said ‘fear paralysis, hope energises.’

That’s what I want to achieve. I don’t do facts and figures. Instead I talk to other kids about what small differences they can make from using a keep cup to banning cling film at home.” And her message for those in power is simple yet direct.

“If the government doesn’t want to listen to us then they NEED to listen to the scientists.”

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