Something that everyone should know…
“It is VERY important that you follow instructions for your recycling as contamination causes HUGE problems….. “ Says Melanie Rees.
I recently caught up with Melanie Rees, Teacher, Asian Tsunami survivor and founder of the Brighton Green Centre, Oceans 8 Brighton and numerous other grass roots projects. Including Day For Change, a national non-uniform day which is now run by UNICEF and is their most successful fundraiser to date. The Green Centre is a grass roots environmental project focused on activities centered around One Planet Living which she still runs along with a dedicated team of volunteers.
Her expertise on all things recyclable and how / where it can be recycled is insane. I asked her for some tips and advice to help anyone wanting to do more about their recycling or wanting to take action; what inspired her onto this journey; and how to deal with those who feel that the task of tackling waste is hopeless. I love her sage advice and practical responses and hope you do too.
“It started initially with a diagnosis of Lupus followed very shortly thereafter by being in the Asian Tsunami.” Says Melanie.
How did you get involved with rubbish and recycling?
It started initially with a diagnosis of Lupus followed very shortly thereafter by being in the Asian Tsunami. The first robbed me of my energy, the second nearly took my life. It made me focus and the environment is what grabbed my attention. I started in 2006 on George Street, Brighton with a paste table and followed the ebb and flow of the city; listening to people, going where I was invited; schools, businesses, fairs and festivals and responding to the ideas of the community, always supported by a group of committed volunteers. After three years we took a premises in East Brighton and the Green Workshop transformed into the Green Centre.
The Oceans 8 poster was your idea, where did it come from?
I was doing research for a curriculum I am developing based on the Principles of One Planet Living. While exploring the salaries of actors and actresses I came across the poster for the movie Ocean’s 8 and thought of it literally – 8 women looking after the ocean. I made a list of women leading projects in Brighton & Hove which focus on plastic pollution and it just so happened nearly all of them were at an event I attended. I showed them the poster and asked them if they would like to be in a new version. They all said yes!
What does the Ocean mean to you?
It means many things. I grew up on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales and so I spent a LOT of time by the sea. It gives me a sense of space. I seek it out for cleansing.
As I was in the Asian Tsunami I know its immense power and potential for destruction. I am deeply respectful of it.
You have set up several grass roots campaigns and projects. Both alongside your career as a teacher and after…
In 2006 The Green Centre – Brighton was born and continues to be a success. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a grass roots project like this and what resources would you recommend?
- A well thought out, simple, clear core message – when things get crazy, you will need this to keep you grounded.
- Bravery – dare to be different and think outside the box for creative solutions.
- Learn to flow, because things never work out as you plan / imagine.
- Stick with it. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- A business mentor.
- A roll of wallpaper & a bunch of coloured markers – fantastic for mind maps / planning / story boards / problem solving / etc.
What hurdles have you overcome in your waste journey, how did you overcome them and what did you learn ?
- Lack of volunteers – Trust the Universe and it will always send you an angel, sometimes several!
- Having to move from our premises – think outside the box, we bought a double decker bus.
- Trying to inform Brighton & Hove residents that the City Council only accept plastic bottles for recycling – still struggling with this one.
What are bad recommendations that you hear?
- Better recycling is the answer to tackling plastic pollution.
- Compostable / Biodegradable packaging is the answer to tackling plastic pollution.
- The Green Centre can recycle anything.
“Slow down. Consume less. Share more.” Key advice from Melanie.
What would you say to someone who thinks it is too late, the problem is too big, or that their actions won’t make a difference?
At the core of every positive action is a love for our planet and a respect for that which provides for our every need. That is all any of us can do.
If you could make poster that would reach millions and millions of people, including policy makers and educators what would it show or what would it say?
Slow down. Consume less. Share more.
What book has influenced you the most and why?
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight – Thom Hartmann / because it explains Global Warming and Climate Change in a really clear way AND because it suggests women are the key to tackling it.
What films have influenced you the most and why?
- The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil / because it really demonstrates how people can come together to tackle a problem.
- Albatross / stunningly beautiful piece of cinematography.
What have you bought recently that cost under £50 and has made the biggest impact in your life or to your cause?
I am about to buy two pieces of foam to replace the badly sagging cushions on my second hand sofa bed which I paid £20 for. I sit on it every day, so it will have a big impact on my life.
Mel’s top misconception about ‘rubbish’:
“That our personal waste is someone else’s responsibility.”
Melanie’s key piece of advice:
Be part of the solution. Get involved by volunteering.
Melanie has been listening to what people want and creating resources and finding answers for many years. One resource she helped create over the last 6 years is the A-Z of Recycling which can be found here. Although focussed in part on the Green Centre in Brighton it includes vital tips on what can be recycled, where and by whom and includes many schemes that are available nationally. I am not aware of any other project quite like it, but wouldn’t it be great if every city had one, or if there was funding available to grow this to a bigger or even a national project!
I would love to hear your comments or if you have any questions for Melanie you can raise them with her direct, in the comments box below, or on my Facebook Page.