Think back to the time before Blue Planet II, before omnipresent coverage of the problem of ocean plastic pollution and of the call to action. That’s when the principal of a south coast primary school and club secretary of the Queen Mary Sailing Club first started planning what would turn into a world record challenge: The Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge.
Its origins are founded in a love of the ocean by a band of friends. Tragically, one of the group, world champion and Olympic gold medallist sailor Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson, was killed while participating in his sport. Bart’s Bash was set up in his honour, and a world record in his name was set for the largest flotilla of boats racing at the same time.
The Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge is following in the footsteps of Bart’s Bash, aiming to raise awareness among children of the impact of plastic on the oceans and to set even more world records.
Jeremy Payne, founder and principal at St James Primary Academy in Bournemouth, explains: “Ocean pollution is a hugely important issue and boils down to our attitudes towards waste, recycling, convenience and conscience. Encouraging children to be aware of the issues and take action is a great way of tackling the problem for generations to come.”
A test event held in October 2017 set the rules and a benchmark world record, formally recognised by the Guinness World Record organisation early in 2018. St James’ pupils successfully launched 330 boats.
Planning for the 2018 event was well under way by this point, with schools from across the UK signing up to take part. In the event, almost 7,000 primary school pupils from 75 schools took part on 27 June. Schools can link up with participating venues or identify local ones. The aim was to set a new world record to highlight the impact that plastic waste is having on oceans and the environment. Two education organisations in North America and one in Turkey also participated.
Participating schools have access to teaching resources to support learning centred on issues of ocean plastic pollution, the environment, recycling and the circular economy. The resources and website have been developed thanks to an initial grant from the Heathrow Community Fund.
Children from a school in Turkey made a large motorboat from their plastic bottles as part of the event, a unique approach to the challenge. Teacher Turko Plas said: “Joining with schools in other countries to help our children understand how big the problem with plastic is, was a wonderful experience.”
Payne adds: “We are extremely keen to encourage as many schools as possible to participate next year and hope that more outside of the UK will get involved. The issue of ocean plastic affects everyone, and we are all part of the solution.”
Speaking about the challenge, Reverend John Pares, a governor of St James’ school, says: “This project is a wonderful, inventive way of encouraging young people to take responsibility for their environment. Care for the environment is fundamental to Christian faith. The Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge is now raising awareness and inspiring environmental responsibility in children across the country.”
It would be great to see the resource management industry get behind this initiative. I will personally be championing it, so look out for information on next year’s Plastic Bottle Boat Challenge.
John Twitchen is director of strategic communications agency env23
To host a Guinness World Record you need:
- At least 25 model boats, one per person
- All boats at your venue to be launched into one body of water, within 5 seconds
- Boats launched at the same time as all other venues, globally
- Boats that will float for at least 60 seconds
- All plastic bottles used in your attempt to be recycled
- To follow the Guinness World Record guidelines for taking video and photos