EA at Plastics Future 2023 – sharing creative approaches to end plastic pollution. 
Victoria Prowse and Helen Powers from the East Midlands Regulated Industry team have written about their recent presentation at the Plastics Future 2023 conference at Plymouth University in honour of Plastic Free July. 

We responded to a request from the team at Plymouth University's Plastics Future 2023 conference earlier this year. The goal of the event was to bring together teams from all over the world to exchange concepts and best practises in an effort to generate fresh approaches to reducing plastic pollution. They were searching for initiatives that went above and beyond the norm in educating the public about the dangers of plastic pollution.  We discussed our 2021 partnership with Nottingham's Backlit Gallery and the international artist Joshua Sofaer—who has previously created waste-inspired works with the Science Museum—in a ten-minute presentation. 

We had been seeking fresh approaches to demonstrate to the neighbourhood residents how waste affects the environment. We mentioned that we saw this as a novel and unconventional method to interact with populations that we might ordinarily find difficult to connect with because art is a medium that so many people can relate to. 
Joshua worked alongside our officers in 2019 and visited locations all throughout the East Midlands to personally gauge the severity of the crisis. Joshua then had the notion to convert an art gallery into a facility that produces plastic garbage. 

Pictures from the exhibit that demonstrated how Joshua brought topics to life in a way that the general public wouldn't often be able to witness were shared. People might view a "day in the life of our officers" in one space and learn how garbage affects wildlife. In another, we highlighted the value of odour recognition. 

Additionally, there was a chamber for sorting plastic that had been gathered from the public by science communicators. As 96.8kg is the average weight of plastic garbage produced per person each year in the UK, this plastic was then used to make a life-size sculpture of a local citizen. 
We clarified that because the Environment Agency is a science-based body, not everyone will always get our messages. However, this graphic depiction of trash effectively and plainly illustrated the damage that plastic manufacture and consumption do to the ecosystem. 
Then we discussed the various ways we could spread the word even further. We were able to interact with our local communities through planned litter-picking events and discuss the plastic pollution in their neighbourhoods. For a nearby elementary school, we developed STEM lessons in collaboration with Nottingham City Council. We may educate the next generation about the effects of plastic pollution by discussing the various sorts of plastics. We also emphasised the value of engaging regional local media and the effectiveness of getting our local BBC radio and television to attend a STEM session. 

We finished by explaining how teams can continue their impact even after their projects finish and make them part of their long-term work. Through our Regulated Exhibition we learned that connecting in-person and talking about our local area worked really well. So, our teams continue to run STEM sessions in schools. We also still litter pick around the local area and make new connections with the outreach group and council. 

Because of the connections we made during the Exhibition, we were able to secure a place at Nottingham’s Green Hustle eco festival, so our Sustainability Network could spread the message even further 
In order to give the East Midlands a platform for further initiatives like this, we also helped BACKLIT establish an eco-arts programme. 
We had the opportunity to network with many different professionals from many fields at the conference, and it was a pleasure to appear on stage with some truly outstanding projects. Many of the presentations provoked thought, which undoubtedly led to a lot of conversation on the bus ride home. 
We hope that our participation on the day inspired others to attempt something new and that the connections formed during the conference will lead to future partnerships. Together, we can improve the environment by reaching out to larger audiences. 
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