The little white cloud looks and feels like a polystyrene packing peanut, but, Kavanaugh assures me, “it tastes exactly like a communion wafer.” After a wary nibble, I pop the whole thing in and notch it up as a snack.
Kavanaugh’s packaging is made not of plastic but corn starch. If eating it feels like an act of faith, it is because there is a growing fervour in this Cornish seaside town. Last year, Penzance became the first town in Britain to receive “plastic-free” status from Surfers Against Sewage (SAS). The former single-issue movement, founded in Cornwall in 1990, has become a national marine conservation charity with plastics in its sights. But, rather than target shopping bags or plastic-lined coffee cups, SAS is attempting to unite whole communities against single-use plastic of all types, including straws, bottles, packaging, takeaway boxes, cotton buds, clingfilm and forks.
These were all items among the wretched flotsam that washed up on Cornish beaches in horrifying quantities when storms devastated the south-west coast in February 2014. Rachel Yates grew up in Penzance and remembers campaigning against CFCs as a child, but it was the aftermath of the storms that shook her into action as an adult after she joined an SAS beach-cleaning event. “There were bottles, cocktail sticks, coffee cup lids, razors, toothbrushes … I’d never seen anything like it and something in me snapped,” the 43-year-old radio journalist recalls.
Ocean plastics are more than a blight on pretty Cornish beaches. The UN has warned of the “irreparable damage” we are doing to marine life by discarding plastic, a lot of which ends up in the sea, toxifying food chains. The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in California and the University of Georgia have estimated that up to 10m tonnes of plastic enter oceans each year. Last year, during a national clean-up of more than 300 beaches in Britain, the Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter, the majority of them plastic, for every 100-metre stretch of coastline.
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