The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

‘We are killing this planet piece of trash by piece of trash’

Albert Galea Monday, 22 April 2019, 10:32 Last update: about 11 months ago

Malta, Europe and indeed the world have a problem with waste; “we are killing this planet piece of trash by piece of trash – and that’s not okay”, Trudy Kerr says passionately as her friend and running partner Deborah Gatt, sitting next to her, nods in agreement.

The waste problem is a subject that is so close to their hearts. Just over a week ago, Kerr and Gatt undertook an incredible physical task – they ran 126 kilometres around the coast of Malta, a journey which passed them through eight separate clean-ups and took them almost 24 hours to complete.

The initial idea for the #WaveOfChange is not theirs, but when Kerr, who presents the Big Drive Home on the popular radio station XFM, had the founder of the idea and the person who swam 70 kilometres around Malta’s coast Neil Agius on her show, the idea to literally run with the campaign was sparked.

“During the show, Trudy literally messaged me and asked me if I am up for a challenge – we’re always up to something crazy so I told her that if it’s with you let’s go for it”, Gatt recalls.

It was right after receiving that message that Kerr, live on-air, asked Agius how he felt if they could adopt his idea of the #WaveOfChange and literally run with it.

“I was hearing this on air, and in her mind Trudy thought it was a 70 kilometre run – I messaged her to tell her that this was not the case; it would be over 100 kilometres as a coastal route is longer than a swimming route….that was the first reality check”, Gatt laughs.

In the early stages of organisation, the idea to organise a big corporate clean-up was already present, Gatt explains, but it was at this point that they met Cane Vella from Get Trashed Malta.

“This guy is really passionate about the environment and what we do with it, and he suggested to us that instead of doing just one clean-up we could do several”, Gatt explains.

From there then, the activity developed from including just one clean-up, to including a total of eight which touched upon and dealt with different types of waste.

In fact, clean-ups took place at Manoel Island, where two tonnes of rubbish were picked up, Fort Campbell, where a further two skips were picked up, Mizieb, which was especially marked as child-friendly, Xemxija, which was an underwater clean-up, between Kennedy Grove and Salini, which was a plogging event – a combination of jogging and picking up litter, QaletMarku and another beach clean-up.

All in all, a combined total of 150 volunteers picked up around six tonnes of rubbish.  Skips and trucks left from practically every site; one truck in Xemxija for instance was filled exclusively with tyres recovered from the sea, whilst deckchairs and green dustbins were also found in the murky depths.

“We are happy about the results but we are also happy especially about the awareness we raised – there were people at QaletMarku who were picnicking there and joined in the clean-up with us, and that’s the effect we need to have more of”, Gatt explains.

Since they wanted their route to pass through each site, having so many clean-ups did mean that Gatt and Kerr’s mileage had to increase to the point that it was pretty much three back-to-back marathons.

It was a gruelling training regime characterised by structure.  With the help of Triple Iron Man Fabio Spiteri, WFF European Bikini Champion Lee Ann Bartolo and ultramarathon runner Cliff Sultana, both ladies had a specialised training programme to follow in the run up to the event.

Nutrition was also a key factor to their preparation but so was the medical preparation – both ladies underwent medical tests to make sure that their bodies were up to the challenge.  Last but not least, the mentality has to be right too; “you have to be stubborn and determined”, Gatt says before Trudy chimes in and says “and a bit bonkers too”.

The plan for the day was that Gatt and Kerr would run the full 126-kilometre route, but they would be joined on different stretches by teams of runners.  Some stretches were opened to the public whilst other, more difficult stretches, were reserved for hand-picked runners. The idea behind having different people running with them was namely a mental one; they provided additional mental motivation and support while, if something went wrong to one of Gatt and Kerr, the other runner could run on and not be alone.

Incidentally, that scenario unfortunately did come to fruition.  During the night Gatt was forced to pull out due to health issues, but Kerr powered on with the support of the other runners.

“That was a very long and bad night, but come the morning I started running again – the doctors were not very happy about that, but we did it!”, Gatt says with a smile on her face.

This campaign is, naturally, about much more than simply running around Malta.  Not even is the next question – on the extent of the litter problem that Malta is facing and how this campaign fits in – finished that Kerr chimes in; “I saw this just this morning”, she says as she shows a picture of a discarded McDonalds bag and its contents strewn across the floor, a mere two feet away from two dustbins.

“What I donot  understand is that someone went out to Top of the World – one of the most beautiful parts of the island – brought their McDonalds, ate it and, in their head, thought it was okay to open their car door and throw that rubbish on the floor less than 2 feet away from 2 dustbins”, Kerr laments.

“This isn’t about me – I am going to be dead before this really matters; but we are denying everyone who is coming after us because we are lazy little a*****es”, Kerr says before continuing with a near sense of anger; “we’re too lazy to pick up rubbish; to find an alternative to plastic; to do what we used to do 20 or so years ago –we are just so lazy”.

“You tell me how that’s okay - we are killing this planet piece of trash by piece of trash, and it’s not okay”, she says passionately.

Now speaking on the extent of the litter problem in Malta, Gatt notes that she had always been aware of the problem, but ever since embarking on the campaign and getting something of a closer view of the situation, it’s even more shocking that what we thought it would be.

Photos Jamie Gatt

This is shown in the results of the clean-ups, Gatt notes – the fact that 150 people in the span of around two hours on average managed to gather full skips and truckloads of waste shows the extent of the problem.

There are seven garbage patches in our oceans, and most people think that because they cannot see them, they do not exist, Kerr says.  The one in the South Pacific is 9,493 times the size of Malta, she says before repeating that number for added emphasis.

People say that there’s no impact locally, she laments but she then adds that she’s been scuba diving for 12 years and the shoals of 300 to 400 barracudas, all a metre long, that one could see at some of Malta’s beautiful diving spots are now all gone.

“All of the marine life is gone…I cannot even bear to dive anymore…and we are not going to get it back – this is what we are doing for all the generations that come after us, and who do we think we are to think that that is okay?”, Kerr says.

“This is why we did it and why everybody took it for granted that this isnot stopping here; this will go on”, she said.

“We need more people who don’t litter in the first place and then we need others to clean”, Gatt says. The idea of the campaign was to try and change the mentality and to reuse things more, reduce the amount of single use plastic and, more than anything, to be more responsible, she adds.

“There is something of an awakening taking place”, Kerr says, comparing it to some 20 years ago when everybody thought it was okay to use CFCs despite the greenhouse gasses they caused, something which today is deemed unacceptable.  “All I am hoping for is that there is this same type of change”, she says.

What needs to be done to create a sense of social consciousness around the environment though?

“I think there needs to be unity amongst people of influence; there is only one way to make people stop what they are doing and that is to create a sense of awareness and a sense of shame”, Kerr explains before then adding that there needs to be an added sense of understanding about the problem of single-use plastic.

She also touches on the littering issue; “we as #WaveOfChange are all about picking up rubbish, but also about not dropping it in the first place – people should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves for littering and they should be answerable for it”.

Gatt agrees, saying that harsher fines and more community service centred around actually cleaning up the environment is needed.

“You have to pay a price – we have gotten to a point where drastic action is needed, and that means that we need to stop the increase in rubbish; all these efforts to clean up are great and much needed – but if people are dirtying at a faster rate than the clean-ups are happening, then it’s useless”, she laments.

To try and change that littering mentality, Gatt says that there is the need to go into the schools and educate the future generation as to what is right and what is wrong and to set the example for children.

For those with the wrong mentality however, drastic action is needed, Gatt says, with stronger deterrents; plain clothes officers catching people, handing down heftier fines, and dishing out community service which would make people go up and down the street until every last cigarette butt is collected.

“We need to do something and it cannot be at the eleventh hour – the situation is already bad as it is – if we leave it another five years, hell we will be going to beaches and it will be a matter of avoiding rubbish and not people”, Gatt says.

Kerr nods in agreement; “There needs to be a national, international, and global outcry”, she says.

What is next for the #WaveOfChange campaign now then?

The campaign will now move into schools, with a set of big education initiatives taking place about the topic, Kerr explains. 

Both Kerr and Gatt meanwhile still have some more running to do; the Run the #WaveOfChange will move to Gozo on May 4, while a run around Comino will also take place at some point next September so that it can be combined with the campaign in schools.  Neil Agius meanwhile will also be swimming around the Gozo coastline as well.

For 2020 though, there are already some big ideas developing both in their heads and in Agius’ head. 

“This is not a one-time thing; the message has to always be there and be alive so that we can continue sounding this voice”, Gatt says.

It is a campaign that is open for all as well – Kerr invites anybody who wants to take part in some way or propose an idea to get in touch with them.

In many ways, it can be described as a campaign that is for everyone – much like the environment is for everyone.

The next Run the #WaveOfChange takes place on 4 May in Gozo – all those interested and wanting to stay updated with this cause can follow the campaign’s official Facebook page at Run the #WaveOfChange.

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