How a 10-year-old from Wales scored a big win in the war on plastic waste
Some campaigns take years, even decades to achieve change. Not for Skye Neville, a 10-year-old from a Welsh seaside town who in November became outraged at the cheap plastic toys that came attached to her favourite magazines.
Four months on, her campaign against throwaway toys has won plaudits from politicians, environmental activists and children’s champions – and has now prompted action from Waitrose, which has vowed to stop selling children’s magazines containing “disposable” toys, crediting Skye with the inspiration.
Speaking from her home in Fairbourne, Skye told the Guardian on Tuesday she was “very pleased” at Waitrose’s actions. “But I think it’s a shame publishers have to be told what they are doing is wrong. It would be good if they took it seriously without having to be told by 10-year-olds like me.”
“The most annoying toy I’ve had was a rubber tongue. What is the point of that?” she said. “I’ve had tonnes of squishy things and a skeleton pen you couldn’t even write with. A lot of plastic rubbish.”
She wrote to the magazine’s publishers, Kennedy Publishing, expressing her concern. The company wrote back claiming it was working hard to make its magazines more environmentally friendly and argued the toys could be played with more than once.
Skye, an admirer of Greta Thunberg, was unhappy with the reply so she launched a petition, explaining: “I am very concerned by the amount of plastic that is still being produced, thrown away and polluting our oceans and environment. This is why I want the magazine and comic publishers to really care for the environment and STOP giving away plastic toys with their publications.
“I really enjoy reading the magazines, I particularly like ‘Horrible Histories’ but I just want the magazine, I don’t want or need the cheap plastic toys which are either played with for a few minutes or break on the first use and then [get] thrown away. Any ‘gifts’ that the magazines offer should be sustainable and ethical so that we can protect our planet for us and future generations.”
Thousands of people have signed and Skye’s campaign has attracted the attention of her local MP, the Plaid Cymru leader in Westminster, Liz Saville Roberts, who has laid down an early day motion in the Commons calling on the UK government to encourage publishers to make their magazines more environmentally friendly.
The Welsh government and Surfers Against Sewage have praised her, and Wales’s future generations commissioner, Sophie Howe, has pledged to help the campaign. Skye is now preparing to write to every school in Wales to highlight the issue.
Waitrose said it would remove children’s magazines containing disposable toys from its shelves over the next eight weeks. “Many children’s magazines now contain free plastic toys which have a very short lifespan and cannot be easily recycled. This will not include educational or reusable craft items, such as colouring pencils and pens or collectable models which are intended to be used multiple times,” it said.
Skye’s campaign is especially poignant as her coastal community is threatened by climate change. Sea defences at Fairbourne are to stop being maintained in the 2050s and Gwynedd council may begin moving out villagers before then.
Skye’s father, Dave, a postman, said he was proud of how hard his daughter had worked. “She has got the word out there and reached the stage where Waitrose took notice. It’s amazing what she has achieved. She has demonstrated power and tenacity. She has not given in. I hope it will inspire other young people to realise their voice can be heard if they are passionate about an issue.”
Asked to comment, Kennedy Publishing sent a statement from the Professional Publishers Association, saying: “PPA members are committed to reducing excess plastic wherever possible across all aspects of the magazine lifecycle and maximising the circularity of materials used in their products.
“Cover mounted gifts are an integral element of the magazine experience for many, with gifts complementing the content and providing stimulus for play, creativity and learning. All cover mounted toys and gifts meet UK safety standards and our research shows around half of these gifts are still present in the home 12 months after purchase.”
Saville Roberts said: “Skye has drawn attention to the impact plastic is having on the planet worldwide and the devastating consequences of discarded plastic on our oceans and natural environment. It’s appalling to realise how much plastic polluting our world is just throwaway frippery. We must wake up to how we are squandering irreplaceable natural resources on marketing tat.
“Her passionate and successful lobbying reflects the widespread support which her campaign has received, presenting both politicians and key industry players with some hard truths about plastic pollution.”