In the first of our series of interviews connecting with other organisations in Wales which share our core values of waste reduction, skill sharing and community cohesion, Kath Jenkins, Repair Cafe Wales’ Sustainability Reporter met up with Naomi, the founder of Rhiwbina Against Plastic (RAP). Inspired by Blue Planet II, Naomi set up RAP in Cardiff as she felt compelled to do something to reduce, reuse or recycle single-use plastic which so often becomes marine waste. It was therefore quite fitting that we discussed her initiative on the 8th June, #WorldOceansDay.

I started by asking Naomi how RAP’s activities result in waste reduction, a major environmental benefit close to our hearts at Repair Cafe Wales.  Repairing something, rather than throwing it away, results in less waste being sent to landfill.

“RAP has led several initiatives to reduce single-use plastic in the village. For example, Rhiwbina Village Festival attracts over 1,000 people each summer and last year we worked with local businesses to supply free water fill stations. We widely publicised our campaign before the festival so that people would bring their own drinking vessels. We had a fantastic response from local businesses, including Edwards & Co, estate agents who supplied a campervan and provided free water and squash throughout the day. Other refill stations were provided by the Art Workshop, Beulah Church and Rhiwbina Library. We estimated that we saved over 300 bottles.

In addition, we have worked with the PTA at Rhiwbina Primary School and they have held a “plastic-free” barbeque. We are also arranging a fancy dress library at the school so that children can reuse costumes rather than buying new ones which may only be worn once.”

Naomi explained how RAP promotes skill sharing.   This is a key element of Repair Cafe Wales, as our visitors are invited to sit with their volunteer repairers to watch and discuss the repair, enabling skills to be passed on:

“At RAP we try to share knowledge and promote behavioural change. Our aim is to encourage and support people in our community so that they have the confidence to alter their behaviour in respect of single-use plastic. For example, we partnered with Keep Wales Tidy and the Friends of Rhiwbina Library to give a talk in Rhiwbina Library about recycling and have attended several plastic-free events, raising awareness in a fun and practical way about what items should be put in our green recycling bags. We used fun sessions such as “bin it to win it”, where we brought samples of waste with us and invited participants to dispose of them as quickly as possible into the correct receptacle – either “black bag waste” or “green bag recycling”.  We found that tetrapaks, which typically contain fruit juice or plant-based milks, caused the most confusion as although the paks are strictly speaking recyclable, they are not recycled locally as it is difficult to separate all the different components of the cartons which  include paperboard, aluminium and plastic.”   

Rhiwbina Against Plastic Picture

Repair Cafe Wales fixing sessions promote community cohesion by inspiring and connecting local residents from different backgrounds.  Naomi went on to describe how RAP delivers community cohesion.  “RAP is a community group which relies on support from local businesses and organisations to hold joint events such as community litter picks. One of our most successful campaigns has been the Terracycle recycling initiative which was only made possible through support from our local library. Local people deposited their waste items, such as empty crisp packets, biscuit wrappers and toothbrushes, at the library which we then sent to Terracycle. Over the last year or so we have raised over £1,500 which we have given to local community projects. We have streamlined the initiative so that different businesses will take responsibility for specific waste streams which should make segregating the waste easier. This should also help to increase footfall into smaller businesses. Unfortunately, we have been unable to launch this new initiative given the restrictions which have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic, but we will when it is safe to do so.”   

This led on to my final questions regarding the current restrictions which have meant that Repair Cafe Wales has been unable to hold public events. Instead, we have been streaming virtual repairs which can be watched here. I asked Naomi what other impacts the COVID-19 situation have had upon RAP’s activities.  “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do much during this time, so we have treated it as a break to think about where we go from here. We know that there has been an increase in milk deliveries with reusable glass bottles, rather than disposable plastic ones, as well as veg box deliveries which do not use plastic bags, which has been good news for our cause. However, we are aware that health and safety requirements post lockdown will see an increase in the use of single-use items such as coffee cups, as we will not be able to use our own reusable ones. This is a shame as many people had got used to bringing their reusable cups with them.”

We hope you have enjoyed finding out about Rhiwbina Against Plastic.  For further information please visit their Facebook page.

Join us next time to find out more about another Welsh organisation which shares Repair Cafe Wales core values.