Sustainable travel event

30th July 2022

Becky Cox volunteers for Swindon Cycle Campaign and works within sustainable transport at a local Transport and Engineering company, PFA Consulting. Planning legislation stipulates that new developments must have a Travel Plan, part of which helps residents travel in more sustainable ways. Travel Plan Coordinators run initiatives such as community events promoting cycling to help encourage sustainable travel in the area.

Walking, cycling, and affordable public transport are key to reducing environmental maladies such as air pollution. Outdoor air pollution is estimated to have killed 4.51 million people globally in 2019. Its death rate is greater than that of Covid-19. The death rate from air pollution in Swindon is higher than anywhere else in the South West.

With regards to plastics, 9.6% of plastic production in Europe in 2019 came from the automotive industry. These plastics are generally not reused or recycled. This is one of many reasons why switching to electric cars is not the sustainable solution to meet climate targets that many of us seem to think it is. Then consider the vast levels of microplastic pollution from vehicle tyres.

The provision of affordable public transport would provide many benefits. Countries such as Germany have recently subsidised travel in response to the pandemic and cost of living crisis. The UK government have not. UK cities are among the most expensive to travel within Europe. The privatisation of public transport vastly increased prices for the profit of shareholders. With clear social and environnmental benefits to affordable public transport for all, the case for renationalisation is strong.

We've metaphorically cycled off-track, so let's get back on track. PFA Consulting invited us to their sustainable travel event at Badbury Park. Badbury Park is a relatively new housing development close to Coate Water which is still under construction in places. We were invited along to litter pick, and helped organise this activity. With all good intentions and effort, sometimes these events don't go to plan. I ended up litter picking alone!! Putting ego aside, I decided to make the most of the day and proceeded to clean Badbury Park and inform people I encountered about the sustainable travel event. Generally the people I spoke with were happy to chat and interested in the event.

Sustainable Travel Event

Interesting information is often learnt on such travels. One resident told me that, before Badbury Park was built, the would-be housing developers offered £1 million for refurbishment of Coate Water. Whilst researching for this article, it seems that such offers are common. Housing, including new builds, is often unaffordable for many and is being developed on green spaces. This is not sustainable development, as is often claimed. If we limited home ownership to share the housing that we have, we would have enough homes for all. The question then arises, why are we developing on green spaces at a time of climate crisis? Profit seems to be the key motivator. For the Badbury Park housing developers:

This is what happens when you wander around an area by foot, you inevitably veer off-track and get embroiled in some mini adventure. The levels of litter in Badbury Park were similar to many of Swindon's residential areas. One of the most littered areas was in and around one of the playgrounds next to the school. It was covered mainly in sweet wrappers, and cans and plastic bottles of sugary drinks from the likes of major plastic polluter, Coca Cola. Years after most of us learnt of the devastation caused by plastic pollution, we are still collectively consuming vast quantities of plastic-wrapped sweets and crips. Many of us do this aware of the negative consequences. Why?

In the park, there are banks which lead down into ditches, about 12 feet deep. There is some kind of drainage system here. Beyond some of the metal bars is the fallout from the housing development. I noticed, walking around Badbury Park, that much of the soil in grass verges looks more like building rubble. There are thick black sheets of plastic jutting out from it in many places. We see such industrial pollution all over Swindon. Concrete and rubble is extremely difficult to deal with. At the bottom of Kingshill, a large tree has recently been felled. Where it stood, it is clear to see the industrial waste in the soil. A huge dumped concrete structure juts out of the soil. We cannot continue treating the environment like this!!

Thick black plastic in the soil

Plastic mulch is commonly used as a supposed weed suppressant, especially around housing estates and business premises. It looks awful and doesn't serve its intended function; plants grow through it. Problems can occur covering the soil with plastic, pertaining to issues mentioned in this in-depth report on plastic pollution in soil. Consider the activities of the earthworm, for instance. Earthworms contribute to the carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen cycles, aerate the soil, aid the growth of plants, helps prevent flooding... Now consider that plastic mulch hinders earthworms carrying out these activities, reduces the number of earthworms, causes a reduction in earthworm size.

Plastic mulch is used in the shared gardens of the flats where I live. After demonstrating that plastic mulch is not suitable for purpose, unhealthy, and unsightly, the property maintenance manager agreed to remove all of it from our shared grounds. Bark is being used on its own instead. Cardboard would be another good alternative. I am asking First Port to make it company policy. They are the largest property management company in the UK, so this could have a big impact.

Mowed litter is the other noticeable problem in the park, as it is all over Swindon. To litter pick in advance of mowing would require a huge number of litter pickers, and so be expensive for parish councils. This is core to why litter is mowed. When mowed, one piece of litter can become scores of little pieces. It creates so much more work for litter pickers. Serated aluminium from cans and broken glass can be dangerous for humans and animals. Mowed litter is one way that plastics become microplastics. In some places, there are thousands of these tiny little bits of plastic. The verge between Mannington and Blagrove, for instance. Removing them would require a huge amount of time. The report on soil mentioned previously reviews studies on the affects of plastic pollution in soil. It is deeply concerning, a toxic legacy for the planet.

Mower-shredded litter

After cleaning up the park, I wandered back towards the sustainable travel event. There was a group bike ride led by Becky which I wanted to take part in. These are regularly organised around Swindon for Let's Ride. There were around 10 of us. I got talking with the person cycling next to me, who told me that he came on these bike rides for exercise and some company. Meet new people, help the environment, be healthy, feel good! You don't get that stuck in tailbacks on the M4!

Thanks to Becky and Harry of PFA Consulting for inviting us to this event.