Statistics and Questions

Out of the 116kg of litter removed from the Back Beach on Isle Martin on the 5th of June, 106.5kg went to Caithness to be buried as landfill and 9.5 kg have entered the recycling system graded into the following categories:

drinks bottles Drinks bottles will be recycled into more bottles

milk bottles graph  Milk bottles will be recycled into more bottleswashing up bottls copy   Washing liquid bottles, will  be going for power incineration for electricity
aluminium cans Aluminium cans will be remade into new cans
Tin cans copy Tin cans will be added into general steel reprocessing

I am seeking permission to document all the above processes, from the multiple companies dealing with the materials and  my results will be posted.

Of the 25 strand-lines that I have recorded in Ross-shire and Sutherland over the last 12 months the highest percentage of litter is made up of commercial fishing related materials such as ropes, and cord. Given that it is going to take years before the volume of litter we find on the beaches is reduced, I am asking the obvious question :

Can more of this litter be recycled or at the very least be used for fuel in electricity plants?

I have thrown this question out to the waste industry specialists that I have met, but I am welcome any information and ideas that readers have regarding the processing of the mixed plastic waste that makes up so much of our litter and our refuse bins. Two particular items that we find masses of on the beach are plastic caps and polystyrene surely they can be recycled

 caps-     polystyrene

Having now seen the variety of plastics that gets sorted and categorised for processing at one transfer station which includes a vast array of plastic bags from the thin supermarket carrier bags to pet food sacks and bubble wrap I wonder why we are often not encouraged to include these in the recycling bins.

stretching plastic quality copy     coloured plastic

Querying the value of plastic bags at Munros Transfer station Billy Munro explained to me the value of the various different grades of plastics by stretching the plastic between his fingers if it stretches well and is un coloured, thankfully like the bag I brought my litter evidence in from Isle Martin, then it is of high value and will be worth recycling . If on the other hand bags are coloured and have little stretch they will go for incineration. Let’s hope we see fewer bags and when we do that they are un-coloured.






Recycling – hope

It’s ‘National Recycling Week’ & I am filled with hope as I witness the masses of materials that are beginning their recycling  journey

materials for recycling copy

Of the many different materials that I collected on the Isle Martin beach gun cartridges, bottle caps, rope, buoys, crates, etc only the plastic bottles and metal cans fitted the Highland Councils Recycling list. So it was these materials that I followed south to two waste transfer stations both located off the A9 just north of Inverness.

MUnros shed

My first hot stop on Tuesday morning was at Munros a massive busy aircraft hanger  on the edge of an industrial estate appropriately sited next to a neighbouring car crushing plant. As I waited in the shade of the site reception office for Billy Munro the owner of the company, who kindly agreed to meet and show me around I took in the site regulations and site check lists on the table noting that today the days temperature a sweltering 70 degrees, the fact that no wind /breeze was recorded and apparently there was no odour issue.  I see these checks are required of the site at regular intervals throughout the day .
Billy Munro is a wonderfully open about his waste transfer business which he set up in 2007 as an addition to his demolition business. I quickly began to understand how the prime purpose of the recycling transfer business especially in the Highlands (and other low population density areas) is about receiving small loads from multiple destinations, combing like materials, loading them up into much bigger trucks for transferring  on either to landfill or the companies actually carrying out the recycling process.
loading mixed mats munros copy mixed paper

Walking into the hanger we were first confronted a multi-coloured paper mountain, the texture of the mountain face being made up of every conceivable type of paper you can imagine. This paper is heaped up sorted again into mixed or top quality paper piles ready for bailing and shipping out. The plastics and metals are sorted by 10 men along a conveyor belt, onto which mixed materials are automatically fed. The noise of the machinery and plant loading the hoppers is loud and the smell of the items on the belt is strong. The men move fast sorting out three different types of plastic bottles, while the metals are sorted by magnets and shot into different bins at the end of the line. The whole process takes place on a structure above the shed floor to enable the materials to drop down into different compartments.

loading conveyerbelt the cnveyer belt op me & conveyer beltseperation of aper quality
Having carried my evidence bags of beach litter from Ullapool, I joined the line momentarily to add my plastic and metal to the line thankful that these few bottles and cans will be sorted and will go to be recycled to reduce the amount of oil and metal ore needing to be mined. . My hope is that the rest of the bottles from the litter lines and metal cans will also be somewhere in these mounds. By the end of the day the  milk bottles collected on the beach  should end up somewhere in a growing mound  and the washing up bottles will be bailed up ready to sending for processing by the end of the week.

milk bottles washing up bottls copy

The transfer times of materials to the next stage of their recycling process is governed to a large extent by the market prices of materials , for example the price of drinks bottles (PET plastics) usually high apparently has dropped considerably due to an increase in Americas recovery of these items. So water and coke bottles will wait for the prices to rise, but unusually the milk bottles we towed off the island are presently fetching £400 tonne, more than drinks bottles worth £200. Billy began to explain the pricing fluctuations  as we watched the bailing process top quality paper (corrugated card) which will  be sold either to reprocessing mills in the UK in Rochdale and/or companies who ship it out for milling to India and China according to who offers the best price.

Munros cans being bailed B Munro copy bailing Hi Quality paper bailed mixed paper copy

The importance of the market price of materials in determining the next leg of the recycling journey was  a point that was re made to me later at Invergordon the Highland Councils own transfer station. Of all the materials coming into the stations Aluminium is probably the most profitable material per tonne,presently £700 tonne, but often much more. But as its light weight,  it requires thousands of  cans to make up a tonne. As my materials were sorted at the Ullapool depot the cans would be processed here like at Munros the metal is sorted using magnets but here the compacting and bailing is on a much smaller scale

conveyer belt of materials invergordon belt compacting cans making up bails

The Invergordon Waste Transfer Station deals with tins and paper arriving from the roadside and centre recycling points from Ross & Cromarty. Here Dave the councils man on the ground sorts, loads, processes materials to make up economically viable loads to fill hauliers 44 tonne trucks heading to processing plants across Scotland, the UK and onwards Europe, Asia……

metal bails
I am heartened to see the volume of materials being recovered, hopeful for us to improve the recovery of more materials and pleased to have been able to visit the teams of people working on the ground over the last week. They have helped me to begin to understand the recycling journey of materials we save. I will continue sharing the information I  have collected over the coming weeks and ideas that are arising following the ‘Litter Lines’

A great way to celebrate National Recycling Week! Recycling Week has been held since 2004 and its mission has been to simply encourage us to recycle more.


Antidote – clean beaches

After visiting the Caithness landfill site, I took time to travel back to Ullapool along the dramatic coastal road. How wonderful to see so many clean beaches. Ito check this out but think this may be as a result of the tidal currents along  this North West stretch of the coast  which keeps the  litter off shore, plus the litter that does reach the shoreline is washed out easily across the sandy beaches and not caught in rocks and stones . The result is often the tourist industries announcement of  a converted  ‘Clean Beach Award’.


IMG_2853 award winning beach sign IMG_2843
My litter notes on beaches in the bays of Farr, Sango and Balnakeil were so short, only 10 pieces over 500m an on some stretches had absolutely nothing! I rejoiced and ceased making notes on litter in favour of  photographing, collecting and sketching seaweed.


This reminded me that it was my ‘wanting to see’ the seaweed, stones, sand and all the marine life that occupies the Littoral Zone  without having to search for it through the beach litter that started me off on this  journey. I look forward  to making relief prints from the seaweed samples collected over the last few days, which I will be sending to crowd funding supporters of the project. I will be making further prints of my north west coast seaweed collection so please e mail me  at if you would like to support the project through purchasing a print.

DSCF8109  DSCF8107

Tonight I am sad to be leaving Ullapool and my friends here, but glad that this time I am heading east to follow the recycling journey of my ‘litter lines’ s. But  I will be back to show the progress of my investigation findings in the autumn. Thanks to everyone in Ullapool for their support!

Landfill – waste

At least once in our lives we should all stand in the middle of a ‘landfill site’ and take time to reflect.

landfill mound
The westerly winds were with me as I left Ullapool with my evidence bag full of materials from the Back Beach and headed east along the A839 and then North through the contrasting low landscape of Caithness to the Seater Landfill Site, where all ‘non-recyclable materials’ are destined to go in the Highlands.

A839 caithnes road landfill sign repoting to site
The sign on the road gives nothing away as to the extensive waste handling operation that is going on up the single track road. I reported to Andrea The Highland Councils Waste Management Assistant at the site office, who summarised how large ‘cells’ of areas of the site are successively excavated across the site, filled with waste and then covered over.

seater landfill KW1 4TP
As we set off for the ‘tip face’ the haulage contractor from Ross-shire which would have included the beach litter from Isle Martin pulled out of the site having just dropped his consignment of 44 tonnes of waste into this months ‘cell’.

tip face wide  Tip face web

We followed the track up to the centre of the site entered the netted area protecting the exposed waste from the winds and birds . Pausing to try and take in the waste we were about to walk over, I was pleased the day was overcast to dampen the smell and glare from shining colours of the plastic bags and objects mounded in front of us.  The volume of litter before us was chilling – bags and bags of our rubbish, bottles, food, books, household objects and now ….

evidence bag web


walking away from the evidence web
I took my ‘evidence bag’ to the centre of the cell placing it down, sickened to be adding yet more rubbish to this burial mound. Walking across this squelching mound of rubbish I felt the heavy weight of the litter beneath me . Is there an alternative? Can we reduce what we use, throw away and therefore have to bury? Each day at this site the council deals with 3-5 trucks of rubbish, requiring excavation, lining the cells to prevent leaching , the water run-off has to be drained and filtered before it can join the natural water courses and the mounds have to be capped off with the earth removed earlier. The site is anticipated to be in use burying our rubbish until 2040. The illustrated Guide to Britain lying on top of the mound seems to be testimony to what we are doing and therefore the reason for this site .

illustrated guide to Britain web

Andrea pointed out that significant amounts of the rubbish before us could have been recycled if it had been separated. We all need to try harder to be separating out materials so this mound is kept to a minimum. She also is working locally to increase awareness as to the need to do this. The children’s painting on the side of the site office is simple, strong and heart warming ‘Recycle’

recycling mural
I drove away chanting the  Waste Service moto ‘REDUCE, REUSE , RECYLE, REDUCE,  REUSE , RECYCLE, REDUCE, REFUSE, RECYCLE which quickly changed into REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE the battle cry against excessive plastic packaging.

Many thanks to the Highland Councils, Waste Services for allowing me to follow the outcomes of the litter I have towed off Isle Martin.



Lines arriving

On the mainland the hauled up lines  and containers full of litter from the beach have been collected from the Isle Martin Slipway by the Highland Counci and taken back to Ullapools Waste Transfer Station. I  spent Monday mirroring  the sorting procedure of the station selecting out materials for recycling and landfill . In total 116 kilos of litter  was removed from the back beach and  towed off the island, unfortunately there is much more still there!


The majority of the litter  was rope and commercial fishing litter, with a small amount of domestic litter the majority of which was undoubtedly plastic bottles and caps . From my collection the plastic bottles and metal cans are the prime the materials that will feed into the recycling program of the Highland Council the rest will unfortunately be going to landfill .   I will shortly be heading off north to follow the  journey that waste materials going to landfill make from Ross-Shire once compacted into the road containers.

IMG_2719  IMG_2740  IMG_2724  IMG_2743

IMG_2750  IMG_2742  IMG_2760  IMG_2761


As I worked through the litter inside the  open shed of the Transfer Station  high on the hill  Isle Martin was in view and  I mused on  how in less than 24hours I had moved from the  sublime to the ridiculous. I will definitely return to the small fascinating sublime island to revel in its ecology and views.



Departing Lines

I towed the last litter lines off the island on Sunday. The corrugated plastic sections of prawn boxes float well, but as I pulled away from the pontoon the slits in the box sections caught on to one another  creating an underwater knot which kept wrapping around as I doubled back to the the pontoon. Pausing to to unravel the knot  I realised the  rubber gloves tied on the end  section had unbalanced the line causing it to twist. Pulling the rubber glove and gun cartridge lines into the boat I set off again this time a  broad  white  line was drawn across the surface of the  loch leading from the boat to the island .  A  strong symbolic  mark denoting the three weeks work mapping collecting and removing removing the washed up litter on an a small uninhabited island.

departiing line

The litter lines drawn across the loch have been recorded and will form the starting point for a  series of future visual statements  about the nature and volume of  beach litter along our coast. I intend to bring the development is work back to Ullapool in the autumn, to celebrate the work of the Littoral Art Project’s work here  with all those who have taken part over the past year.

IMG_2547 IMG_2552 DSCF7613 DSCF7654



Challenges – easterly winds, food and funding

After our big towing event on Thursday, yesterday I downed oars and spent the day drying clothes, resting a dodgy knee with a kelp bandage on and enjoying the sun. Wanting to have a day enjoying the beauty of the island I set myself the challenge to ignore the remaining litter on the beach. Keeping this in mind Cal and I spent the afternoon meandering from rock pool to rock pool enjoying the wide variety of rocks that make up the pebbles and cobbles on the beach. Eventually we climbed the biggest rocks at the north end of the beach jutting into deep water where I dangled a fishing line into the clear water for a few hours, looking into the sea became mesmerising, spotting sea urchins anemones and starfish all clinging tight to the rocks, unfortunately the only fish I saw were smaller than the fly’s on my hooks .

IMG_2636   kelp knee   sea anenome   IMG_2647

Living on an island and not having caught a fish to eat feels a great omission especially as I realised my stock of food was running low, fortunately there was/is plenty of biscuits and coffee left. But the nagging question is where are the Mackerel surely there should be a source of sea food on an island?

Today I woke looking forward to rowing the dinghy and towing the remaining three litter lines off Isle Martin to Ardmair. My plan soon had to be re-configured to accommodate the strong easterly winds that had set in, the next job on the list was to remove the un-connectable bits of litter mounded up on the beach but how?

Thankfully my project has been supported by John a generous boatman  who today offered to tow the mounds back behind his yacht. So the tangles of rope, net, shoes, hats and plastic boxes were ferried out to bedeck John’s boat. The luxury crossing only taking 30 minutes even in the choppy seas, once moored the reverse dinghy to shore process was quickly carried out making sure we were also able to make the opening of a new exhibition of work ‘Source’ by artist Barbara Peffer at An Talla Solais few miles away in Ullapool.

IMG_2665   IMG_2668   IMG_2667   John in his boat



As I still have litter lines waiting to be towed to the mainland and I need to collect my kit together to head back on the road this coming wee, to follow the recycling journey. I decided to return to the island tonight if possible. As the wind seemed to have dropped a little I decided one last evening crossing would be possible. I quickly wheeled the dinghy down the slipway on a sack trolley with me underneath it like a turtle until reaching the seaweed on which I could smoothly launch it into the water. As soon as I was in the boat I realised the tide was still pulling and that the easterly wind was picking up. Both causing me to quickly assess my route across, so I headed into the wind as I knew I would soon get pulled quickly in the direction of the island once beyond the protection of the moorings. No time to think of seals, surrounding landscapes and nearby seabirds tonight only pulling as hard as I could and holding my course and nerve.

Saturday night loch

On reaching the safety of the pontoon in record time fueled by a massive adrenalin rush I began to think how essential it is to have a powered boat  for anyone to be able to live on Isle Martin, Accessibility to the island is a necessity for the Trust to be able to develop their work here. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Trust and myself is to raise funds  to be able to develop our projects!
Crowd funding has been the prime funding source for this second stage of my project together with the in kind support from individuals like John Mcintyre, Dave Falkoner and all the skiff rowers plus organisations like An Talla Solais, Ullapool Harbour Trust, Ullapool Museum, Ullapool High School. For which I am hugely indebted a massive thank you!  At the end of a long day/week I see my biggest challenge after  rowing across a lively sea is to find funding to enable the project to continue and to follow the strong lines of investigation developing. Any ideas please get in touch!

World Environment Day

It may have been a grey dreich day but it has been a wonderful day crossing Loch Broom.

rowing across from Isle Martin (2)

Two teams of people managed to successfully tow over 150m of litter off Isle Martin today, in celebration of World Environment Day. The thousands of pieces of litter were collected and joined together on the Back Beach of Isle Martin over the last two weeks.

skiff arriving on Isle Martin (2)
Thankfully the day started calm and warm though with light rain as the first team of Ullapool High School pupils arrived with Topher their teacher at 10.30am. After a very quick break for oranges and biscuits on the beach we carried the lines of plastic bottles and bottle caps down to the waters edge, where they were tied together and then onto the skiff.

DSCF7764 DSCF7765 DSCF7773 DSCF7782
The line stretched over 75 metres behind the boat even though the bottles were light the drag they created , plus me being an extra person in the boat certainly made it a harder row back to were they had started from earlier. The team pulled together well and steadily and it was great to see a pupil steer us so well to Ardmair slipway through the moored boats and buoys. A great contribution to the project and to showing what we can do pulling together to care for the environment.

DSCF7828 DSCF7790 DSCF7832 DSCF7830
Well done : Norman, Jake , Mairi, Mhairi and their teacher thanks also to the head teacher Robbie McFedries for coming out to cheer them in with Lesley Strachan their art teacher.

skiff arriving Ardmair (2)

As the school team headed for a hot chocolate in the campsite cafe the second team donned their life jackets and quickly took up their places in Cul Mor which was turning into a wonderful sociable place to be. Our second team was coxed by Merlin a director of the Isle Martin Trust, with all important oars people John (ecologist/engineer/invaluable project supporter), Bill ( Ullapool Museum volunteer), Lesley (Ullapool High School teacher) Anne ( member of the Ullapool Coastal Rowing Club) and myself (photographer)
Our row out was magical as the rain eased and we glided swiftly from the shores of the mainland to those of the Isle in wonderful monochrome light and mist.

DSCF7856 towing away DSCF7875 DSCF7876
Ashore we selected the long blue lines of rope , plastic containers and threaded polystyrene to attach to the skiff . in a bid to get closer shots of the lines I took up the steering position. For this trip we had Cal on board as our living misquote in the bow of the boat with John.
On the return we kept up a steady pace followed at times by cormorants seagulls and we think possibly accompanied at one point by a minky whale. Quite an entourage to witness the litter being removed almost all of which must have been washed up on the island as its not been habited for years.

As we neared the mainland we saw that Dave (today’s photographer) had wonderfully returned to document our arrival   and a group of holiday makers keen to see and hear about our endeavors . So the World Environment Day  ( United Nations  World Environment Program)  message is spreading. To work together to make a difference no matter how small. Over the next few days I will tow the remaining litter lines off the Island and bag up the mounds of random materials that I couldn’t use and take across to the mainland to be picked up by the highland Council on Monday and in the coming weeks I will be tracking and reporting on the recycling journey each of the litter materials.

Many thanks to everyone  who joined me today to work hard and have fun celebrating  ‘World Environment Day’  – many more photographs of the event to follow over the next few days


Forecast : good

6am: Weather check : Calm,  overcast , drizzle, light breeze

Throughout the day we have a 60% chance of rain with wind speeds of up to 8mph  later from the North North East  NNE to North East  NE

So the Littoral World Environment Day Event will be happening very shortly! The first  Litter Lines will leave Isle Martin at approximately 10.45am today. Keep watching !

World Environment Isle Martin  map









Event Schedule

Litter Line event – Isle Martin – World Environment Day- 5th June 2014

08.00        Weather check confirm/reorganise
09.00        Prepare lines, refreshment s for rowers
10.00        School skiff team and boat arrive at Ardmair slipway
10.15         Row to Isle Martin Back Beach
10.45         Lines secured onto the skiff while skiff team have refreshmentso
11.15          Skiff sets off to Ardmair with lines and Julia
11.30         Skiff arrives at Ardmair slipway, lines pulled up. Skiff team thanked
12.00        2nd team arrives at Ardmair.
12.30         2nd team row back to Isle Martin
1.00          Break on the beach , lines attached
1.45           Row back to Ardmair slipway
2.15           Arrive at Ardmair lines hauled up stored for collection on Friday
3.00          Thanks and celebration (beach or Ardmair teashop)

Please ring Julia for confirmation , updates on times etc 07977997605