New Plastic Free Yr Wyddfa Project strives to secure plastic free status for Yr Wyddfa, Wales’ highest mountain
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Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is a high profile, visitor hotspot ‐ with over 600,000 people visiting the summit every year – and the numbers are growing. Videos from busy weekends show long queues of people waiting to reach the top of this iconic mountain, while news reports compared the crowds on Yr Wyddfa to ‘a busy train station at rush hour’ (Wales Online, 2019). The increased popularity of Wales’ top tourist attractions brings additional challenges, and the Yr Wyddfa Partnership Plan has identified litter and specifically plastic pollution as one of the key pressures resulting from the high numbers of visitors.
Caru Eryri volunteers already spend 250‐300 days clearing litter on Yr Wyddfa between April and October, but other organisations have acknowledged the problem too and have provided additional support. The National Trust supports the Nant Gwynant community by providing litter pickers and leading events, whilst the Real 3 Peaks challenge organises 20‐30 volunteers to tackle the litter on Yr Wyddfa once a year. In 2020, Snowdonia Society volunteers collected over 135kg of litter from the slopes of Yr Wyddfa including 483 plastic bottles.
The summit is one of the hot spots for litter: it’s where all paths converge, and the facilities are located. This correlates with the 2020 survey on microplastic pollution, which reported that soil samples taken from the summit were 5% microplastic, a higher percentage than found in samples from all other locations on the mountain. At Hafod Eryri (the summit building), the Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) Mountain Railway employ two full time cleaners between May – October, whose duties include litter picking. The Mountain Railway has reported that litter is left in the café doorway and the track beds, and that several bin bags of litter are collected on reopening yearly in April.
Yr Wyddfa is a challenging environment in which to manage the problem of litter. It is rural, isolated and has limited infrastructure, yet it receives a huge number of visitors annually, making it difficult to employ traditional solutions. Bins are an expensive and unviable option due to access. Transporting water to the summit is expensive and difficult, so the refilling of water bottles at Hafod Eryri is not possible at present, requiring the supply and sale of water in single use plastic bottles. The mountain is also very exposed, so much of the litter is blown to harder to reach areas, making litter picking all the more challenging.
The National Park Authority’s key strategy for tackling the general-litter problem is to leverage the clear and salient messaging of ‘Plastic-Free’, and to initiate a world-first ‘Plastic-Free Mountain’ project under this theme. The Park are hoping to create a zone within the Yr Wyddfa locality, where a ‘Plastic-Free’ program will be deployed.
The core aims of the Yr Wyddfa Ddi-Blastig (Plastic free) project will be to initiate a high-profile, proactive message about the environment and reduce the amount of litter – particularly single use plastics left in the area. It will involve working alongside businesses, communities, farmers and schools to ensure a strong message is delivered based on clear understanding. The required behavioural changes will need to be initiated and instilled by the National Park on the topic of plastic pollution.
The Park Authority’s first step on the Plastic-Free Yr Wyddfa journey has been to appoint an officer to focus solely on building a comprehensive strategy and delivering its goals. The two-year position has been funded by a set of committed partners working across the region, taking responsibility for the future of Eryri. The role offers a unique opportunity for the National Park to pilot innovative schemes and trial new technologies and methods. Alec Young, of the Bro Ffestiniog area in North Wales started in the role in October 2022 and has begun liaising with local and national businesses and researching innovation in the plastics pollution.
The challenge is palpable, and several key obstacles will need to be overcome to achieve ‘Plastic-Free’ status and reduce litter on Yr Wyddfa. There remains a lack of potential water refill sites on the mountain and no available mains supply due to its rurality. Several of the businesses who operate in the area cannot easily resupply and many have limited access to affordable plastic-free products. Waste and recycling services are costly and contracting schemes are challenging due to the aggregate volume of waste and the isolated location of litter hot spots. Some may argue that the presence of bins would have a negative impact on the environment, as it encourages ‘fly-tipping’ and overfilling - leaving additional litter exposed to the elements, and the potential for it to be blown further afield.
Alec is keen to ensure that everyone is involved in the development of this project. He says: “We are all custodians of Yr Wyddfa and every one of us is responsible for preserving this unique place and its special qualities. By working in Partnership, we can have a big impact. It will take a collective effort, but by thinking innovatively, adjusting our behaviours and promoting great outdoors norms as a united community, Yr Wyddfa can remain a magical place for generations.’’
What is certain, is that reducing litter will require a collective effort, and the Plastic-Free project will only succeed if those who live, visit and work in the Yr Wyddfa area come together to reach the same goal.
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