Marion Montgomery’s Paws on Plastic group now has over 20,000 followers on social media and has been shortlisted in the Surfers Against Sewage Awards.
Here she explains how the project turned her from Primary School Teacher to eco-inspiration.
It’s funny how your life can just totally change and things will come from it. Three years ago, I was working as a Primary School Teacher, which I’d done for many years. But after experiencing a second bout of shingles, I developed post-virus fatigue, which made it impossible to continue teaching.
My head teacher suggested taking a career break, just to try and get myself better. Because I’d get these sick lines for a month or two months and then I would get to the end of that sick note and I’d realise I’m not able to go back. I felt like I was continually letting people down. So I took that time away.
The switch from working full time to doing nothing all day was really hard
I’d gone from talking all day in the classroom to sitting at home all day. My kids were in school, my husband was at work and I was bored. I couldn’t do much, but I could go around the block with my dog, Murphy, and to get him out just boosted me. He’d always picked up plastic bottles on his way around and I’d always just take them home and put them in a bin, and it made me feel good. I thought, if all I’m able to do is stagger around the block and pick up litter, that’s something.
Then I started to think that maybe some of my friends might be interested in doing the same, so I set up the Paws on Plastic Facebook group and added everyone I know that has dogs. They then added their friends, who added their friend. And it just got bigger and bigger.
Now we have around 21,000 members and followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The number of people in the group matters, because of the combined impact it has. Even if we only pick up two pieces on each walk, which is the minimum really, because once you start you can’t stop, it adds up to almost 31 million pieces of litter every year.
I’ve been blown away by the outcome
From a little group set up in Scotland where we mostly post pictures of our dogs, we’re having an ecological impact all over the world. We have members of the group in Australia, in Europe, America – from nearly 80 countries around the world.
Essentially, it’s a nice friendly group where people can say ‘Oh you’ve got a basset hound – I’ve got a basset hound’, and that kind of thing. But we’re doing something that’s both simple and impactful. People are setting up their own local groups too – they’ve got the bug, so it’s creating great community action as well as a place to interact and make friends.
I’m just one person, and one person has huge power on social media. Paws on Plastic has just got out there. And social media is fantastic for that.
I’m delighted that the work has been recognised in the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Awards, where we were runners up in the community movement category.
This year I’m hoping to make Paws on Plastic ‘official’ by moving to a charity model to keep building on the work we’ve done so far.
There were 9 million families with a dog before the pandemic and through Covid dog ownership has grown enormously. If we can get everyone walking just picking up a few bits of litter the effect is huge.
People see the ecological issue as this big mountain and think ‘I don’t know what to do’. But you can’t do everything, you shouldn’t need to do everything, but you can do one small thing and it can make a huge difference.
Follow Paws on Plastic on social media @pawsonplastic or join the Facebook group.