Perspective

Hannah Mills: take the plastic pledge, spread the word

The pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives, but in the case of Olympic athletes it has meant delay and disruption to training and travel – with all of the emotional, physical and logistical upheaval that has followed.

We caught up with Hannah Mills in late May, just before she and team GB partner Eilidh McIntyre were preparing for their final pre-competition training in Spain. She spoke about her feelings ahead of the postponed 2020 Tokyo Games and also her work to draw attention the problem of plastic waste.

“The games have been a long time coming,” she said. “It’s been five years since Rio, and I’m now at that exciting point where we’re about to collect our GB kit and head onto our final training. It’s the last push.

“This time the games will differ from my experience of 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio. We’re just getting the protocols through now relating to Covid, but essentially we will be in our accommodation and then at the sailing venue – and that’s about it. So it will be a bit of a lockdown, but I cannot wait to get there.” Tokyo is offering Hannah another opportunity, aside from the chance to win gold a second time. It is a platform through which to promote her campaign to rid the seas of plastic.

“During the build-up to the Rio Olympics, and through the whole of that Olympic cycle, I became so aware of plastic pollution,” she explained. “We saw more and more plastic on the beaches, in the marinas, everywhere we went. I felt that if I continued with Olympic sailing and went for Tokyo it would give me an incredible opportunity to do something about it.”

Hannah launched the Big Plastic Pledge in 2019 aiming to cut single use plastic consumption – particularly in relation to sport. She points out that sports often showcase plastics through merchandising, and big events can spark huge consumption of single-use drinks cups and plastic water bottles. A proportion of this inevitably reaches the seas. The London Marathon, for instance, results in the sale of an estimated 750,000 plastic water bottles. But it’s not only about reaching athletes and big events.

The Pledge calls on signatories to follow nine key steps to limit plastic use – or as many as possible. “It’s about inspiring fans and anyone involved in sport. Runners, walkers, everybody,” she said.

Approximately half of global plastic production goes into single-use items. While some plastic pollution is clearly visible, further research is needed as to the full effects of microplastics in the world’s oceans and how they impact wildlife and foodchains.

Whatever the outcome of the Tokyo games, this issue will remain an enduring passion for Hannah. “The plastics problem is huge. It’s really just about looking at ourselves, our habits, and saying ‘what can I do?’”


Schroders is proud to sponsor Hannah Mills

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