Fifty of the UK’s authors and illustrators, including Sir Michael Morpurgo, Chris Riddell and Jacqueline Wilson, have pledged their support for a campaign encouraging the book industry to ditch plastic.
Authors4Oceans is the brainchild of children's author Lauren St John, who wants publishers, bookshops and readers to reduce the amount of plastic they use by finding eco alternatives to the bags, straws, bottles and single-use cutlery that ends up at the bottom of the sea.
St John came up with the idea when she ordered a drink in a bookshop and it came with a plastic straw, she told The Bookseller. “It made me think of all the bookshops across the UK - there are 300 branches of Waterstones alone - and about how many of them dish out plastic straws and bags every day. If I had written on behalf of myself I probably wouldn’t have achieved anything, but I thought if I teamed up with other writers and illustrators we might have a voice.
“At first I approached my friends, people like Abi Elphinstone and Katherine Rundell and soon found I had twenty people so thought why not aim for fifty.”
Other artists who have signed up to the campaign include Rob Macfarlane, Jackie Morris, Marcus Sedgwick, Quentin Blake and Patrice Lawrence. Publishers Head of Zeus and Knights Of, as well as indie Octavia’s Bookshop, are also taking part.
As part of the campaign, St John has created an Authors4Oceans website, which has teacher resources, blogs and tips on how to reduce plastic waste. She is planning beach cleans and an author event at Hay, where some writers will discuss books which feature oceans and animals, as well as the research behind them. St John is also running a competition, working in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society, Action for Conservation, the Born Free Fundation and The Week Junior, and asking pupils to create models of endangered sea creatures out of plastic rubbish.
One school will win a visit from a bestselling children’s author and 50 books - one from every author and illustrator who signed up to support Authors4Oceans. Two runners up will win author visits and 30 books, and a third prize winner will receive 20 signed books.
The campaign has no financial backing but the costs so far have only reached £10, which was spent on setting up the website, said St John.
“An alliance of children’s authors, particularly those who write about nature and are passionate about the environment, might have a voice together,” she said. “And if publishers, literary festivals and some of our young readers join us we could make a real difference.”
The attention of the public is currently firmly on plastic waste since last year’s "Blue Planet II" BBC programme, presented by David Attenborough, which revealed that pieces of plastic will outnumber fish in the oceans by 2050.
Several publishers are, in response, releasing books about the plastic waste problem, including Ebury, which will publish No. More. Plastic., an “eco-friendly” guide by Martin Dorey, founder of international anti-plastic movement the #2minutebeachclean, in May. In July Orion imprint Trapeze will publish Turning the Tide on Plastic, a “call to arms” against single-use plastic by journalist Lucy Siegle.
Last month book reviewers also expressed their concern for the issue by signing an open letter against single-use book packaging. The letter called on publishers to switch to using recyclable materials.