IT IS shocking to learn that, despite all our seemingly collective efforts, only nine per cent of plastic produced since the 1950s has actually been recycled.

And, in a rather more offbeat observation that comes courtesy of teacher Emily Herold, the drive to clean up our oceans begins as much in the landlocked Tyne Valley as anywhere else.

A member of the national charity, Surfers Against Sewage, she is now, as the plastic-free-community leader for Hexham, part and parcel of its drive to reduce the production and use of single-use plastics.

“Surfers Against Sewage set up a programme where communities could take action to reduce the use of single-use plastics and ultimately can achieve plastic-free status,” she said.

“Several communities, such as Tynemouth and Whitley Bay, have achieved that already, but there’s none in the Tyne Valley, so we are hoping Hexham can become that beacon for others to follow.”

The focus is a specific one because, as annual surveys by the American environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy reveal, 70 per cent of the rubbish washed up on seashores are single-use plastics – primarily bottles, bags, straws and food wrappers.

Emily said: “So really the sea starts here, in Hexham. And therefore the effort to clean it up does too.”

She uses the story of one Daniel Webb to illustrate her point. In 2016, shortly after moving to Margate on the Kent coast, he discovered there was no recycling service attached to his apartment block.

In response he decided to store all the plastic waste he threw in the bin during the course of a year to find out how much he was generating.

The answer, that year: 4,490 pieces, which means a shade over 86 individual items a week.

He said in an interview with The Guardian: “If you take me as an average person and multiply it by the UK population it means we throw away 293bn plastic items a year.”

Emily adds: “Statistically speaking, 50 of those items would have entered the waterways had he not collected them, so we can take from that the average person is responsible for 50 items entering the oceans per year.

“And the thing is, only 1.3 per cent of what he collected contained recycled plastic.

“Recycling is not working!”

That is the viewpoint many environmentalists now have, and the solution is an obvious one – don’t produce the stuff in the first place! And if the demand isn’t there, it won’t be.

Journalist Lucy Siegle’s book, Turning the Tide on Plastic, has had a real influence on Emily, pointing her in the right direction in terms of community action.

She has teamed up with Hexham Community Partnership, which was already promoting environmentally friendly initiatives through its Hexham Clean and Green Facebook page. Currently it is encouraging businesses to ‘Change Three’ items being used in the workplace for greener alternatives.

Together they have turned Hexham into a ‘refill town’ whereby people can take their water bottles into businesses with the accompanying sticker in the window for replenishing.

And they are coming up with a raft of ‘doable’ ideas, some of them drawn from Turning the Tide on Plastic, in which Lucy Siegle defines the ‘eight Rs’ of positive action.

They include recording the amount of plastic that passes through your household in a month and then setting the target of reducing that by at least 50 per cent.

Suggestions for reducing reliance on single-use plastics include cutting down on plastic-wrapped snacks, avoiding eating on the go (and instead sitting down in a cafe, with proper crockery and cutlery) and cutting down on internet shopping, which always comes with way too much packaging.

Replace cans of pop with a SodaStream, supermarket milk with a good old-fashioned milkman (unlike plastic, 80 per cent of glass is recycled), and bottled shower gels and hand-washes with soap. “There’s nothing wrong with a bar of soap!” she said.

And eschew ready meals in favour of home-cooked fare to save pounds on wasteful plastics.