Melinda Watson, founder and director of RAW (Realizing Another World) Foundation and RAW Bottles, is an environmental activist, mother, sea lover, and teacher. RAW Foundation has been raising awareness and actively campaigning on pointless plastic use and pollution, and other types of waste since 2010, by helping festivals and events (like Glastonbury and Shambala) go plastic free and by providing Plastic-Free Guides for events organizers and supplying reusable water bottles. Recently, they have spearheaded a Plastic-Free Campaign in Turkey. You’ve got Feminist Mail talked with Melinda about ecofeminism, the impact of Coronavirus on the environment, and whether we should go back to normalcy at all.
Could you briefly explain the work of RAW Foundation and RAW Bottles for our readers?
“I wrote a chapter in The Handbook of Sustainable Literacy, called ‘Materials Awareness’ in 2009, looking at the hidden story of the everyday products we engage with. It focused on key waste streams, such as plastic, which was beginning to grow exponentially. Disillusioned with the ‘formal’ educational environment, I decided to take the learning to an informal environment: festivals. Because these are creative spaces for change. However, the flow of plastic waste continues to increase exponentially, encouraging a throwaway society - across the world. Sadly, all fruits and vegetables are now sold in plastic here (in Turkey), because of the pandemic. It is contributing to climate change hugely, contaminating our precious water systems, passing up the food chain, affecting human health, and infiltrating other cultures, which is what I have seen first hand in Africa, South America and the Amazon.”
I’ve read several articles on how air pollution in Europe and China has decreased, but as you were saying, most products in the Netherlands as well are being sold in plastic bags at the moment. What do you think the long term consequences of this pandemic on the environment will be?
“People are waking up to the fact that the recent pandemic is a direct consequence of our human ‘treadmill’ activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. On top of the explosive growth of air travel, frenetic working lives, sitting for hours in traffic in polluted cities, away from our loved ones and utterly miserable, we are recognising that the current system is broken and ‘business as usual’ isn’t working. So the deep question we have to ask ourselves is: do we really want to go back to that? We have a chance to consider what we want our future to look like. If we are to survive, how can we develop a mutually beneficial relationship that actively restores ecosystems and supports the local populations to thrive? Beyond sustainability, regionally autonomous, Regenerative Communities are necessary, as well as a simpler less materialistic life. I am optimistic. A deeper love and compassion for others is emerging, which is a great leveler. And, rather than placing value on fortune, celebrities and fame, we are re-evaluating the importance of our key frontline healthcare workers, rubbish collectors, post office workers and the people that keep our food stacked on the shelves.”
Most festivals might get cancelled over the summer as well. What will be on the agenda for RAW Foundation?
“You’re right, very few events or festivals will be able to run this year. We are now focusing on collaboration with other like minded organizations. We are a member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition in America, who are now taking Coca Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo to court. These companies are creating such damage. Coca Cola is part of the big fossil fuel lobby, they absolutely have to take responsibility for this, and they should be made to clear up the costs. We are demanding now that they cut their production.”
How do you think feminism and environmental activism tie-in together?
“I think feminism and eco activism are completely symbiotic, in this Corona crisis, with what is going on. There is a mass awakening of women taking place, that, I am sure of. Women are reconnecting to some of their inner wisdom, [they are starting] to have faith and trust in their abilities, [even] in a very patriarchal society. I think women are doing extraordinary things and our voices are growing. We have to have faith and trust in who we are, and not lead the way with the same old patriarchal stuff but with love and compassion. Many men are waking up too, but they have got quite a long way to go. I have immense faith in that sisterhood, and really asking the big questions: what is my purpose? What is my essence and how can I serve? It comes from within, you have to look inward first.”
Thank you so much for this brief chat, I had a couple of more questions but you already answered them before I could even ask. I meant to ask “Should we go back to normal?” but I think you’ve already given the answer.
“Apart from the fact that I don’t think we should, I don’t think we can. Even my mother said to me the other day, you know travel will change, definitely. People won’t want to travel for work in the same way. And, governments that are helping their citizens cannot afford to have this happen again. The negative costs of going back to normal are immeasurable. It’s costing them huge amounts. We are in the midst of a huge transitional storm and we have to ground ourselves, [...] obviously be aware of what’s going on but don’t be drawn in by the fear. It is really important that we hold our ground and, as women, shine our light stronger than ever.”