These interviews are conducted with people just like you. People who care about the planet and want to make a difference in their own way. Join us in celebrating the impact that one person makes by taking small and mindful steps towards a better tomorrow, today.
We hope you find joy and inspiration from your Sustainably Stylish peers.
We were introduced to Alison (fondly known as Ali), through the Sunshine Coast Council’s Spring into Sustainability lunch back in 2019. At this event, Ali was one of the Sunshine Coast-based changemakers who were invited to share their sustainability mission as part of a celebration of local entrepreneurship. Ali inspired us with her mission to advocate solutions for plastic pollution through her school-based programs. In 2020 we got to know the woman behind this mission when she joined our Read Live Book Club. Her work ethic, passion, knowledge, and determination are so inspiring that we had to invite her along to share!
Hi, I’m Ali Foley, founder and director of Ten Little Pieces – an education and empowerment movement for ordinary folks to make a big difference by collecting Ten Little Pieces of rubbish, anytime, anywhere especially with children involved.
From our humble beginnings just 3 years ago, we’re now a 5gyres ambassador, a member of the UNeP- Global Partnership On Marine Litter, a member of the plastic pollution coalition and in January 2020, we were honoured with the Sunshine Coast council Australia Day award for environment & sustainability.
Can you tell us more about Ten Little Pieces? To start, what was the inspiration behind this movement?
Growing up in Australia’s island state, Tasmania, the ocean was never far from home. From as early as I can remember, I wondered what adventures lay over the horizon. As soon as I ﬁnished university, I gave into that wanderlust and sailed the world onboard superyachts. I was fortunate to see some of the world’s most remote, fragile and beautiful environments, both above and below the water. My respect for the majesty and mystery of the oceans has always been profound and as a mother now, I realise that my children and yours, will not have these same privileges. Over recent years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the damage our consumption habits are wreaking on waterways, remote islands and familiar ports all over the world. Still to me, it seemed like a distant problem – one that wasn’t impacting where I live.
My penny drop moment happened one stunning Summer’s day on Noosa Main Beach with my hot, tired and cranky children who were whinging for the long-promised ice cream. So, while I packed up the beach kit, I said to my kids that ice cream would cost them ten little pieces of rubbish. To my astonishment, within 20 metres or so of beach, my kids returned to me with a shopping bag full of bottles, cans, straws, little plastic spoons, food wrappers and cigarette butts.
And so, Ten Little Pieces was born. An empowerment movement for ordinary folks to make a big diﬀerence to the places they love by collecting ten little pieces of rubbish, anytime, anywhere, especially with children involved. It’s an easy mantra for children to remember and repeat, developing respectful habits that connect them to the places they play, knowing that every little piece of rubbish we can stop from reaching the oceans is one less that might suﬀocate a bird or be ingested by a turtle. The act itself, of leaving places better than we ﬁnd them, opens conversations regarding conscious consumerism, environmental stewardship and a rethinking of our concept of waste. It presents precious opportunities to develop awareness and responsibility in children by empowering them to make a huge diﬀerence to their immediate environments. In an age where disempowerment and feeling overwhelmed are commonly experienced, this simple activity demonstrates that it feels good to do good.
Tell us a little more about how you inspire children to take action in sustainable ways through your educational programs?
Science to solutions through education and empowerment. There is no one magic wand solution to the myriad issues and looming catastrophes our world is facing, but the beauty of that is that there’s room at the table for every solution, every suggestion and every effort to take action to remedy these challenges – no matter how small. From little things, big things grow.
How you inspire and encourage your family to take action?
We’re not perfect and we’re not plastic-free but we’re trying and switching and using less of everything. We have a veggie patch and separate and recycle everything. The kids have plastic-free lunches and we only rarely consume meat. This is one area I hope to focus on much more.
With 3 little boys in the house and our spotty dog Sam, things can get all kinds of crazy and on every beach walk or visit to the park, they join in leisurely trashure hunts – of their own volition – and bring debris back to me before running off again.
It’s a game, a game where everyone wins.
My husband says I never walk anywhere in a straight line as I’ve permanently got my litter eyes on having made picking up litter completely normalised for us. It’s what we do – because the places we are fortunate enough to visit are so beautiful and so very worthy of our protection.
A game in which players search for discarded human artefacts that interfere with natural ecosystem flows
What are some challenges you’ve come up against or barriers you’ve overcome during your efforts to educate young people?
Last year was particularly challenging for me having worked so hard to bring our education program to life only to have all our bookings suspended until November. That pushed me to work on furthering my education and skill set. And to throwing myself into research and reading to understand more fully the pathways forward. I also realized through that process how overwhelming that discovery of knowledge can be which led to the design of our ‘Handling Eco-Anxiety and Overwhelm’ program for students over 13. With bookings now reopen, we’ve seen a huge demand for our junior primary and early learning classes which brings me so much hope. There’s a community desire to provide our kids with actionable information and support in developing solutions. I’m very proud to be part of it.
What would be your top communication/education tips for parents who are trying to find ways to explain our global issues to their children?
I don’t for a second underestimate the insightfulness of a room full of 4-year-olds and their ability to create incredible ripple effects of change through their families, their schools and their wider communities. They understand and act upon newly gained knowledge and they make changes for the greater good time and time again. So my tips for parents and educators are around opening a dialogue around rethinking and recycling, and be prepared to be honest in that communication. They need the truth so they can act upon it and in my opinion, our youth are the most powerful agents of cultural change we have.
What keeps you motivated to continue your sustainability mission?
My children and their fading opportunities to enjoy this beautiful planet. During the Australian East Coast Fires we pulled them from the trampoline as smoke filled the air and burnt gum leaves rained down from the orange sky. I cried for days and then I decided to learn more and use all of my privileges to study to become a Climate Reality Leader. There is so much to do and all of it starts with the first step.
I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder so this Is a tricky question but I’m glad you asked it. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been so open but perhaps it will help break down some stigma and misconceptions and bring to light that mental wellness is an important discussion to have.
In truth, I don’t avoid eco-overwhelm, but I do recognize It. I don’t neutralize it, I use It to motivate me to take action towards the things I value. And I’ve learned to say no to always being “on”, with news, social media, the mum hat and with my work and studies.
I try to sleep, eat and exercise regularly, and I’m not a big drinker of alcohol anymore. Caffeine though, as a busy mum is still my go-to and I do love a great book or a Netflix chill to zone out to – luxuries I allow myself now that I’ve started to consciously slow down.
If all the worlds sustainability problems vanished overnight what would you see yourself doing next?
Singing. I love to sing.
What’s your favourite sustainable living or environmental quote?
Without hesitation “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” – Maya Angelou
You can follow Ali and her Ten Little Pieces journey at Facebook and Instagram.
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