Firstly Nat, I just wanted to say a massive thank you to you and Clean Coast Collective for all that you do. So far you guys have removed 10,000 kgs of rubbish from our coastline which is just amazing.
How long have you been on this journey and what got you started?
Thank YOU for supporting us! We started Clean Coast Collective four years ago after we kept finding plastics washing ashore on remote stretches of coastline—we wondered where it was coming from and when we learnt about how much plastic is in the ocean, we felt we had to do something to help. We started out just wanting to do some small clean ups with friends, but the extent of the issue didn't hit home until we spent a year travelling around Australia and first visited Cape York. The beaches up in the top end just broke our hearts—we knew we had to get the message out to a bigger audience, and that's what we have been trying to do since those early days.
I love the idea of your Trash Tribes and getting together with creative types to see the problem first hand and to then go home and work on ways together to help spread the word. Is it only creative people or can anyone be involved?
Well, I would say that everyone is creative in some way—you may not be creative in a traditional artsy way, but the way your approach the issue and share the issue is inherently creative because it's informed by your unique background and viewpoint. So you don't have to be 'creative' but you do have to have a new and different idea for how to share your Trash Tribe experience with your community. There are so many different people in our communities, who are drawn to different things, so if we can take diverse groups on our trips and then they each run a project completely different from one another, then hopefully we have all these different messages being shared that each speak to different people. I think that's how we can create widespread change, for any issue, by making information accessible and interesting to all sorts of different people.
Can you share some of the projects that have come about as a result of your trash tribes expeditions?
We've had a few people write articles that had been published across different media outlets, another person who has designed a unique range of tshirts for the large surf label they work for (soon to be released I think!), and quite a few different events in communities up and down the coast. Jess Leitmanis transformed over 100 kilograms of rope from our 2015 trip into sculptural works of art which she has exhibited in Hobart, Melbourne and Byron Bay. Harriet Spark has since created Operation Strawkle which is a campaign to remove straws from Manly Harbour and also convince local businesses to stop using plastic straws. Harriet also teamed up with another Trash Tribe member, Michaela Skovranova, to design and release a free e-book that helps people move away from plastics—you can download it here: https://mailchi.mp/f0e10
It's so great seeing all the projects that evolve from the trips, but also it's just amazing to see these people completely shift how they live and become so passionate about avoiding plastics. They are also such a great support network for each other and continue to stay in touch.
How do you dispose of the waste you collect?
We work with our partner organisation Tangaroa Blue who coordinate the Chilli Beach clean up. Heidi and her team arrange for the waste to be trucked from Cape York back down to the nearest recycling facilities near Cooktown, or to storage facilities where it awaits being sent further afield to recycling partners. But before this, we spend hours every single day sorting each piece of rubbish and recording it for the Australian Marine Debris Initiative—a national datebase of all rubbish collected off Australian beaches and public areas. That data is so important in informing policy and source reduction plans so that the flow of plastics into our oceans can be stopped for good. Anyone can log on and enter their rubbish collection into the database, and if you're a school or organisation, it's a great way to track your impact—http://tangaroablue.org
What are some of the main pollutants you find on the beaches?
Plastic is definitely the number one material we find on beaches, in many different shapes and forms. If you're on an urban or regional beach then you'll most likely find lots of urban litter—things like plastic bottles, straws, food packaging, and plastic bags. On more remote beaches we still find a lot of plastic bottles, but we also find lots of waste from commercial fishing, such as ropes, nets and fishing equipment.
Living in Bali and doing regular clean ups around our area and on the beach here I often find I get a little frustrated when I return to same spots and see huge amounts of plastics where we have just cleaned. Do you ever feel that way and if so how do you deal with that frustration and what keeps you motivated to keep going?
Totally! The first year we went to Chilli Beach we removed 3.1 tonnes, the following year the group removed 2.5 tonnes, but then last year we collected 7 tonnes—it was incredibly disheartening! But I guess the way we think about it is that every piece you pick up off the beach is a piece of plastic or rubbish that is permanently removed from the marine ecosystem, so it's slowly chipping away at that total number in the ocean. Then all you can do is combine your beach cleaning efforts with action in your community to educate people about reducing their plastic usage and stopping that plastic at the source—which is exactly what you do with Earth Bottles! It can definitely feel hopeless, so you just have to be realistic about the impact you can make as one person (which can still be huge!) and celebrate the changes you do make. It does feel like momentum and awareness is growing, so we just have to keep going and to focus on all the positive work that individuals, organisations and local governments are doing.
If people are wanting to start clean up groups in their local area what advice would you give?
Just gather your friends or your family and get out there! You can keep it social and just make it a regular catch-up with friends—it's such a great way to get out into nature with your loved ones and enjoy being together and doing something positive. If you want to create a larger and more official group, just talk to your local council or government about what sort of group you need to register as and what sort of insurances you need (which means spending money, so keeping it as a social activity with friends is probably best!).
Of course, you also want to make sure everyone is safe, so buy some gardening gloves, hand sanitiser and a sharps container if these are prevalent in your area.
And don't forget to log your data in the Australian Marine Debris Initiative!
And finally, we know that we need to do our best to stop plastic pollution at the source. Could you share your top ten tips on how people can ditch the plastic?
- Take your own coffee cup with you, or have your coffee sit-in.
- Take your own reusable bag when shopping to avoid plastic bags.
- Say no to plastic straws, or carry your own reusable straw to use instead.
- Switch your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo alternative.
- Switch to solid soap bars—you can get body soap, and shampoo and conditioner bars from lots of stores thesedays (our shampoo bars will be back in stock soon!)
- Start using reusable beeswax wraps to cover food, instead of plastic cling wrap.
- Ditch the bin liner on your bin—just tip your bin contents into the bin, rinse the bin and start again.
- Buy your fruit and veg without plastic packaging (and then compost the scraps to reduce your waste to landfill)
- Always carry your own drink bottle!
- And take extras of the above if catching up with friends (they'll feel guilty and will never forget to BYO again).