Here’s some cardboard. What are you going to do about it?
Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Because I want to change that. I’m here to take over Sustainable Saturdays for a while and it isn’t always going to be pretty. Think of it as an intervention. I am going to present some green ideas to you in the next few weeks that you might find uncomfortable. You’ll either love or hate it. If you get it you get it and if you don’t then it’s your chance to. The same goes for industry (and industry in general).
For this first week I am going to set a challenge to the big boys. I am going to challenge them to remove 20 tons of plastic from their daily operations (and therefore from the ocean and landfill) without spending any more than the price of a couple of boards. You see, I’d like to see some action from the shakers and movers because it’s them that can make the biggest difference to our beaches, planet and the quality of the water we surf in. What you do is important when it comes to the environment, of course, but big businesses are in a brilliant position. What they do affects us all.
So this is my message to them: get off your big fat arses and do something.
Shoot your mouth off first, ask questions later…
Okay… so I’ve come out guns blazing. Why? Well, I run a project called the #2minutebeachclean and it’s all about taking a little personal responsibility for the way we visit the beach. You go to the beach so therefore you have a responsibility to keep it clean. By keeping it clean I mean taking your trash away after you visit, and also taking away any other trash that’s there. It’s most likely to be marine plastics: bottles, fishing gear, big pieces of broken plastics, tiny fragments of micro plastics, rope, food containers and plastic bags. Basically all the stuff that won’t go away unless we clear it up. It’s our mess, so let’s pick it up. I know you’re cool with that because you surf.
You do your bit. But what if you didn’t have to?
Anyway, that’s the lecture bit over. You know it all anyway. You’ve seen the clips of turtles being freed from ghost netting. You’ve seen the reports that say 95% of seabirds have plastic in them. You are a member of SAS or Surfrider. You have seen Fanning pick up in Portugal or Gerlach’s film or Curren’s take on the ocean environment. You’ve seen Kelly’s new clobber. You’ve asked about Bureos. You got it. You slip a few bottles under your leash each time you walk back up the beach. We’re cool. But what if you didn’t have to? That’s up to industry.
How Surfdome support our green, grass roots movement
Let’s move on to the big boys now. Our project is supported by Surfdome. They have been doing good things for us over the last couple of years. They paid for our beach clean stations, offer prizes for our competitions and get involved in everything we do. They use their clout to support what we do in the same way you pick up marine plastics to support your local eco system. If you’ve bought anything from them recently then you’ll have seen our logo on their boxes. We love that. But it’s not that I want to talk about. It’s the boxes themselves that I want to talk about.
It’s only talk until you actually do something
Surfdome recently started a move to become plastic free in their packaging. They changed from sending out stuff in plastic bags to sending everything out in recycled, recyclable and biodegradable cardboard boxes. It replaces the 14.02 tonnes of plastic mailing bags they sent out in 2015. It means that they will contribute 19.26 fewer tons of CO2 to climate change each year from now on than they used to. That’s awesome. They have also cut out the use of plastic tape and replaced it with biodegradable and recyclable gum tape. They used to use 2.75 tons of it. On top of that they have also packed in their bubble wrap habit. They used to use 2.89 tons of it each year but it’s now been replaced with recycled cardboard and paper packing.
If it isn’t there you don’t have to recycle it – simple
In total, in 2016 Surfdome will chuck out 19.67 fewer tons of plastic packaging than they did in 2015. That’s pretty cool. And it’s not that they don’t trust you to recycle it, it’s just that they figure that if it’s not there in the first place then there’s no issue. And there’s less chance of it washing up on your beach.
This is what the eco-worriers among us (and I count myself among them) would call “producer responsibility”. It basically means that if you are sending stuff out or making stuff then you should be responsible for it at every stage of its existence. Some companies still chuck out plastic bags or unrecyclable packaging without a thought for what happens after it leaves their factory or warehouse. They don’t give a monkey’s about what happens to it afterwards. Why? Because by that stage they’ve already got your money.
What can industry do about it?
And it’s to those guys I want to address this next bit. We are drowning in plastic bags and bottles. So why doesn’t every company do something about it? Why can’t every company make changes to stop this awful tide of plastic that is slowly killing us? Why doesn’t everyone switch over to cardboard and paper?
I can almost hear the keys chattering on the CEO’s keyboard as his bejewelled (but limp) corporate wrists tap me out a patronising message telling me about costs and benefits and profit and all that crap. Basically they’ll tell me it’s about cost. It’s too expensive to go green and they’ll have to pass it on to the customer, which will mean they can no longer compete and they will risk going out of business. They will also tell me about customer needs and wants and merchandising and how they wish there was an alternative to plastic film but there isn’t. Blah blah blah. I am buying none of it.
It’ll cost more, sure, but how much?
Okay, so cardboard is more expensive than plastic. It doesn’t look as pretty as a neatly package shirt in a plastic bag. But things are changing. Cardboard is the new standard for eco mindedness. And it doesn’t have to work out more costly. Surfdome have made it balance out overall by making green savings all across the business and then ring fencing that saved cash to pay the extra. Bleeding obvious, no?
In making the change to cardboard, paper and plastic free packaging, it has cost Surfdome, overall, about the cost of two decent CNC-cut, mid range short boards. I’m not even talking Al Merricks for crying out loud. For that they will send out around 2 million parcels in the UK and EU this year and hardly any of the packaging will be made from plastic. It will be recycled and recyclable (and each will have our logo on it!). They figure the positive vibes and PR they get from their green activities will far outweigh the cost of the TWO SHORT BOARDS it has cost them to cut out almost 20 tons of plastic each year from their operations. As an eco worrier, I’ll say it will.
Business can have a slice of that pie too, if it works a little harder. In fact, I challenge them to. I know for a fact that customers are getting pissed when they open their lovely Surfdome boxes only to find that their clobber is wrapped in plastic from other seemingly eco minded surf brands. In a world that cares about this stuff, it matters, and it damages them and the brands they sell (and the environment) to let down their customers with plastic that needn’t be there. And it’s not that they don’t trust their customers to recycle, but if it’s not there in the first place then there’s no issue.
I call bullshit on accusations of greenwashing too
Oh yes, and for all the hard line greens out there who are about to pull out the ‘greenwashing hypocrisy’ joker, I say zip it. This isn’t a perfect world and there will always be commerce. It is up to us to encourage companies to do it in the best way possible. So we should support any initiative that removes plastic from the supply chain at any point. It’s not a cover up. It’s not lip service. Surfdome, along with Keep Britain Tidy’s BeachCare project, paid for our #2minutebeachclean station trial in Bude. In that trial we saw a 61% drop in marine litter on the beach over a year. Surfdome supported us in sending out 20 boards to Ireland, 6 to Dorset, 6 to Dartmoor National Park and a further 15 to Devon and Cornwall. It all comes from a genuine will to be leading the way.
Where do we go from here? You are doing just fine.
You just carry on doing what you are doing. You’re cool. Keep on picking up, making wise choices about what you buy and where you buy from and thinking about more than just your own bubble. Keep up your Surfrider subscription. Attend beach cleans. Take a refillable water bottle. Buy a refillable cup for your coffee. Stick a few more bottles under your leash. Be the change.
Thanks for reading. Now get in the water.
For the big boys? Time to get off the couch.
Martin Dorey is the founder of the #2minutebeachclean movement. He’s a surfer, writer and green activist. His mission is to see every surf, beach walk, SUP, kayak or kitesurf end with a #2minutebeachclean. It’s happening slowly. To help him along we’ve given over our Sustainable Saturdays to his ranting ways. Don’t worry. You won’t get a telling off. This week, for his first episode, he’s out to take a pop at industry.
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