How To Reduce Plastic Waste And Protect Our Oceans

Do you remember the first time you discovered a floating piece of plastic while paddling the lineup? 

Plastic bags make a great impression of a jellyfish and unfortunately float through the lineup all too common in some areas of the world.

While beaches worldwide are littered with microplastic and single-use plastics from straws to children’s toys. It begs the question, what might the next generation of groms expect to encounter in the ocean?

So what are the main issues we face and what can we as surfers do to protect our oceans and planet?


1. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

In 2003, Captain Charles Moore discovered a sea of plastic waste while taking a shortcut across the Pacific on his way home to California. 

Image credit: Sci Show

After a week of sailing, the crew finally found water free of debris again. New research suggests that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may consume up to 8% of the Pacific itself. In certain parts of the patch, the waste is so dense that plastic outnumbers organic material 18:1. 

What can you do? 

Concepts like Take 3 For The Sea and the #2minutebeachcleanup are great daily habits to fine-tune into your surf trips and regular beach missions. This simple idea inspires ocean-goers to pick up 3 pieces of trash or spend two minutes scouring the beach for waste before heading home. Every piece of rubbish you pick up helps to make a difference in cleaning up our oceans.

Another great idea is supporting the Ocean Cleanup and their work. Boyan Slat, an 18-year-old Danish student in 2013, promoted a method for cleaning the Pacific Garbage Patch about a decade ago. Today, the Ocean Cleanup Project is in full swing and is working to rid the Pacific of plastic pollution. 

This program uses new innovative technology, and the benefit of ocean currents, to remove plastic from the ocean where it can then be brought back to shore for recycling. Over the past six years, the Ocean Cleanup has grown into a highly connected NGO around the world that launched its first system in September of 2018. Despite recent challenges, this organisation is still working to rid the world of the Pacific Garbage Patch over five years. 


2. Microplastic

Microplastics pose a severe risk to the environment. Kindergarteners the world over will weep to know that glitter, among other favourite crafting items, is harming the environment. Glitter is one of the most well documented, and dangerous, forms of microplastic in existence. 

Microplastics are commonly found residing inside micro-invertebrates like krill or shrimp. This small and abundant creature is the primary source of food for more than half of the ocean’s ecosystem. Today microplastics can harm humans through the food chain and by other means as well. 

What can you do? 

The best thing we can do to reduce the flow of plastic heading out to sea is to stop using plastic, single-use plastic in particular.

Some simple changes in your purchasing practices, from choosing unpackaged goods can significantly impact the amount of plastic you are using. Recycling centres the world over often lack the necessary infrastructure to recycle certain kinds of plastic so on your next trip to the shop, consider grabbing a couple of unpackaged apples rather than a bag of crisps, and you’ll be taking positive strides.


→  Refuse plastic straws. If you need to use a straw, purchase a reusable one (stainless steel options are great) and carry it with you.

→  Refuse plastic bags. Get yourself some reusable shopping bags that can be used hundreds of times over and over again.

→  Refuse package fruit and vegetables. Buy unpackaged fruits and vegetables and pack them straight into your reusable shopping bag avoiding any plastic bags completely.

→  Refuse disposable coffee cups. If you like having your drink ‘on the go’ get yourself a nice reusable cup and take on your surf trips.


3. Fading Paradise

Indonesia faces some serious plastic waste issues. Many of the long peeling reef and point breaks around the islands are at great risk of plastic accumulation. 

In 2018 the Indonesian government declared a national garbage emergency. With 100 tons of garbage washing up daily, you probably would too. 

Unfortunately, today, Indonesia is among the largest contributors to ocean debris. At this rate, the only pristine surf we’re likely to find could be at Slater’s surf ranch. 

What can you do?

Refuse single-use plastic bottles where you can and seek reusable alternatives. Take a reusable bottle (not plastic) with you on your surf trips and make the most of initiatives such as Refill My Bottle which has hundreds of locations throughout Bali alone. There you can refill your bottle with clean drinking water for a small fee. Saving on money and single-use plastic. 


This tip alone reduces the amount of plastic you would otherwise use in Bali on a vast scale. Every single-use bottle you refuse is a positive move for the planet.


4. Get outside! Before it’s gone…

Recently, the outdoor industry boasted a value of over $800 billion US. With the rise of #Vanlife and #GTFO, adventure is trending. Unfortunately, regardless of how hard we may try, adventures leave an impact on the environment. 

Visitors to the outdoors, from forests of kelp to coniferous trees, often lack the skills to minimise their impact on the environment. 

What can you do?

With the rise of surfing and other adventure, we can expect to see more environmental advocates. Research suggests that those who spend time outdoors are more likely to protect the places where they play. Teach your kids to surf, heck teach your neighbour’s kids too, even if he wears those cargo shorts. Travel the world, and you might find that it’s worth protecting. 


5. Then again… 

Regardless of preaching “one-ness” with the ocean, surfing is not the most sustainable of industries. Many surfers may consider themselves prodigies of Laird Hamilton and his efforts to shred sustainability. Yet they’re still rocking their neoprene wetsuit and Clark foam surfboard – certainly less than biodegradable. 

We can’t help that the industries roots lie in petroleum, fibreglass, and plastic. The Wavestorm and other mass-produced soft-tops we love to hate aren’t doing our image any favours. Brightly coloured and perpetually returnable, shred sticks have wiggled there way to surf breaks across the planet. 

Crowding with kooks due to this new market is the least of our worries. Unfortunately, once Barney and his buds are finished bouncing off the reef, these boards – often broken beaten or battered – once returned are heading straight for the landfill. 

What can you do?

Ride a beater. As surfers; it’s time we started being resourceful again. Whatever happened to riding waves on your lunch tray? There’s no shame, in fact maybe there’s a bit of pride, riding a beater. 

Regardless of how waterlogged and dinged it may be, every wave you ride is keeping another board out of the dump. 
Bottom line: beaters aren’t for everyone. If you can’t ride a beater, there are companies across the globe working to address sustainability in surfing. Patagonia, Matuse, and Soöruz – to name a few – are discovering new strategies for ensuring surf gear is sustainable. 

New products range from making wetsuits that last a life-time to recycling used goods. Some companies, like, are working to keep boards out of the landfill by revamping your used and broken boards for donations to deserving groms near and far.   


6. Tourism

Surfers have never been great at welcoming outsiders, especially the inexperienced. 

Depending on who you are, you may have rubbed a few windshields with wax in your day. While you may be blushing a bit, we’re not wrong in assuming tourists don’t tend to be the most environmentally friendly individuals. 

While many visitors may lack education or experience in the water, many visitors incidentally damage pristine ocean environments. Unfortunately, self-centred visitors may choose to ignore their effect on their vacation destination. 

What can you do? 

While we may dislike tourists at our home breaks, that’s not stopping us from travelling the globe for great waves. Going the extra mile to leave a positive footprint behind you ensures you are more than welcome back next time and enables others to enjoy pristine lineups in the future as well. 

Again Take 3 For The Sea and the #2minutebeachcleanup are great daily habits to fine-tune into your surf trips while inspiring others to get out and do their part as well.

Go the extra distance and join a beach clean-up while on your trip to Bali. You can even donate to beach clean-ups like Ocean Mimic who cleaned 31 Bali beaches in 31 days recently! 


7. Puff, Puff, Pollution

While smoking rates are down in today’s youth; cigarettes still amount to about 40-50% of urban waste collection and they continue to be the number one item found at clean-ups worldwide. 

Unfortunately, waste has a nasty habit of finding its way downstream towards the ocean, and cigarettes are no different. While not technically plastic, the fibreglass found in that filter your dragging can stick around as long as ten years before decomposing. 

Research indicates the cigarette but, when wet, can seep toxins with the potential to kill 50% of fish in a controlled environment. While the ocean can’t exactly be contained, we understand how millions of cigarettes may take their toll of aquatic wildlife. 

What can you do?

Quitting sucks, but it’s worth it. Cigarettes not only affect the environment but your body as well. Dropping the habit might lengthen your bottom turn and sharpen your cutbacks, you never know! 


8. Lathering Up! 

While surfers tend to scoff at UV protection, one gnarly burn can keep you inspired to stay lathered with factor 50. But how do you know your sunscreen isn’t harming the ocean and its reefs? 

Current research suggests oxybenzone, among other popular chemicals in your average sunscreen product, is causing a bleaching effect on coral reefs. With an increase in surfers, you can expect an increase in toxic sunscreen working its way into the ocean. 

Coral reefs absorb an average of 6,000 tons of sunscreen each year. Your sunscreen may be full of toxic chemicals which may not only be harming the environment but your skin as well. 

What can you do? 

Do your research, make better, environmentally friendly decisions and lead by example.  

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by social and environmental challenges across the world. The answer is not to shut down. We as surfers owe it to future generations of wave riders to stay engaged, learn and spread the word. Education is power, and we need to keep surfers stoked and informed. 


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