Plastic Free July with The Beach Co-Op

Plastic Free July with The Beach Co-Op

Aaniyah Omardien is founder of The Beach Co-op. She is also one of Sealand Gear’s brand ambassadors. We checked in with her to catch up on ocean pollution and what The Beach Co-op has planned for Plastic Free July. 

*please note that all images used are pre-covid

What is the NPO's role that you play in the blue economy and when was it established? 

The Beach Co-op is a registered non-profit organisation that focuses on regenerating relationships with the ocean to protect and restore ocean health. It has steadily grown from a volunteer movement in 2015 to a recognised organisation that works with citizens and corporates to grow awareness of the need for healthy oceans and to support action in this regard.

We work collaboratively and creatively within ocean communities and with government and business to urgently protect, restore and regenerate the integrity of ocean ecosystems.

And we love our beach cleanup bags made by Sealand – we have been able to re-use them at over 100 cleanups!

Give us an idea on the status of ocean pollution and your thoughts on it. 

Plastics contribute 85% to volumes of recorded beach litter – 61% of this is single-use plastic items, and 20% fishing-related plastic items. This beach litter pollutes oceans and kills sea life when ingested. About 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean each year around the globe, a figure that could easily double in 10 years with our ever-growing demand for plastic packaging. 

We need to act now and build on the progress made to reduce the environmental impact associated with single-use plastic. In a country like South Africa, concrete actions such as enhancing recycling are a good place to start. Such efforts, however, need to be complemented by a significant reduction in our reliance on single-use plastic packaging and ensuring much better design for recyclability. 

A plan to ban some single-use plastics – such as plastic cups and cutlery – could be part of the shift needed to protect the planet and our marine environment. There is an immediate need for inclusive and collective action between government departments, industry (big and small) and civil society organisations to create more awareness among business and consumers. This action encompasses small changes such as saying “no” to single-use plastics or larger-scale decisions by industry to make better-informed choices about plastics and packaging.

How important is Plastic Free July and what is your role?

We want to deepen the message from World Ocean Day for this Plastic Free July. The global theme for World Ocean Day on 8 June was “Innovation for a sustainable ocean”. Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have had one upside in that people have had space and time to reflect on their values and our reliance on the natural resource base, which could lead to changes in production and consumption patterns. We need innovative approaches more than ever before. We would like to encourage our followers to be innovative about how they avoid and remove single-use and unnecessary plastic from their lives. Every single action counts.

We have partnered with Twyg for the past three years to encourage citizens to reduce their plastic footprint with our #PlasticFreeMzansi campaign and this year is no different. 

#PlasticFreeMzansi is an intense and focused media campaign that responsibly educates, inspires and informs South Africans about plastic, recycling and circular design. Influencers from diverse communities communicate our messages. 

What have you got planned for this year?

We have three exciting components to this year’s campaign.

First, we are using the Marine Debris Tracker app to collect our Dirty Dozen Cleanup™ data and encouraging all of you to do the same when you get down to the beach, on your own or with your family. You don’t need to be part of an organised beach cleanup to contribute. 

The app is free to download and you can log your data offline. For those who don’t know, the Dirty Dozen are the top 12 most commonly found items on our beaches. We usually host at least four cleanups during the month but this year we have had to change how we do things due to Covid-19 and adhering to social distancing protocols. Read more here to see how you can get involved.

Second, we worked with Twyg and Biru to brief five talented South African designers to create products from upcycled material and/or single-use plastic. We have five change makers who will showcase the pieces throughout the month – Zolanhi Mahola was the first to receive the products on the 1st of July. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on our social media handles to follow the #RefashionPlastic project.

Lastly, we will be participating in two webinar discussions with the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation on the 16th and 30th of July. 

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