156,908. That’s how many cigarette butts Seaside Scavenge has collected across beaches in Australia since 2015. Together, over 5,200 volunteers have helped save 10,000 kilograms of plastic (including the plastic filters from the butts) from entering our precious waterways in Australia.
Ocean plastic is a massive issue that impacts all of us. In the past few years we’ve seen an increasing rise in awareness about the impact our plastic has on marine life. Images of dead whales with stomachs full of plastic bags is the kind of slap-in-the-face reminder we need that when you throw something away, there isn’t really an ‘away’ for it to go. Our consumption behaviours impact the world around us.
In 2018 Australian Ethical gave the Australian-based community organisation Seaside Scavenge a grant towards their work to connect people with the impact of their waste through clean-ups. With this funding, they’ve been able to expand their work throughout Australia and into South Africa.
Scavenge for good
Seaside Scavenge began in 2014 as a way to get people involved in waterway clean-ups who wouldn’t normally take part. Taking the clean-up one step further, it’s also a clothes swap event! The litter collected becomes the currency to purchase quality pre-loved clothes, books and other goods donated by the local community. And local musicians bring some good vibes, using electricity generated by a bicycle!
“We aim for the Scavenge to promote awareness about single-use plastics, their impact on our marine environment and also focus attention on the damaging impact of the fast-fashion industry,” explains founder Anna Jane Linke (known as AJ).
Seaside Scavenge attracts on average 110 people to clean-up.
“But our biggest event had over 400 people and was hosted by one of our Chapters in Victoria!” says AJ.
What sets these clean-ups apart from others is that over 82% of people haven’t attended a clean-up before.
“Because Australia has such a great waste service, you don’t really see the waste if you’re not paying attention,” says AJ. “But once you start to look, you see it.”
“People pass by our events and will ask how much a piece of clothing is. When we tell them it costs 10 pieces of rubbish they’re surprised. They say ‘where am I going to find 10 pieces of rubbish?’ But once they grab a bag, they come back half an hour later with a bag full of 700-plus pieces of rubbish and they’re completely gobsmacked at how trashed their local waterway is.”
And while a Scavenge event is taking place, local businesses are encouraged to take a plastic-free pledge, reducing their single-use plastic for the week of the event. The hope is that the businesses will be inspired to phase out single-use plastic altogether.
Scavenge Chapters run throughout Australia in connection with local governments in Sydney, Perth, Mornington Peninsula, Port Macquarie and Townsville. With funding from the Australian Ethical Foundation, Seaside Scavenge has set-up two Scavenge Chapters in Canberra and Cape Town, South Africa.
“In South Africa, clothing is a precious resource,” says AJ of her decision to expand to Cape Town in partnership with local, community-based organisations called The Beach Co-op. “By incorporating the clothing aspect, it has a bigger drawcard for people. So we’re able to reach underprivileged communities who often aren’t aware of issues like plastic pollution and teach them about the life-cycle of the products we use. This is a model that’s really conducive to developing countries.”
Reconnecting with our circle of life
“What we’re trying to do at Seaside Scavenge is reconnect people to their community and the planet so they become more mindful of what’s going on and take responsibility.”
“Plastic pollution is what we started wanting to address but once we realised how much textile waste there was, and that 50% of the stuff that gets donated per event is unusable because it’s such bad quality, so we wanted to talk about closing the loop on fashion.”
In Australia, every 10 minutes 6,000 kilograms of clothing textile is dumped in landfill. This is an incredible amount of waste that could be prevented with a more circular approach to fashion.
“Australia’s charity stores are overburdened with second-hand stuff, just because the fast fashion industry designs clothing to have a maximum of seven wears before they wear out. It’s inbuilt obsolescence. Our goal is to help people think about the longevity or lifecycle of the products they’re buying. If you can get a t-shirt from a second-hand shop instead of brand new, it starts to decrease the amount of virgin materials used to make and transport our clothing.”
And if you do need to buy new, AJ recommends choosing something quality made from natural materials that will breakdown at the end of their life.
One cigarette butt taken off a beach and put in the bin might seem like a drop in the ocean, but to the turtle in that ocean who won’t mistake it for food and consume that butt, it makes all the difference. These small actions we can make as individuals add up. Together we can prevent more plastic from polluting the waterways, or show fast fashion businesses that their model needs to change to be more sustainable.
If you want to get involved in a Seaside Scavenge near you, take a look at their events here. Or, if you want to get involved on an on-going basis there are volunteer opportunities available.