22nd February 2019
Our First Wool Company #beachclean
Several of us at The Wool Company were lucky enough to grow up with the beautiful Cornish coast as our playground, so this Wednesday the whole team downed tools and headed to the beach. Now, before you say, ‘Lucky you! Now get back to work you bleedin' slackers and pack my order!" behind our answerphone message "Leave your name and number we've gone to the beach for the day" there was purpose. We felt purposeful. We lacked purposelessness.
Some of us grew up by the sea and have been in the habit of occasional beach-combing since we were little. This has inevitably morphed into also doing a bit of a beach clean every now and then. It's a bit like tidying up your yard or shared garden, but a bit bigger and wetter. Just something you do.
At the office we had been discussing at some length the global plastic pollution problem (brought so effectively to the world’s attention by Sir David Attenborough and the Beeb). With all the miserable stories we see on national and social media about the amount of plastic in our oceans and, being surrounded by sea in Cornwall, we felt it was time to take action. Knowing we needed to do something and remembering that charity begins at home, we thought we’d start nearby.
So, off to Beautiful Watergate Bay, a mile-long stretch of pristine golden sand near Newquay. The journey from our moorland retreat was uneventful but we all agreed that by day’s end something had changed in each of us. The scales had fallen from our eyes. We had been spotting plastic everywhere we looked on the beach and now we were noticing all the other rubbish strewn everywhere else and we are incensed!
The Wool Army descends
We arrived at the beach to see another volunteer beach-cleaner already dragging her huge haul of rubbish up the slipway. We were concerned we'd made a wasted trip, that she had cleaned the beach, that she had taken all our plastic. She was going to deprive us of our day at the beach! Us locals all know Watergate Bay as a super-clean beach too. Back to the office so soon?
We thought we'd take a stroll just in case. How wrong were we? As a team, (dressed to impress as a wool army) we headed off in both directions along the beach, with our garden bags and litter-pickers in gloved hands, and we were shocked and amazed at just how much plastic and rubbish we managed to collect.
Harry hauls a hawser
Overwhelming plastic invasion
There was an over-riding sadness, yet a weird fascination in the things that we found. It would be Katie B (our newest recruit, technical wiz and very own Tigger) who came across the most extraordinary collection of items; from a toothbrush, plastic fork, doll’s arm, gum shield, hoover nozzle, to tampons and a condom wrapper. There were plenty of colourful shattered pieces of hard plastic from buckets and lids, bottle tops and ring seals. They were easy to pick out against the natural rocks and pebbles. Huge and hefty ropes and broken fishing nets were hoisted or cut free (thanks to local builders who trustingly lent us their snippers and knives) and heaved over shoulders to return to base. But worst of all and the one thing that saddened us most deeply, was the never-ending swathe of microplastics* and ‘nurdles’ that had been deposited along the high tide line. This is when we all felt engulfed by the enormity of the challenge and sense of helplessness.
Microplastic beach combing
Tigger Tigger, Plastic Picker
Only the plastic you can see...
So what's actually wrong with plastic?
Simply put, all plastics contain toxins and all are indigestible. Sea-creatures of all sorts mistake larger plastic items and microplastics for food. Not exactly great to eat, either for the creature that swallowed the plastic or the creature (or human) that eats the first creature.
Microplastics are defined as items less than 5mm in diameter but they get much smaller than that. Some microfibres are small, too small to see. Think of your acrylic fleece, hollow-fibre duvet filling, lycra gym kit, high tech socks. Every time we wash an item made with manmade fibres - nylon, acrylic, polyester, spandex, etc, - some of those fibres are released into the water. They are too small to be filtered and are released into the water system and eventually onto the land on into the sea, ending up in the food chain, and often into our water supply or onto our plates.
Not too picky
We picked up some of what we saw, concentrating on the larger items. It was easy to pick up the big stuff (and won us lots of applause on the beach) but picking up the microplastics mixed with wet sand was more tricky and frustrating. Nevertheless, expecting it would take us all day we found that we had collected as much as we could take away in the two cars we arrived in - in less than 2 hours. We picked nurdles very inefficiently but having worked out a method will do better next time!
Too close for comfort
Greenpeace had just circulated a message reminding us that a truckload of plastic is emptied into the seas every minute. When browsing social media from the comfort of our homes, it all feels like this plastic pollution is happening somewhere else in remote parts of the world - "a developing world problem", but the reality was never felt more keenly than by our team out there on that beach that day. This is our patch – it couldn’t get much closer to home. We eat the fish caught here. We were seeing holiday makers and guests, from the nearby hotels and hostelries, including Jamie Oliver’s 15 restaurant, with different eyes, as they carried on their day seemingly oblivious to all this plastic beneath their feet.
The impact of doing the beach clean was as hard-hitting and as powerful as Sir David’s documentaries. That said, despite the sadness and the shift in our awareness, we all agreed that we had also benefited in so many other ways: we had enjoyed some fresh air, exercise and team building giggles while taking positive action for something we care about.
Wool wins the day
This day trip, our first Wool Company #minibeachclean, has made a passionate team even more passionate about the business we are in. Wool is one of nature’s most sustainable gifts to man and we should cherish and enjoy it - guilt-free - safe in the knowledge that it is a natural sustainable fibre that comes in never-ending supply that also helps keep our countryside beautiful, is biodegradable and absolutely environmentally-friendly!
Turn up the sound turn down the lights and enjoy Guillaume Nery take
One Breath Around the World
Think Global. Act Local
We learned that we can all do a little something to make a difference, wherever we are, to reduce waste, use biodegradable, use less single-use plastic. It's too easy to turn a blind eye but it feels better not to.
Grab ideas online by following #worldoceansday #plasticfree #zerowaste #reduce #reuse #recycle #choosewool #wool