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A unique solution to plastic pollution: introducing Ocean Sole UK

Plastic pollution and its impact on the planet is on many people’s minds at present. Thanks to the legacy of the majorly successful Blue Planet II series and publications such as National Geographic’s Planet or plastic? issue, the world is waking up to the problems that plastic waste can cause for the environment and wildlife.

You may have seen my #PlasticFreeJuly post on here recently, or last year’s #NoWasteNovember post — both looking at simple ways to reduce use of single-use plastic in our daily lives. But what about the plastic waste that is already littering the world’s beaches? How can we turn its negative presence into something positive and beautiful? That’s where Ocean Sole comes in…

ocean sole uk dolphin

Removing pollution and supporting marine conservation

It’s not often you hear someone say that their ultimate aim is to be put out of business. But that’s exactly what Ocean Sole UK’s Mark Dougal tells me during our recent chat.

Ocean Sole makes beautiful, colourful animal sculptures from discarded flip flops, which have been collected from the beaches of Kenya.

Many of the 520,000 flip flops collected last year washed up on Africa’s east coast from Asia, where refuse systems in some countries are poor, causing flip flops (many people’s primary form of shoe — owing to how cheap they are) end up in the rivers; eventually making their way into the sea.

ocean sole uk giraffe made of flip flops

A giraffe made from flip flops collected from the beach

“My biggest hope would be that one day there are no more flip flops to collect off the beaches,” Mark says. “Then we’ll be put out of business. But with 3 billion people across the world wearing flip flops, that day seems very far away.”

Once they reach the sea, flip flops — which are made of non-biodegradable plastics — pose a threat to marine wildlife. It is now, thankfully, well-documented how plastic makes its way into the food chain, and how its volume increases significantly as it moves up each level. But plastics can also trap and entangle fish and other sea creatures, and winds and currents can transport them across the oceans.

In the 20 years that Ocean Sole has been in existence, they have cleaned up over 1,000 tonnes of flip flops from the ocean and waterways of Kenya and contributed over 10% of their revenue to marine conservation programmes.

 

Saving the ocean with heart and soul

Mark tells me the work that he’s doing as Ocean Sole’s UK distributor ‘really lights his fire’ and he credits his involvement with the company, and many of his successes with it to ‘serendipity’.

Like so many cases of people who have been inspired to do their bit in helping the environment, the origins of Ocean Sole UK began with the awe and excitement of a child.

“After realising I’d lost touch with travelling, which was something I really needed in my life, I booked a trip to Kenya,” he explains. “The night before I left, I visited my sister and told my nephew where I was going. He pointed out Africa on a globe —one of those globes that shows the different animals that can be found in each country. I asked him if he would like me to bring him anything back from my holiday and he answered; ‘a lion’.”

With this request in mind, Mark sort to find ‘the best lion he could’, for his nephew to take to Show and Tell on his return.

“I told my friend who I was staying with out there about my little mission,” he says. “He told me about a shop a few streets away that sold animals made from flip flops —which sounded perfect.”

ocean sole uk lion made from flip flops

Before even visiting the shop, however, Mark had a chance encounter with the store’s owner at a festival.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was at the bar at a music festival, in the middle of a nowhere, talking to a complete stranger. When I ask her what she did for a living she told me she sold animals made out of flip flops… I knew instantly it was the same place that my friend had mentioned. What are the chances?!”

“From that point on three years ago, I’ve had an awful lot of positive coincidences. I had another friend who was holding an open house art exhibition here in the UK and he asked me to bring some of the animal sculptures along. I brought along 10 and they all sold in one afternoon. That’s when I knew there was something in this.”

ocean sole uk sculptures dolphin and hammerhead shark

Mark has since invested in the company, and despite it being a side project to his full time job, he’s even seen his Brighton flat turn into a makeshift picking and packaging depot for his stock!

“We had a video go viral recently, receiving over 100 millions views! On the Monday morning the guys in Kenya came in to 10,000 emails in their inbox!”

“Here in the UK I had 150 orders in one weekend, and that’s when I realised I was going to have to outsource the packaging. It’s just too much for one man. We’ve now got a brilliant website for the UK side too, and things are looking good.”

 

From strength to strength, from soul to sole…

During the three years that Mark has been a part of Ocean Sole he says the number of artists working on the sculptures has gone from 50 to 90. In total, Ocean Sole provides a steady income to over 150 low-income Kenyans, both in the social enterprise and the extended supply-chain.

I love the idea that one business is helping to clean beaches, recycle plastic waste, encourage people to admire animals through its sculptures and providing local jobs to low-income citizens.

“One of the best things about this is that everyone wants to help.” Mark concludes. And from where I’m standing (in pumps, not flip flops I might add), it’s easy to see why.

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Want to own one of these awesome animal sculptures yourself?
Visit oceansole.co.uk/shop/

Check out the Ocean Sole viral video here.

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6

5 more ways to reduce plastic waste!

This month is #PlasticFreeJuly, a great opportunity to evaluate our consumption of single-use plastic and to find more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives. The hope is, of course, that a month of trialling such a lifestyle will result in permanent change once we discover that it’s not as inconvenient as we first thought.

That’s why, following on from my Top 5 easy ways to reduce plastic waste! blog post a few months ago, I’d like to offer five more simple solutions for tackling everyday plastic use.

We all know by now the devastating effect that plastic is having on our environment, especially our oceans; and in particular our marine wildlife and sea birds, who are paying a huge price (in many cases, with their lives), for our inability to properly manage and dispose of the sheer volume of plastic that is being manufactured. So if you’re looking for simple swaps to achieve a greener lifestyle, look no further…

 

1. No more plastic soap dispensers

This one is so easy, and begs the question: why did we ever stop using bars of soap? Sure, I can understand it’s more hygienic in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries to minimalize contact with other people’s germs, but within our own homes and bathrooms? No problem! (Give it a little rinse under the tap first if you’re really concerned about germ transfer).

Just be sure to choose a soap that’s wrapped in recyclable paper or card, to really go green. The soap bar pictured above is from The Body Shop and had paper wrapping. Goodbye plastic liquid-soap dispensers!

NB: Also consider shampoo and conditioner bars instead of bottled liquids. Lush‘s shampoo bar comes highly recommended!

 

2. Ditch the throwaway face wipes

These things are not only dished out in plastic packaging, often smothered in chemicals and contain varying levels of non-biodegradable plastic, but they also end up getting flushed down the loo instead of thrown in the bin; and it certainly begs the question: What’s worse? Landfill polluting our soil and landscapes, or products clogging our water ways?

London’s sewers are notorious for getting clogged with fatbergs, which are often perpetuated by face wipes and baby wipes. Eradicate all of the above issues with one easy change over!

These bamboo wipes by Close, Pop-in are super soft and don’t reduce quality after lots of washes. Billed as baby wipes, I team them up with cloth nappies when tending to my daughter, and have a second set (in different colours I might add — very important for not muddling them up!) for removing my make up at the end of the day.

 

3. Cut out the disposable coffee cups

tea-in-a-cafetea-in-a-cafe

Working in a busy district in London, it blows my mind to think about how many people go through the doors of all the local high street cafe chains and come out again with non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic products. Multiply that with all the other busy districts in the City, all the odd branches and kiosks next to train and tube stations, then add in all the chains in towns and cities across the country; and finally map that idea on a global scale… and I’m pretty sure coffee shops must be some of the biggest offenders in supplying single-use plastic. In fact, we use 7 million disposable coffee cups every day in the UK alone – that’s 2.5 billion every year!

It’s estimated that only 1% of paper cups ever get recycled, that’s because they’re often lined with plastic polyethylene to make them waterproof — which deems them unsuitable for recycling in most facilities (only three recycling facilities in the whole of the UK can actually do it). Also, the fact that they are contaminated with drink presents further difficulties in the process.

Often, this symbol:  is misunderstood to mean the product can be recycled in our household recycle bins, whereas in actual fact, it doesn’t always mean it’s possible to recycle from home. If the numbers 3-7 are written within the triangle, it means the plastic it’s made from can’t be recycled into something else very easily, and requires a specialised recycling facility. If it’s thrown into household recycle bins, it’s destined for landfill.

As an incentive to reduce the use of disposable cups, many franchises are now onboard with offering a discount to customers who refill a reusable coffee cup — Pret offers 50p off, for example.

But what if you’ve left your reusable cup at home? Or didn’t expect to be in such desperate need of a coffee this morning? It’s surprising to think that even a brand as seemingly eco-conscious as Pret (known for it’s high quality foods and vegan and vegetarian ranges) doesn’t even give customers an option to use ceramic mugs/cups if you’re drinking in. Which would be my recommendation here: if you don’t have a reusable cup, sit-in for your coffee this time, and opt for a chain that provides non-disposable crockery for you to do so.

 

4. Choose a manatee over a bag of tea

manatee-tea-strainer-reduce-plastic-waste

While we’re on the supject of hot drinks; did you know that the majority of tea bags are made with non-biodegradable plastics? The stuff is literally everywhere!

Many of the major brands make their tea bags using polypropylene, a sealing plastic, to stop them from falling apart. This includes: Tetley (who have promised a change), ClipperYorkshire Tea and Twinings‘ ‘heat-sealed’ and ‘string and tag’ ranges.

An easy way to banish the bad bits from your brew is to turn to looseleaf tea. Reusable tea infusers, like this manatee (given to me by the lovely people at Bradenton Anna Maria Island Longboat Key) mean you can make a looseleaf tea in a cup instead of a pot (thus saving the energy of boiling surplus water), working in exactly the same way as a tea bag. I’ve spotted these little guys for sale in Pylones stores.

MAKING COFFEE AT HOME? Did you know 55 million coffee pods are used everyday, and most of them end up in landfill?  A single pod may take up to 500 years to break down. Companies like Nespresso boast recyclable pods, but they’re too small to be recycled with household rubbish and collection points are scarce. To go green, swap them out for making coffee with a plunger.

 

5 Give a Guppyfriend a go

I’ve been hearing about Guppyfriend washing bags for a while, and they’re the next purchase on my list for Plastic Free July.

Designed to catch microplastics released from our clothing (yes, even washing your best-loved garments is releasing tiny shards of plastic destined to one day pollute our drinking water!), simply pop your washing into a Guppyfriend bag before putting it into the machine; let it collect those pesky plastic fibres and brush it off into the bin when you’ve emptied your clothes from it.

I know sending the fibres to landfill isn’t much better, but at least it’s not contaminating our water and leave behind plastics prone to ending up in human and animal stomachs. Have you used one yet? Let me know your thoughts and any tips for using it.

 

Got anymore ideas for using sustainable alternatives? Please add them in the comment box at the the end of this post!

 

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4

Top 5 ways to reduce plastic waste!

Following on from my #NoWasteNovember blog post, for which I took part in a brilliant campaign by Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots programme to reduce the amount of plastic waste I dispose of, I’ve received some great feedback from my blog readers asking for more information and suggestions for reducing plastic waste.

plastic bottle pick up - reducing plastic waste

My #NoWasteNovember pledge was to use washable nappies, liners and pads with my new baby daughter — and almost four months in, it’s actually been an easy pledge to stick to, thanks to my early shopping spree with Babi Pur!

In fact, I’ve been so inspired with the ease and lack of fuss it’s caused, that I’m even investigating eco-friendly feminine hygiene products — and the wonderful Eco Fluffy Mama is my go-to guru for all things eco period-related. For any one interested, she has some great reviews available to read here. But for my non-gender-specific, non-parent-specific tips to living a greener lifestyle, check out my top 5 easy ways to reduce plastic waste below…

1.  Swap plastic straws for reusable steel

Steel straws

By now we’ve all heard the horror stories of plastic making it’s way into the sea — 8 million tonnes of it a year, in fact, is dumped into our oceans — and there are some horrifying videos online of how some of this impacts our planet’s wildlife. From seabird autopsies that reveal stomachs full of coloured fragments of the stuff, to a sea turtle struggling and writhing in pain as a plastic straw is pulled from its nostril; the very real, very emotive reasons to make a change are clear — which is why I love these stainless steel reusable straws.

Suitable for hot or cold beverages, these straws are available to order from ecostrawz and come with a wire cleaning brush so that you can use them over and over again. In some parts of the ocean it’s estimated that there are over half a million pieces of plastic for every square kilometre, so even reusable plastic straws are a no-go for me!

2. Bamboo toothbrushes

bamboo toothbrushes

One billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the United States alone! That’s more than 22 million kilograms annually!

As plastics breakdown into micro plastics, they cause toxins to build up throughout the food chain — which ultimately contaminate the milk of marine mammals at the top of the food chain. Sometimes this is so bad, the contaminated milk kills the young.

Plastic toothbrushes are a major culprit in ocean plastic waste, so making the change to an eco-friendly bamboo brush is a great way to reduce the number of plastic toothbrushes we’re estimated to throw away in our lifetimes (300 approximately). The Giving Brush are giving away their rainbow-themed brush for FREE right now, so there’s no reason not to jump onboard with this one!

3. 100% Compostable phone case

compostable phone case

A new favourite find of mine — eco-friendly phone cases! How many of us hold a phone case in our hands every single day? I’m willing to bet that most people in the western world carry one of these around without even thinking about it! I know it certainly hadn’t occurred to me that this is just another way that we’re buying, using and disposing of plastic, which is why I think it’s such a great idea!

These particular cases are 100% compostable and free from plastic packaging! Plus a donation is made from each sale to various environmental initiatives. Pela currently have a buy one get one half price sale on too.

4. Reusable drinks bottle

stainless steel water bottle

Glass or stainless steel are my top choice in material for reusable water bottles. 16 million plastic bottles go un-recycled in the UK every day, choking our rivers and ultimately destroying ocean habitats for our marine life.

Even reusable plastic bottles are likely to end up being disposed of eventually, and after reading about the risks of some reusable plastic bottles containing the controversial chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) – which is thought to interfere with sex hormones — I personally choose to stick with stainless steel! Thehut.com currently have a 3 for £20 deal on.

5. Plastic bottle pick-up (and join Lilly’s Global Clean-Up Day!)

Lily's global clean up day

The photograph I’ve used at the top of this blog post shows the plastic bottles I picked up on a short 15-minute or so walk to my local shops with my daughter. The amount of plastic bottles that litter our streets, fields and rivers genuinely still surprises me!

Luckily, there are some plastic pollution heroes out there like nine-year old Lilly, who are willing to go that extra mile. Lilly is a Child Ambassador for HOW Global and a Youth Ambassador for Plastic Pollution Coalition and is this year dedicating her birthday as a day for everyone to pick-up plastic from the environment!

#LillysGlobalCleanUpDay will take place on 18 April, and Lilly has challenged everyone to pick-up plastic on this day to help make the world a better, safer place. What an amazing wish for a 10th birthday! See her Twitter page @lillyspickup for the full video. Why wait though? Pick up some plastic and tweet today!

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8

No Waste November: Making the switch to reusable cloth nappies

This past week I started taking action to fulfil my ‘No Waste November‘ pledge.

No Waste November pledge by Kate on Conservation - to use reusable cloth nappies

Pledge: To be a ‘green mum’ with reusable wipes and nappies.

As a new mum to a newborn baby, who arrived on the 20th October, I have pledged to go ‘green‘, by using cloth nappies and reusable baby wipes.

Since hearing about the No Waste November initiative back in August, when I attended Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Annual Summit, I began planning my contribution to reducing the amount of plastic waste I dispose of. Knowing my daughter was due late October, I saw it as a great opportunity to actually put in to practice the idea of using reusable nappies, liners and pads — giving myself the motivation to stick with it!

Pop-in reusable baby wipes

Pop-in reusable baby wipe set

It was important to me to find my feet as a mother and get used to changing my daughter all hours of the day and night — as well as managing all those extra loads of washing that consist solely of baby clothes, blankets and sheets — so for the first 13 days after her birth I worked with the convenience of disposable diapers.

It soon became clear to me how important the impact of this pledge would be… in those 13 days we went through 84 disposable diapers and entire 100 pack of baby wipes — not to mention all the plastic nappy sacks that the dirty nappies had to be thrown away in; for hygiene purposes!

Milovia nappy cover and lining

Milovia nappy cover and inner lining

I purchased an entire range of reusable nappies to see her through from birth to 2 years, finding two different brands I wanted to use: Close Parent Pop-in for the newborn stage and Milovia for when she’s 8lbs in weight to up to 2 years in age, due to their adjustable sizing (see above).

For a look at what comes in the Pop-in Newborn Nappy Pack, take a look at the video below:

I used a website called Babipur to source the nappy sets; a company which stocks a huge variety of eco-friendly baby products, whom I discovered courtesy of my colleagues at National Geographic Kids magazine.

Milovia nappy designs and carry bag

Milovia nappy designs and carry bag for holding soiled nappies while out and about

As well as buying the nappies from them, this is also where I bought my laundry kit by Tots Bots, which includes a lockable bucket for storing and soaking dirty nappies; mesh bags for soaking them in and easy transfer from bucket to washing machine; eco-friendly washing powder and flushable top liners for extra protection of the nappies — which I think will come into use further down the line.

cloth nappies cleaning in progress

cloth nappies: cleaning in progress with Tots Bots nappy bucket and laundry kit

So far, it’s been a little bit of trial and error — I’ve found the best way to initially soak the nappies is to wash off the excess by holding the liners into the toilet pan while flushing the chain, allowing the water to flow over the liner, then soak the liners and nappy covers overnight in the bucket using 3 table spoons of the washing powder. Then they need to be machine washed at 60 degrees to remove any stains and to soften the fabric ready for re-use. It is recommended that baby is changed at least once every 3 hours when using these nappies.

Kate on Conservation mother and baby

Although it’s taken a little bit of time to know how tight to fasten them (too loose and they leak, too tight and they indent my baby’s skin), and you do have to actually open the nappies regularly to check whether they need changing (unlike disposables, which indicate with a colour changing line down the centre of the diaper, which changes from yellow to blue when baby is wet); I’ve absolutely become an advocate the cloth nappy!

The amount of plastic waste I’ll save over the next couple of years — not to mention money — is incredible! It may take a little more work, but thinking about those 80-odd nappies over less than 2 weeks, and how that would add up; I’m really glad to have made my No Waste November pledge, and I’ll definitely be sticking to it long term!

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