How Organisations are Starting the Plastic Conversation

Bethany Gaffey

in collaboration with    

Jordyn de Boer - Boomerang Bags, Flossy Barraud & Eleanor Gloster - Manta Trust, and Cat McCann - Scuba Junkie SEAS

Were you ever told as a child, “Don’t talk to strangers!” or warned about “stranger danger?” I know I sure was. Then all of a sudden, I’m all grown up and people are encouraging me to “network” with others and “put myself out there.” It was a direct juxtaposition to the values I had been taught as a child, so it’s no wonder my first conversations with strangers started out pretty awkwardly. However, with practice I realized it wasn’t so hard after all. Now, imagine you have to talk to a stranger except your message isn’t, “I love your shoes! Where did you get them?” but rather, “Our planet is in grave danger! Will you help me save it?” Such is the challenge of starting the conversation of conservation...

In the following article, you will meet three companies that use their individual platforms as conversation starters for global change. Read on to see how each company faces their unique challenges and how you can apply the lessons they’ve learned in your own personal lives to start important conversations about our planet.

Boomerang Bags

In 2013 Tania and Jordyn started a conversation about plastic, and decided to do something to address the vast amounts overflowing in landfills and  floating in the oceans. They took a look at the stats, and found one million plastic bags are being used every minute, and 10.46 million tonnes of fabric waste is created each year. And Boomerang Bags was born...

Hi Jordyn, it is a pleasure to feature your organisation in this article! Please tell us how Boomerang Bags works.

Boomerang Bags is a simple concept - community volunteers get together to collect post-consumer textiles (i.e fabric that would have otherwise ended up in landfill), and turn them into reusable bags. The bags are then distributed to the wider public, as a means to start important conversations about the impacts of plastic, the solutions and how they can get involved. Boomerang bags also provides a wonderful platform for volunteers from all walks of life to connect and socialise, learn new skills, and contribute to solution-based action.

Photo: Boomerang Bags

Photo: Boomerang Bags

What do you want Boomerang Bags to represent in the public eye?

Boomerang Bags has become a multi-faceted project… The bags themselves are a gateway into sustainable behaviour change. They lead to conversations, awareness, mobilisation and connection. They build communities, and provide simple but effective solutions that anyone can be a part of. They’re creatively made using waste, instead of creating waste, and they’re an example of how grassroots action can lead to big collective impacts.

What is one lesson that running this organisation has taught you about engaging the public on plastic pollution and environmental conservation?

We’ve learnt that raising awareness is most effective when coupled with simple, achievable solutions. Now more than ever, we are increasingly bombarded with information about the environmental crisis, and awareness is of course the first step to creating change. I believe that people want to contribute and do the best that they can, but need resources on how to do so. And we need to stay hopeful that our actions will make a difference. If there is no hope, then naturally we begin to become apathetic.

That feeling when you finally remember to bring your reusable bags to the store. Photo: Boomerang Bags

That feeling when you finally remember to bring your reusable bags to the store. Photo: Boomerang Bags

Manta Trust

Previously on Plastic Not Fantastic, we sat down with Eleanor Gloster to discuss how plastic pollution affects filter-feeding rays. Today, we will be joined by both Eleanor and Flossy Barraud of the Manta Trust, as we dive deeper into the organisation’s mission to educate people about the solutions needed to ensure the long-term survival of rays, and the underwater world we rely upon.

The Manta Trust has a three-pronged approach to tackling conservation: 1) Research, 2) Education, and 3) Collaboration. The Maldivian Manta Ray Project is one of Manta Trust’s Affiliate Projects. Flossy, what’s your role in the Maldives?

The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) is actually the Manta Trust’s founding project, which was developed at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru. Since its inception in 2005, it has expanded into five bases across the Maldives. I am the Education and Outreach Officer for the MMRP, based at Four Seasons in Baa Atoll. The majority of my time is spent designing and conducting 6-month long Marine Education Programs (MEPs) with different local schools.

Flossy exiting the water from a snorkel trip with a group of students. Photo: Simon Hilbourne @scubography (Courtesy of Manta Trust)

Flossy exiting the water from a snorkel trip with a group of students. Photo: Simon Hilbourne @scubography (Courtesy of Manta Trust)

What are some of the challenges Maldivian’s face that affect their ability to tackle plastic pollution?

Waste management in the Maldives is an extremely difficult issue to tackle. Being a nation comprised of remote islands, rubbish is usually burnt in a large waste dump on each island (with obvious environmental issues arising), or taken via boat to a ‘rubbish’ island dedicated to waste management. Most islands don’t have access to clean drinking water and many Maldivian’s drink from single-use plastic bottles. Littering is a widespread issue and often plastic waste is dumped at sea. It is hard to stop this littering and dumping culture when there are limited reusable options available, limited waste disposal and a lack of recycling facilities.

Eleanor, what would you say is the biggest challenge to combating plastic pollution in other parts of the world?

Single-use plastic items have become ubiquitous around the world – they permeate every aspect of our lives from travel, to health, food and education. I feel the biggest challenge is getting us all to view plastic and how we ‘consume’ it differently in the immediate future. We need practical eco-alternatives to replace single-use plastic, and better methods for recycling and reusing a wider range of plastics. Investment and changes in legislation will incentivise industries to find solutions quickly.

Flossy, can you give examples of how your team tackles plastic waste?

We:

  • Have a module in the MEP dedicated to pollution and waste management

  • Teach students about issues and solutions, conduct beach clean-ups and encourage students to create environmental groups to organize these events themselves

  • Take students to visit recycling centers where waste is being creatively turned into funky new items

  • Host a reusable bag printing session, where each student is given a recycled bag sewn from bed sheets to print with marine-themed stencils. They are encouraged to use these instead of plastic bags and we do notice a high number of students and their families using these bags.

The students usually have a respect and love for the ocean by the later stages of the program and we see behavior changes, including reduction of littering and other poor waste management activities. Our hope is that the students will share this knowledge with their families and friends, and instill intergenerational behavior change.

We also work with the government and other NGOs, such as Parley for the Oceans, to help provide

  • Plastic interception points on each island

  • Water fountains in each school

  • A reusable water bottle for every student

A manta ray sculpture made by school children at the first  Manta Festival in Baa Atoll . Photo: Simon Hilbourne (Courtesy of Manta Trust)

A manta ray sculpture made by school children at the first Manta Festival in Baa Atoll. Photo: Simon Hilbourne (Courtesy of Manta Trust)

Scuba Junkie SEAS

Scuba Junkie SEAS is a marine conservation organisation that operates out of Scuba Junkie’s resorts in Malaysia and Indonesia, with their HQ located at the Mabul Beach Resort on the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia.

Hi Cat, thank you for joining us! What does SEAS stand for and what is your role within this organization?

Hello! My name is Cat McCann, and I’m one of the Conservation Managers for Scuba Junkie SEAS. SEAS stands for Shark Education Awareness Survival.

We have since developed our conservation portfolio into six main areas

  1. Coral Conservation

  2. Shark Conservation

  3. Turtle Conservation

  4. Tackling Marine Debris

  5. Eco-resorts

  6. Supporter Engagement

A shark outreach programme with local schoolchildren. Photo: Christian Loader (Courtesy of SJ SEAS)

A shark outreach programme with local schoolchildren. Photo: Christian Loader (Courtesy of SJ SEAS)

How does SJ SEAS approach people about plastic waste and conservation?

At SJ SEAS we work with a variety of different stakeholders in our conservation efforts – government, NGOs, schools, and communities, as well as divers and tourists – through the ‘Supporter Engagement’ programme.

The most important part of engaging people in any project is to make sure that your message is tailored to the audience via language, style, content, and activity. Engaging a pupil from a school on the island would require a very different method from engaging a tourist. This also requires an understanding of their background and life perspective. Compassion is needed as well as the understanding that in some cases conservation might not be everyone’s first priority – putting food on the table for their children might well be their primary concern. But one thing that transcends all audiences are beach cleans…everyone can get their hands dirty there!

A Scuba Junkie guest getting involved in a beach clean. Photo: Christian Loader (Courtesy of SJ SEAS)

A Scuba Junkie guest getting involved in a beach clean. Photo: Christian Loader (Courtesy of SJ SEAS)

What example does Scuba Junkie and SJ SEAS hope to set for other dive operators?

We hope to show that it is possible for everyone involved in diving – from guest to operator - to contribute to marine conservation in a variety of ways. The first step should be minimising your business’ environmental footprint - then raising awareness of the issues to different audiences.

Can you give any advice on simple ways that dive shops can start preventing plastic pollution and promoting conservation?

  1. All dive operators should be carrying out and promoting responsible dive practices.

  2. Cut out single use plastics from all operations and raise awareness amongst the dive community about the impacts of single use plastic a.k.a. don’t let guests bring plastic bags, straws or single-use water bottles. This is especially important in remote locations where recycling facilities are limited (if they exist at all).

  3. Dive operators should also encourage all divers to use their collective voice to influence manufacturers to stop producing unnecessary plastic packaging.

  4. In terms of promoting conservation, start by identifying key local and environmental issues. Devise presentations or awareness-raising programmes aimed at your guests to begin with. It can be as simple as giving a presentation to your guests about coral health, turtle conservation, or the problems of plastic pollution. Contact us at SJ Seas or other incredible marine conservation organisations out there for help or inspiration.

  5. Work with local conservation groups, by giving them a platform on which to operate. Dive operators may have resources and facilities that local conservation groups may not have – whereas local conservation groups have the know-how and contacts that dive operators don’t. Work together in synergy. We partner with Green Semporna for a lot of our projects – their enthusiasm and energy for conservation inspire us every time we work with them.

A diver sharing the reef with a sea turtle during a reef clean event. Photo: Christian Loader (Courtesy of SJ SEAS)

A diver sharing the reef with a sea turtle during a reef clean event. Photo: Christian Loader (Courtesy of SJ SEAS)

As these three fantastic organisations have demonstrated, public education on plastic can come in so many different, creative forms. What can you do to set an example in your own local community? For starters, you can encourage conversations about conservation today, by sharing this article with everyone you know! And keep following our campaign, Plastic Not Fantastic, for more inspiration and ideas on turning the tide of plastic pollution.


Want to connect to these organizations on social media?

Instagram: @mantatrust / @scubajunkieseas / @boomerangbags

Facebook: Manta Trust / Scuba Junkie SEAS / Boomerang Bags

Loved the photography in this article? Follow the photographers

@s.hilbourne / @christian.loader

This month, The Marine Diaries will be sharing our knowledge on plastic pollution to help educate the public about the impact of our actions on marine life, in the hope of promoting change. Together we can fight plastic.

Want to become part of a community striving to reduce their plastic use? Join our Facebook group