Saturday, 16 January 2021

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Surfing in plastic oceans: Meet Mr. Plastic Soup Surfer

Merijn Tinga on his Plastic Surfboard|©Eelke

Plastic. We create it. We use it. We fill our oceans with it. A staggering 350 million tonnes is produced each year and hardly a fraction is recycled. Most ends up in landfills or gets dumped into oceans. How can we make use of this revolutionary material without polluting our environment? Merijn Tinga puts this global dilemma into perspective for us. The surfing activist, better known as the Mr. ‘Plastic Soup Surfer’, paddles his way through plastic from coast to coast to raise awareness of the dangers our marine environments face.

A surfer on a journey for the sea he loves

As a visual artist his works of art often tell stories. Five years ago, he crossed a fine line of underlying subtleties, by literally standing on his art and becoming part of the artwork. Ever since, he makes statements through his artwork and often against the prevailing opinion. Recently, he crossed the North Sea with a surfboard made out of plastic waste to raise awareness of the amount of plastic litter flowing into our rivers and the seas. His ultimate goal is to inspire others.

Plastic in the ocean|©Eelke

"I’m not fighting plastic, I’m condemning our use of it" - Merijn Tinga

Plastic has undoubtedly revolutionised medicine, facilitated humanitarian aid in supplying clean drinking water and food packages and therefore remains a great invention. But it comes at a heavy price. We get so wrapped up in plastic with nobody to blame. This neglectful behaviour has now led to an abundance of plastic. Once plastic ends up in nature, it is broken down into smaller particles under the influence of wind and sun. Cleaning up microplastic is an impossible task, luckily, we know how to collect and recycle waste. It is becoming a question of setting up the necessary infrastructures and systems before we reach tipping point and the ocean becomes a bowl of plastic soup.

Companies must take responsibility

According to Tinga, the implementation of a deposit fee on both large and small polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles is the solution: "The implementation of a deposit fee culture is a cost-effective system, but it also requires companies, that currently compete with each other to instead work together. This demands large investments in machines and time from organisations as well as from supermarkets who are not too eager on change". Another important aspect is deciding on who should bear the final responsibility. Companies that decide to work with plastic, a non-biodegradable material, have greater responsibility, according to Tinga, than companies that opt for less harmful materials. “The moment a product is sold, the industries place full responsibility on the consumer, which is not acceptable with plastic packaging. Plastic demands increased responsibility from both citizens and manufacturers. Companies should develop a better end-of-life design, but the consumer must also take responsibility and prevent plastic waste from ending up in the environment at all times". The approach to this corporate responsibility is similar to how asbestos or chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) were tackled. In those cases, the companies were also responsible for finding alternatives.

Tinga is also confronting multinationals. Facilitating waste management systems in developing countries is just as important as fighting plastic pollution. "I cannot understand nor accept how multinationals sell 30 billion small plastic wrappers in countries where municipal waste collection systems are lacking". As long as we continue to neglect addressing plastic pollution from a global perspective we will be unable to solve it.

Researchers, the media and consumers have triggered awareness. The recent decision of the European Commission is a step in the right direction. The EU has developed measures to prohibit and restrict the use of the ten most commonly encountered plastic products in nature. "The fact that the Dutch government will take over this ban on ten single-use products makes you realise that the ball has started to roll", Tinga reacts.

Listing problems is easy, coming up with solutions not so much

The facts and figures are so staggering that they almost seem insurmountable and create a feeling of powerlessness. Tinga, however, brings refreshing optimism: we can all do something, through simple adjustments that require little effort. The first priority is to prevent plastic from ending up in the environment. Then, reduce our single-use plastics. Does a banana really need a plastic bag? How hard is it to switch to a reusable water bottle? It takes time to change our habits, but these small adjustments can have a major impact on beating plastic pollution.

Merijn Tinga taking picture of plastic waste for Pick-Up 10|©Eelke

With his new Pick-Up 10 campaign, Tinga wants to confront policy makers and companies. By monitoring litter, he wants to address the root cause, and make it socially acceptable for citizens to pick up waste. Google's photo recognition tags the litter you snapped by material, type of packaging and brand. Picking up litter is a call for change. "Pick-Up 10" and be Merijn Tinga's hero!

And like many others, you can as well take action. Ask questions! Create a petition! Come up with a clear call for action, with objectives that are feasible and measurable, within a specific time frame. Who knows, you might become the next Plastic Soup Surfer hero!

Follow his mission here.

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