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One Week In Plastic Feb 27

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We’ve been working really hard on our educational projects of late. These have become a core part The Plastic Project, and critically we’re already in hundreds of Primary schools. Time taken on the educational project has led to less time being spent on contributing to the website. But it has been amazing to see The Plastic Project being used alongside work from CNN;  seeing Primary school kids using the material in class; receiving feedback from teachers and pupils; plus going live into classrooms which has been brilliant. If you’re a teacher and would like to know more about the project, check out https://ataleunfolds.co.uk

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Deposit Return

Plastic bottles, they are now on every beach on the planet, we can pick them up and turn them into yarn; recycle them; put them in landfill. But where we have to be aiming is stopping them getting there in the first place. Trouble is we’re all a bit lazy, we’re not recycling, and in worst cases we’re throwing them away. Of course the very worse case is when they end up in the natural environment, so what’s the solution? Well ultimately we stop drinking out of them and eventually replace plastic in the bottle making process. Of course this is going to take a long while to change, so let us incentivise recycling: deposit return seems the smartest way, right? So Surfer’s Against Sewage, Greenpeace and a couple of other groups have active petitions to get this rolling (sign SAS one HERE), not that such schemes don’t already exist. Walk into most Ikea stores and a number of other stores and you can deposit plastic bottles in return for vouchers to spend in that store. So the tech exists, and we can go and do it right now if we want to, but can we get this nationwide and into legislation? Sounds good, right? Well here is the sticking point, deposit return schemes work by adding say 10p to the cost of each bottle. That deposit is then refunded when you take it back, which is fine, but as anyone in business will tell you no company is going to like sticking money on their product. Price rises make consumers jittery, plus you have to explain the whole thing that you get that price increase back. Problem is it’s a busy world, and the concern obviously from drinks companies is that people will simply stop buying, hence Coca Cola started lobbying government to not even consider this. Fortunately Coke caught a lot of flak, and at least in Scotland have backed down and are behind the project. It’s an essential next step in closing the loop on bottles, but is just that: the next step. Finding an alternative material to make the bottles with is the only true longterm solution, but in the meantime, sign that petition by clicking the image.

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Indonesia to spend $1 Billion

Finally in this dispatch, Indonesia has pledged 1 Billion dollars to clean up their archipelago. Sounds a lot, but that is one hell of a task. The good news is at grass roots level this already happening, whether it be local authorities cleaning beaches, or campaigns to end the use of plastic bags. Not that we love stats too much, but how’s this – the average Indonesian uses between 0.8 to 1 kilogram of plastic bags every year, most of which end up on rivers and streams and are washed away to the sea. There are 250 million people in Indonesia, that’s a lot of plastic bags in the water every year.

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The overall aim is that Indonesia will cut the amount of plastic in its water by 70% by 2025, and as the planet’s second biggest polluter when it comes to ocean plastic after China, this is a pretty significant effort.

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Coffee and Ice Cream

An extract from one of the early Iceland trips.

Iceland survives on coffee.

It’s what gets you up on those dark winter days and keeps you going on those light short nights of summer.

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Ian Battrick and  Timmy Turner were sat in a small hotel, the owner had taken to us; after all surfers in this remote part of Iceland were rare, especially surfers that insisted on camping in a couple of feet of snow.  We were not just doing it for fun or for effect for Timmy’s movie, though Iceland is pricey, and this being our sixth trip up here and having never slept in anything but a tent, or just outside, it seemed the natural thing to do. We sheltered in the hotel as the wind built, drinking way too much coffee and checking the internet, the swell was due to go through the roof in the next few hours, all be it with a bad wind, and then back off to give us a couple of days on the fickle reefs and points in the area. We left after a couple of hours, caffeined out of our minds to go back to the beach where we had pitched the tent. This tent had been everywhere with Timmy, it was like a constant in traveling life for Cold Thoughts, a bomb proof shelter, it never leaked, it never failed us, and now as we pulled up to the beach it was not there. We all jumped from the car, nothing, just a patch on the icy ground and one peg, it appeared some Icelandic pikey had stolen it. Ian and Timmy were a little dazed, we ran to the top of the dune in case our Viking thieves were still in sight, but no sign. It was freezing, a wind chill way below zero, the ground solid with three day old icy snow. We had another tent, but it wasn’t up for an Icelandic gale. In the distance though, about half a mile away we could see material flapping, in what looked like a frozen ditch. We skidded back along the snow covered track and pulled up next to the frozen waterway and there it was, half underwater. A blast of wind, not thieves, had removed the tent clean from the icy ground and dumped her, our home, in a freezing ditch a half mile away. It was a grim scene. The one thing that kept us dry and, with three grown men in, warm at night, was now drenched. It then started to snow.

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What happened next was a little bit mental. Exploring Iceland involves crazy amounts of driving, swells rise and fall so quickly that you have to be perpetually on the move to chase it down, along with keeping up with continually changing weather conditions. We had no where to sleep, we were already in the teeth of a gale that originated over the ice pack of the Arctic, so we opted to drive. It was early afternoon on a Sunday. Our car was packed with boards, camera gear, a soaking tent and a couple of crates of duty-free ‘viking’ beer. Ian drove, he doesn’t drink much anyway, and just egged Timmy and myself to keep fueling up. We checked an area in the failing light, it was swamped under a big storm swell. Checking the map we discovered the next promising area was a good six to eight hours drive away, along what looked like a combination of sealed and unsealed roads. Ian was driving so it was his call, “if you’ve got enough beer, I’m good to do the driving for ya”. As we drove, the rain turned to sleet and then snow as we crested ridges before dropping down to sea level, where there were fleeting glimpses of white-water, mountains of the stuff under a hideous onshore storm.

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Six hours later and countless piss stops and attempted surf checks in the dark, we arrived at a little fishing village. Snow filled the air, our tent was still soaking. Offshore waves ran along a little reef just inside the harbour, howling offshore waves. We were all resigned to a night in the car, three guys sleeping upright after a few beers was not going to be great. Ian jumped out and ran into the public lavatory, then sprang out with a smile on his face and jumped back in. “you are not going to believe this, the toilet is huge, it has a shower and heated floors”. Turned out it was the changing room for the local hot spring, we grabbed the tent and bundled in. A better night’s sleep we had not had in ages, the floor heated by geothermal water, and a brief sanctuary from the storm outside.

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Morning, we woke early and showered for the one and only time in three weeks. Outside and we were still in the teeth of a gale, snow flurries whipped up out of the semi darkness. We loaded and started driving further, dirt tracks through a broken lava landscape. Setups were under mountains of white-water and onshore and as the snow increased we turned round. A little over seven hours after getting here we reversed the whole journey, this time through way more snow. We checked a lot on the way as the wind steadily started to ease and the swell held. By nightfall we were almost back at our starting place, the wind was dropping fast on a freezing starlit night. The ground at the beach was rock solid, no way we were getting pegs in here, options were short. After an hour or so of checking out other frozen camping spots we opted to drive inside a nearby road tunnel, pull off in a little side cave and just bed down. It wasn’t warm, and fortunately the lack of traffic meant there was no real problem with fumes. Turned out to be a good night’s sleep again. The next few days the wind calmed, the swell pumped and we scored a few waves with local surfer and school teacher Oliver, nothing epic but all fun. Then it was back on the road. Like I said Iceland is all about keeping moving and chasing swells down, which doesn’t always pay off, but it’s worth it just to see the place. One minute you’re on vast open plains, next, you’re beneath erupting volcanoes, then huge glaciers all to finally surf amongst icebergs, sure it ‘aint Indo but as a whole experience it blows other surf trips away.

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Half of Iceland’s coast is vast glacial outwash plains stretching for miles, backed by ice covered volcanic domes. Access is minimal, just following random tracks down to tiny coastal communities. At the end often just a surging shore-break, but find a chink in the coast and there is a chance of banks. We spent days searching for these, and found them. One bank would work on an approaching swell and then as the low pressure system swept under Iceland and change the angle, another bank up the beach would fire up. Iceland is a place that is in a constant dynamic flux, whether it is swell direction, wind direction, geology or just the weather you’ve got to be on it, ready to move and never settle in one place.

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Sub Arctic

Nights down here were easier than the week before, the dense volcanic outwash sediment made it easy to pitch up the tent, in hollows behind beaches, or just sheltered beneath cliffs, the dramas of further north were a thing of the past. Nights would clear out to reveal the clearest sky. What looked like really high level cloud would start to spread from the north. This would then start to dance with vertical and horizontal movements, before exploding into greens and purples dancing across the night sky. Every night we’d just lay on the ground in our sleeping bags and enjoy the natural light show provided by the Aurora, totally mesmerizing despite the temperatures being well below zero. Like anything that happens all the time though, you start to take it for granted, by the end of the next few weeks we became totally used to it, in fact on our last morning, an early start to catch a plane, and the sky was blazing green as we checked in for our flights. Out on the taxi ways life went on as normal despite the sky being green, baggage handlers loaded baggage, taxi men guided in planes as if nothing was going on. It was a surreal moment, but that’s Iceland, a constant bombardment of fresh experiences that you simply don’t get anywhere else. It keeps you on your toes, which you need to be if you have any hope of scoring waves along the country’s ever changing coastline.

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Camped out at the head of a remote fjord, it’s worth staying up into the small hours for this.

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Is Plastic Good For Climate Change?

I know, a slightly contentious title, but I’ve spent the last two weeks interviewing, talking to and listening to a wide range of experts throughout the world from Coca Cola to climate scientists, car manufacturers to plastic activists and the good and bad side of plastics have been fought for and lamented against. It all makes for fascinating reading/thought once you’ve recognised the insane spin attached to some of it.

So plastic must be really bad for climate change, it’s made from oil (4% of fossil fuel production goes to plastic, and then about 3% of fossil fuels is used to fuel its production), it chucks out loads of CO2 when produced and likewise at the other end if its incinerated. But here’s the rub, it’s light, durable and saves Co2 emissions at the other end.

How so?

Well consider this, how much plastic is in your car? A lot is the answer. But if there wasn’t so much plastic most of it would have to be replaced with a heavier metal. That extra weight burns more fuel, thus there is an argument that the saving outweighs the production. But there’s more, I got to speak to Coke. I find a Coke produced artefact on every beach from Suffolk to Arctic Norway, so why don’t Coke go back to glass bottles and make the biggest impact on plastic pollution ever? It comes back to weight again, transportation costs in this case; plastic is lighter, more durable, and as the nice fella said, “you can then recycle it, it’s up to people to recycle, not us.”

Trouble is recycling plastic is harder than glass, almost always it just gets turned into a lower grade product, and many countries, especially in the less developed world simply do not have the facility to do it. So right now somewhere between 250 and 500 million tons of Co2 is released into the atmosphere thanks to plastic. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. We do have a role to play in stopping this, especially with bottles. Obviously bottled water is a rip off, so get a reusable one. But what about soft drinks, and other items? We simply have to close the loop, recycling and using non-virgin plastic to make things would reduce plastic’s carbon footprint by between 30-40%, that is significant. At the moment though recycling is so low, so what do we do?

Well the obvious way is simply to offer a deposit return system, it used to work with glass bottles and where it has been trialled it works well for plastic. Surfers Against Sewage are leading the charge on it here in the UK – (sign petition here), it makes for an incentivised recycling programme, because right now the global rate for recycling plastic bottles is in single digits.

And to answer the original question? No plastic is not good for climate change, reducing weight to save on transport costs and fuel is a load of rubbish, better to start again and design something new.

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On The Ground In Morocco

We are building up a great group of ambassadors around the planet, one of the most committed is Leanne Jones. She has spent the winter in Morocco, from where she has sent  this excellent dispatch about the real situation in the state of epic right points, forward thinking environmental legislation, but also the spectre of huge plastic pollution.

Morocco, when it comes to surf, is known for one thing, point breaks that throw off peeling right-handers. No matter how you get to the point, from the beach paddling the distance or jumping in from the rocks, no matter which break you are at, you’ll see it – that rubbish you dodge, too focused on getting in to give it any thought, but you know it’s there, the occasional unfortunate stab in the foot is an unwanted reminder. Glass and plastic being most common in the Taghazout area. I was surprised at the amount of smashed glass on the rocks at Anchors, but the amount of discarded plastic that scatters the region is astonishing. People in general seem to think that coastal rubbish is what’s left behind, which is part of the problem yes, but the main problem in this area is the disposal of general rubbish in the first place, or the lack of, meaning it gets left in the streets and ditches on the roadside, just waiting to get burnt or magically disappear.  Usually it is just being blown to the beaches or washed down to the sea in the rain.

The Moroccan government seems to be good at coming up with quick fixes that haven’t been thought through and are possibly making the situation worse.

-Tap water not safe to drink? No problem, we’ll sell it in one-use plastic bottles.

-Too many plastic bags littering the country? It’s cool, we’ll ban them completely, including bin bags, sounds good right? But let’s not offer an eco-friendly alternative either!

-No bin bags to put rubbish in? No worries, just leave it, it’ll disappear eventually.

Anyone else seeing the problem here?

Let’s start with the one-use bottles. These are a problem everywhere, but in places where tap water is likely to make you ill, there is no other choice than to buy a bottle of water, lots of bottles of water. When the water has been drunk, the bottles get binned, which leads me to the second problem, plastic bags. Morocco, having been the second largest consumer of plastic bags after America, has completely banned plastic bags as part of an effort to go green. Production, importing, selling and distribution all come with a hefty fine if caught doing so. Good on them for the most part, but the down side is that bin bags are included in the ban, leading to difficulty disposing household rubbish. People would typically, bag it, bin it and pay for collection, or transport the bags to a collection point, but with many people using the last of their plastic bags or not having anything at all to transport the rubbish in, and many not being able to afford a collection, it has resulted in many burning the rubbish, which is questionable, or just dumping it and that is when it ends up on the beaches and in the sea. This isn’t too surprising as it seems only 70% of solid waste is collected and less than 10% disposed of in an environmentaly acceptable way, yet the country imports waste from Italy to use to create fuel. Maybe a solution for the problem would be for the country to actually collect its own waste to use for fuel and recycle more. Lack of education amongst the Moroccan public about the environment, and the effect that littering and plastic is having on their country and coast, and the world, is a major factor in the problem, as with many countries. I feel that if they were more aware of the problem, many would care enough to move to help instead of ignorantly making the situation worse. Education and awareness goes a long way, which is what this project is about.

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A waterfall of plastic on the way to the ocean
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Celtic Connection x The Plastic Project

We have had a little flurry of support over the last month, so it is about time we started to introduce the folk who are helping make this project happen. I have been friends with Carl at Celtic Connection for years since I lived in Bude. I was lucky enough to work in an office next door to him at The Surfer’s Path and Low Pressure where I got to see him create some incredible shapes for the likes of the Ash brothers.

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Carl is now one of the foremost shapers in the country. He and his business partner Alex have been epic in supporting this project in any way they can. I am so stoked that they are officially partners. There will be a lot more to come from the Bude area, it’s at the forefront of marine plastic pollution in the UK, so looking forward to shooting with these boys and working with them again.

Check out their site HERE, I have a couple of CC boards in my quiver one from 13 years ago and it’s still going strong!

And here is Joss and a few of the local boys on Carl’s sticks

 

The New Year in Plastic

So we are careering into 2017, nothing has changed, but everything could. We see nations, states and cities banning plastic bags, which are the number one source of plastic pollution. Conversely, there are states like Michigan, just to mention one, which have been lobbied by the plastic industry to an extent that they have introduced a ban on banning plastic bags! Yeah you read that right, a ban on banning plastic bags, as the Americans would say, go figure.

Meanwhile Sodastream launched this series of ads with Game of Thrones stars. Check it out, the shaming of people for buying single use bottled water went down well, especially those who know the show. Although the bottled water world didn’t see it that way and several are now coming together to sue Sodastream, a company that isn’t exactly plastic free itself. We live in twisted times.

 

The big news this month is the release of A Plastic Ocean, it will be the era-defining film when it comes to plastic pollution. We’ve already seen it and it is incredible. This film can be pre-ordered on i-Tunes here, and we’ve got to hope that more than just the converted see it. Here’s the trailer –

 

Meanwhile, in Germany, a whole shipment of Kinder Eggs washed ashore. We have some incredible images of the banks of the Thames and we have some horrifying images of a beach in Norway coming up neck deep in plastic bottles, it is truly shocking. All the below shots were taken by Steve Banks in Battersea in the last few days, really shows how the Thames is transporting rubbish.

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The Plastic Project On Tour

As well as making a film, putting together some workshops for schools and reporting on everything you read on our website, we are also going on tour this year. We will be visiting lots of schools and colleges as well as organising public events, either stand alone or as part of festivals. Tim does a pretty epic 30 minute or full hour talk and slideshow which is broken up with some short films. It’s inspirational, it’s funny and ultimately it’s educational. The talks cover surfing, adventure, sleeping in tunnels and the environmental issues we are so passionate about. We’re going to try and do at least one public event each month. Check the next few months out, and if you have an event you’d like us to come along to drop Tim a line.

March London TBC

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust – 10th April

Shore Shots Film Festival, Sligo, Ireland – 22nd/23rd April

Polzeath Marine Conservation, Tubestation, Polzeath – May 9th

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We have almost reached the incredible milestone where the plastic project is becoming a self sustaining organisation. We always imagined we would fund the whole thing by selling stories and images, and by creating content for our sponsor brands and we are on the brink of achieving that, which is really exciting. it was an ambitious plan, and it took all of 2016 to get it together.

What we didn’t expect was to get invited to talk in so many schools, and exactly how important this would be to the project. We’ve set a target of getting into 8 schools a month in term time, not all of these can afford to cover our expenses, so we are going to try and raise £500 to put into a fund which continuously gets replenished from the images we sell, so we can always make it, especially to those inner city schools who have little connection to the ocean. so we’re asking if anyone can donate a pound to this, and help us out, that would be epic, and we’ll keep you posted on every visits, as well as send other goodies if you go for more. We’re not going beyond five hundred, once we’re there we are there but if you would like to help you can here – http://numb.bigcartel.com

 

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2017 and The Plastic Project

We’re entering our fourth year with The Plastic Project. The first two were amazing, the project grew and I got to talk to some special people about plastic and adventures which really began to inspire others. The last year has been the most challenging of my life, trying to change an idea into a self sustaining entity that can grow into a format which is  successful. I’ve talked to a lot of people, met some incredible people across many industries, become an ambassador for The 5 Gyres Institute, and put a plan together for next year; a plan that has teetered on impossible for months.

An Indian man stands amidst left over eatables and plastic waste, near the Arabian Sea waters at the Juhu Chowpaty in Mumbai.

The beauty of what we have been doing is working. The hunch that images speak louder than stats, and that getting in front of people with the tales and imagery which inspire is proving to be bang on. What is more, we have really only just begun. I can say “we”and mean more than just me as well, as we now have a number of volunteers helping out; with  travel logistics and co-ordinating talks and the workshops being put together for schools.

So next year, it’s a three tier mission of pure adventure, which I hope will inspire billions to change their ways.

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The Travel

I have been to some of the remotest beaches on Earth in the last few years, and I haven’t found one, not one, without plastic on it. Let that sink in for a moment. We’re talking places where absolutely no one goes, yet the human race has left its mark. Now we’re going to push this to the limit: St Kilda, Spitzbergen, Ascension, The Falklands and Antarctica, to mention just a few places. It’s a critical component of the project, it’s the part that engages and inspires. Currently the visual evidence from the remotest parts of the planet is lacking, but as our worldwide team builds our open source plastic map, this will soon be put right.

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The Education

This comes in three ways: delivering presentations in schools, at clubs festivals and talking to business representatives. We have a great new 30 minute talk with films and adventure. Project staff are really excited by this and we already have a lot scheduled, especially for the first six months. This year has been incredibly difficult being able to afford to get to a number of gatherings, but 2017 is going to be a different matter. We are also working on a workshop which will be available to primary schools in the UK and USA. This is really exciting as it gives the kids a real hands on opportunity to work with the information we provide, facilitating the creation of their own films and articles around the project. Finally we are, as you’ve probably seen, creating an open source map with a band of ambassadors across the globe. The idea being that anyone with internet can pull this up, and see photos and film of the problem first hand; no stats, no anecdotal evidence, just the real thing. This is a problem that is going to take at least a generation to reverse. Even if we stopped using plastic today, we’d still be picking it up off beaches in a century.

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The Solutions

The human race is rubbish, and it’s sad to say that. This has become particularly true in the last sixty years; we have simply put profit above everything else. I am no hippy, I know making a living is vital, but we have to look at the big picture, and put simply we are killing our world. Climate change, unsustainable economic and population growth, habitat loss and marine pollution are all adding to the demise of our world. We must look at short term and longer term solutions to reverse this.

Short Term – we all have to pick up rubbish wherever we see it, the beach obviously, but also on the street, in the countryside, anywhere, it is all on a pathway to the ocean. We wholeheartedly support the 2minute beachclean and Surfers Against Sewage here in the UK, and are kicking off our own wilderness beachcleans here as well. Then there are those of us already enlightened who are cutting out plastic, especially single use items, water bottles and coffee cups etc. and then of course recycling everything we have to use.

Medium Term – to support companies which are actively changing the way they do business to accommodate the reduction of non-essential plastic. There are loads out there, and as consumers we have the power more than anyone else to force a change. Actually purchasing power is a lot stronger than legislation.

Long Term – changing to a whole new plastic economy. Plastic as a whole is not bad, but there are better alternatives and where there are none we need to plan the end of life of a product or item into its design. This circular economy is being championed by the likes of the Ellen McCarthur Foundation, which we’re stoked to be working with, and it really is the long term answer to our plastic problems.

So the plan –

  1. Explore and distribute using our map.
  2. To educate the whole world.
  3. To lead by example and pick up discarded plastic, change business methods and move towards an economy where plastic is still a part, but the end of life is fully considered.

If we don’t? We kill the ocean and we all die, it’s that simple, there is still time though, so let’s start making a change, and help support all those other groups of worthy people doing the same thing.

As always if you’d like to help you can here – HELP US – If everyone who read this blog put a £1 in, we’d be able to visit every school we have been invited to this year and spread the word.

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Hoax X The Plastic Project

Just before Christmas we had a great group of people come together to support the project going into 2017. We’ll introduce each one in the next couple of days. The first is Hoax, the legendary brand from Suffolk has been working with us for a little while helping us to put out a limited run of water bottles and do a little promo for us to help fund raise in the lead up to Christmas. We’ve also been helping them look at how they work, and they are already cutting out every bit of plastic they can from their packaging, and have plans to remove everything in the near future.

It’s great having core skate/surf brands like Hoax getting involved as they are as passionate as we are about moving forward to create a better way of doing business, and helping us to raise awareness when it comes to marine litter. What is even more epic for us is one of their ambassadors, and fellow local Suffolk boy, happens to be one of the biggest singer songwriters on the planet. Ed Sheeran will be travelling with our colab flasks this year helping to reduce the amount of plastic bottles, and spreading the word about the project.

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If you haven’t come across the brand before, then go and check them out right here – www.hoax1994.com – and follow their blog as well – we’ll be doing some little exclusives on there for them.