Turning Trash into Treasure

The biggest breakthrough in beach cleaning in 15 years?

Hello. It’s Martin Dorey here, founder of the #2minutebeachclean and CEO of the 2 Minute Foundation. I have some amazing news to share with you all that I believe is a real step forward in our fight against beach litter. After harbouring dreams of turning beach litter into something useful for many years we have finally been able to make something that we believe is the biggest step forward in beach cleaning in 15 years.

Beach clean stations made from marine litter.

In time, the stations could be made from the litter you pick up from your beach. The station could then go back on your beach to help and inspire others to pick up more litter. We think that’s a real innovation.

If you’ve got 2 minutes I’d like to tell you how it came about, why it’s taken so long and why it’s so important.

I have told the story of how I became enraged by beaches knee deep in plastic many times. The year was 2006 and the location was a beach in North Devon. Having just moved to a house in the hamlet above the beach I discovered a section of coastline that was knee deep in plastic bottles, fish crates, rope and net. It was truly horrendous. I vowed there and then to do something about beach litter, whatever it was. I honestly had no idea it would turn out to be this!

I organised a beach clean with the help of Torridge Rangers, The National Trust, my local primary school and friends and neighbours. We cleaned as far as the eye could see, made art from the finds with my friend Mrs Recycle, took the kids on rockpool rambles and, most importantly, gave each of the children a gift I had blagged from a plastics recycler and manufacturer. It was a ruler, made from recycled plastic. Afterwards we set up a BBQ and bar (adults only) on the beach and celebrated a job well done.

The ruler, a seemingly small thank you for the kids who worked so hard, was hugely significant. I wanted the hard work of the kids to come back to them in the form of something truly positive. It was a symbolic closing of the loop. Making good things out of litter, treasure out of trash.

From that one day of action many good things have happened. We are a charity. We have set up a beach school. We have inspired lots of people to go out and pick up litter, 2 minutes at a time. It took a while to get going, of course, as it wasn’t until 2013 that the #2minutebeachclean idea was born. But that beach clean was a seminal moment.

However, it’s been bugging me for all these years that we haven’t been able to do much with the litter we pick up. We certainly haven’t been able to chart its course from useless and dangerous pollutant to something useful.

Until now.

The brilliant team here at the 2 Minute Foundation have been working for years on turning beach litter into something useful. In fact, it was a conversation early in the development of our beach clean stations in 2014, that inspired the research: what if the stations could be made from the litter on the beach? As an idea it was too pure, too good. And besides, the infrastructure to make it happen did not exist yet. That’s why we have been making them out of wood and laminate. It wasn’t ideal but would have to do for the time being.

Now I am happy to report that we have achieved what we thought would be impossible in 2014.

We have made a prototype beach cleaning station out of marine litter. It’s been a long road, has taken an army of people to organise, with lots of dead ends and twists and turns, but it’s finally happened.

The short story is this:

Plastic can be recycled. We know this. But plastics that are contaminated are not easy to recycle. Plastic also gets downgraded the more it gets recycled, which is why your average drinks bottle never turns into another drinks bottle. It always ends up as insulation or a bench or something of a lower grade. Riz Smith, our friend at Riz Boardshorts, has been making shorts from recycled bottles for a while now. So we know good stuff can come from trash, for sure, just not OUR trash.

The trouble with beach plastic is that it’s already really low grade and is worth nothing to recyclers. While nets and nylon can go to become kayaks, as made by our friends at Fathoms Free and Odyssey Innovation, or by Econyl, most of what we find is too degraded to become anything else and, ultimately, becomes landfill or goes to be incinerated for energy. Both of these solutions are one-way streets. The end is the end.

However, recently the Ocean Recovery Project, headed up by long-time supporter and all round beach cleaner extraordinaire Neil Hembrow and Matt Hulland from ORP Recycling, have been able to shred hard beach plastics and get them pressed into boards. They did this for the stage at Glastonbury in 2019. This was the breakthrough needed to work on our dreams. It was the missing link, if you like. After much research, our COO Nicky found a company, Reworked, that could take beach plastic from us, press it into sheets and then CNC cut and shape the sheets into products. They jumped at the chance!

All the while we had been dreaming of doing something with the plastic we gather – the elephant in the room – we have been building a network of stations around the country and an army of volunteers (both official and unofficial) to gather plastic. We have over 900 stations, thanks to you, Surfdome, Keep Britain Tidy’s BeachCare project and Deb Rosser and Kim Stevens. Thanks to Fjallraven and Bunzl we also have more than 20 Guardian Angels in Devon, Cornwall, London and Dorset who look after our stations and who, we hope, in time will be able to help us gather and store marine plastics to go to recycling. We now stock stations with reusable bags made from upcycled discarded festival tents, with our partners Rooted Ocean. We have a few bins (made from fishing nets gathered by Odyssey Innovation) around the coast to gather the litter and we hope to put out even more in 2021. This is the infrastructure – or the beginnings of it – that we need to begin rolling out recycled marine litter beach cleaning stations in 2021.

We think this innovation has come at the perfect time. We’re all in need of a little good news at the moment. Once lockdown lifts it’ll feel great to get out and about in the spring sunshine. What better excuse to spend the whole day at the beach, in the park or in your local green spaces than litter picking? Let’s look after the planet as well as our bodies and minds.

The most exciting thing for me is that we should be able to turn a beach clean into a beach cleaning station to place back on the beach. It is truly circular and fulfils a dream to make useful things out of stuff that’s worth nothing. Not only will it save us from using new materials to make beach clean stations in the future but it will also inspire people to go and collect their own stations! That means we are turning beach waste into a resource that can be used for good instead of going to landfill or continuing to choke our oceans!

Turning trash into treasure!

We are excited.

What next?

  • We are looking for sponsors to help us roll out the stations all over the UK and beyond.
  • We are looking for green transport to help us transport marine litter to our processor.
  • We are looking for volunteer beach cleaners who can gather and store marine plastic.
  • We are looking for funding to make the first 100 stations.

Contact nicky@2minute.org if you can help us in any way.

OUR CHALLENGE

It takes 3 tonnes of marine plastic to make 100 stations. So we’ve set ourselves a challenge. The 2 Minute HQ team have pledged to collect these 3 tonnes before the end of lockdown, meaning we’ll be able to crack on with the first 100 stations by spring. We’ll be out collecting as much beach litter as we can find during our lockdown exercise time!

Standard