Carve Classic: The Plastic Age

Carve Classic: The Plastic Age

Join us as we delve into the Carve Classic archives for some all time trips and interviews. Steve England caught up with Chris Hines MBE, a founding member of Surfers Against Sewage. Originally featured in issue 190.

Chris Hines, the only surfer we know with an MBE (for services to the environment), examines the source and solutions to the ocean plastic problem. It is a fight we have to win.

Plastic. It’s everywhere, from the moment you hit the alarm on your smartphone to the cleaning of your teeth at the end of the day with your plastic toothbrush and toothpaste from a plastic tube. Most of us will touch, see or interact with plastic hundreds of times a day, me included. It’s the current norm and one of the results is the almost unbelievable level of plastic pollution in the oceans.
Back in 2006 in an essay I wrote for Andy Hughes’ brilliant book Dominant Wave Theory (*1). I did a little beach clean and then looked at how all of those bits of plastic were, in some way, connected to my life … and it’s the same for all of us. We are all deeply embroiled in this plastic problem and we are all going to be involved in the solution to it. Many people are doing lots of individual actions but that’s a tiny percentage of us and this plastic crisis isn’t going to be overcome on the fringes and, I would argue, the solution is about far more than plastic. We need mainstream change.
If plastic pollution is everywhere it is nearly outweighed by the number of people and organisations who are on the plastic campaign trail and the campaigners are on fire with Surfers Against Sewage leading the charge. Awareness is at an all time high. The population want this sorted but ultimately a long-term solution to our pollution of the planet will require a different attitude and one that a lot of people, especially business aren’t going to want to hear:

We have come to believe that we can, and should be able to, have as much of anything we want, whenever we want it and don’t even think about the consequences. Consumption has been disconnected from any moral compass and we’ve lost our way.
The economic structures of the neoliberal western world are all based around growth. More, more, more! Research from Bioregional shows that if all seven billion inhabitants want to consume like the average North American then we would need five planets. For the average European it’s three. (*2). The planet does not have that carrying capacity. It doesn’t work. The growth addicts have even stolen the term “sustainability” and come up with “sustainable growth”! On a single planet there is no such thing!
There are massive powers stacked up to keep selling us this version of the world, to keep selling us more. But much of it is a hoax, brought to you by advertising agencies that make you feel inadequate because you don’t have the latest phone, surfboard, bike or whatever. And those agencies are just working for the companies who want to sell you more and more. With built in obsolescence and constant development, the moment you buy something its already out of date and we’re constantly inventing another hundred things that we all must have. Our relationship with plastic is just a symptom of a life in discord.

One quick plea for climate change: Whilst the plastics issue is important we also need to remember climate change. It’s not as visible and whilst everyone is fixated with plastic, climate change is not getting as much attention. Remember it’s the same people who are giving you climate change who are giving you plastic pollution. Those good old oil companies!
When Surfers Against Sewage started back in 1990 our primary aim was to stop the 400 million gallons of raw sewage that the Dirty Man Of Europe (the UK’s environmental nickname in the 80s and 90s) crapped out into our coastal waters every single day. Mixed in with that sewage were countless plastic panty liners and condoms. Ironically having the plastic panty liners helped, as it made the sewage slicks more visible. The history of those first ten years of Surfers Against Sewage shows what can be achieved and in what timescale. The infrastructural change to go to from 400-million gallons crude, to all continuous sewage discharges receiving at least secondary treatment and tertiary treatment for two thirds of that took 15 years and a massive engineering project worth £5.5 billion. The difference between 1990 and 2005 (and now) in terms of the sewage in our coastal waters is like chalk and cheese. Porthtowan Beach used to be known as ‘Porthtampon’ (we even managed to get ‘Porthtampon’ into a House of Commons Select Committee report) with hundreds of panty liners and condoms coming in with the slick of sewage every day. When they weren’t getting stuck in your hair or wrapped around your legs or leash, they’d dry and blow up the road and onto the forecourt of the village shop. Thankfully they and the sewage have now 99 percent gone.

But in some ways we had it easy. There was tough European legislation such as the EC Bathing Water Directive (1976) and the EC Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (1991) to act as a focus and a reference point, a stick with which to chase the polluters with. The UK government was doing its best to wriggle out of its obligations and hence the need for the SAS campaign of the 1990s. Make no mistake that was still a very tall challenge. Unbelievably the whole plastics problem has hit without any relevant legislation being in place. Neither the EC Waste Framework Directive (1975) EC Hazardous Waste Directive (1975) really took plastic into account, although maybe there could have been a legal challenge over plastic waste being hazardous , but yes you got it, no-one saw this coming! So this is challenging and complex work to even have the legal, legislative tools with which to force everyone to the table. Unfortunately many of the big players will simply not engage until they are forced and that force has to have teeth that can bite.
SAS have already helped secure some vital bits of legislation Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 and a government commitment to a national deposit return system for some plastics but there are still more needed before all the legal sticks are in place. We need government to match the level of commitment and pace being shown by the campaigning organisations. We need to be cutting off the tide of plastic pollution now. Personally I think it is an outrage when a government says it will sort excessive plastic packaging within 25 years! I can see the argument of time needed to change legislation and infrastructure, but 25 years … come on! The supermarket Iceland and other industry leaders are doing it now and blazing the trail. There is already a massive waste management infrastructure in the UK and the vast majority of waste, plastic included, is either recycled or collected through household collections and disposed of to landfill or incineration, but it will need more work and investment. This isn’t going to be easy but it can be done. Again back to the sewage there were certain companies Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water and Wessex Water who pushed the boundaries and changed the game.

Fundamentally we need to have a wider understanding of our roles as citizens of this planet.

Ocean plastic is an emergency and of global importance. Imagine turning up at an intergalactic planetary hospital Accident and Emergency Department and Planet Earth and The Oceans are screaming: “Save me! Do something, this HURTS! and the Governments/Doctor saying: “Hmmmm let’s do some consultation on this.” Reality is the whales are washing up full of plastic crap like some self-sacrificing suffragettes, the albatrosses are screaming and dying.
The danger of too much consultation is that the British Retail Consortium, the soft drinks industry etc. and the plastic producers along with big oil will all lobby hard to delay it, legally challenge it and ultimately hope that the whole infernal issue just goes away.

But let’s just take a step back and look at this whole plastic issue. Is plastic in itself an evil? It’s safe to say that plastic has had a profound affect on us as a species as well as the planet and there have been a lot of positive benefits as well as the downside. Many of us reading this today will have benefitted from the medical uses of plastic in life saving medical equipment. The easy to use contraceptive pill packaging that showed the day of the month helped revolutionise women’s ability to take control of when to have children and control of their lives. The use of plastic in cars and other forms of transport helps reduce weight and therefore reduce the CO2 footprint and hence has a beneficial effect on climate change. There are many other examples.
As surfers and people who have an interest in surfing, climbing, cycling, exploring and general outdoor activities plastic has benefitted us. Plastic will have played a massive role in opening up these sports and activities due to decreases in weight and increases in durability. There was even a 1969 surf movie called The Fantastic Plastic Machine!
So plastic is not in itself necessarily bad, it’s the way we use and abuse it.
Research (now known as internet searches) tell you the first totally synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was made in 111 years ago in 1907. The brilliant Radio 4 series Plastic Fantastic (*3) (listen to all three parts its brilliant) said that the first plastic was invented in a contest to find a replacement for the ivory for elephant tusks used to make billiard and snooker balls. Importantly it was cheap and therefore commercially viable. One web search shows: “…it had no molecules found in nature…” Now if ever there was a reason for caution that should be one. If something is totally unnatural then “Proceed with caution!” signs should have been flashing up. Off went the scientists working hard to develop other plastics such as polystyrene, polyester, polyvinylchloride (PVC), and others. The oil industry must have loved it! Not only did their liquid black gold create energy by burning (again another unnatural activity that has helped land us in a right old pickle with climate change and air pollution) but they could now make hundreds of thousands of products from it.

Of course there were a few inconvenient obstacles to remove such as hemp – the perfect natural, renewable alternative. Henry Ford of Ford Motors made car panels out of hemp and even planned to run them on biofuel. So the plant was demonised and linked to its relative marijuana and heavy lobbying by the likes of chemical giant DuPont saw the 1937 Prohibitive Marijuana Tax Law that made not only marijuana illegal but also the wonder plant hemp. The DuPonts of this world were joined by William Randoph Hearst, a media magnate who owned 75 percent of the newspapers in the USA, and wanted all of the paper to be sourced from his logging companies and not hemp. (Anything sounding familiar?) Just think what the world and our oceans would be like if hemp had been the material used in the mass expansion of our consumer world…
The plastic and oil industry came out post Second World War with a clear playing field and very few critics. Everything was white, shiny and clean! Big production was king. The consumer age was upon us and off it ran completely out of any restraint or understanding of the long-term planetary impacts. Our world became plastic. As Polystyrene (and X-Ray Spex) sang on the Germ Free Adolescents album (*4):

I drove my polypropolene
Car on wheels of sponge
Then pulled into a wimpy bar
To have a rubber bun

And watched the world turn day-glo
You know you know
The world turned day-glo
You know
Oh-oh

The X-rays were penetrating
Through the laytex breeze
Synthetic fibre see-thru leaves
Fell from the rayon trees

And watched the world turn day-glo
You know you know
The world turned day-glo
You know
Oh-oh

Find it and play it LOUD!

After leaving SAS in 2000 I worked as Sustainability Director at the Eden Project and originated the Waste Neutral concept. This followed the normal waste hierarchy of “reduce, reuse and recycle” but had an additional element of buying back a weight of products made from recycled materials that was equal to the residual waste that Eden sent to landfill, or to be recycled. This had two effects: Firstly it encouraged a reduction in all consumption as reducing the weight of materials sent to be recycled meant we had to buy less recycled product. Secondly it gave value to the recyclates, which helps pull them out of the waste stream and turn them into a resource. If something has a value it isn’t thrown away. This is similar to the circular economy now being pushed hard by the likes of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, but first conceived in 1966 by Kenneth Boulding in an essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” often cited as the origin of the phrase “circular economy”. (*5)

We need to be realistic and understand that the opposition to positive change is huge. The UK plastics industry alone has an annual turnover of over £23.5 billion and employs over 170,000 people. The global plastics market is projected to reach $586.24 billion US dollars by 2021 and the plastics industry is supplied by the oil industry.
These companies aren’t going to give up easily! They’re going to fight this every step of the way. In fact they don’t see reduction in plastic at all, they see… yes you guessed it… GROWTH! Big oil companies are seeing their market for combustion engines contracting so they need new markets for the base product and that means more plastic. Right now there will be hundreds if not thousands of people looking at new markets and new products that can be made of plastic.
We need a marked change in the way we consume in general and we need to redefine our relationship with plastic and we need to own that change as the mass population. I recently spent two days talking to over a thousand students at a school in Geneva. They haven’t waited for others to act. They’ve removed all the plastics from their food outlets. They call it: “The new norm!” The planet and its oceans need a “New Norm!”
I don’t want this to feel negative and I am an optimist. The campaigners are doing an amazing job and it feels like we could be on the cusp of turning this whole plastic issue around but have no doubt there is a long hard way to go yet. To solve this is arguably more complex than solving sewage as it’s such a wide issue with so many players and products involved, but it can be done. I will continue to pay my subs to the environmental groups and would strongly urge you to do the same (How can any surfer not be a member of SAS or your countries equivalent? I’ve paid my membership for 28 years now and will continue to do so till the day I die). I will continue to sign the petitions, to talk to others, to say ‘No’ to things I don’t need or often even want and love and look after the things I have. Cherish them, value them and when you’re done try and find another home for them or dispose of them in the right way. I will try and do my bit and would urge everyone to do the same.

Fundamentally we need to have a wider understanding of our roles as citizens of this planet. We need to think about and understand our footprints. No one is perfect and reality is we can’t be but we can think and challenge ourselves and live a more examined life. This doesn’t have to suck the joy out of our lives but can become a quiet element of how we live. We need to think of what I refer to as: “The Deal”. For the majority of us, we are lucky. We’re warm, we’ve got homes and we’ll eat today and we get to live here on this amazing planet and do amazing fun things. For us as surfers we even get to GO SURFING! We are the luckiest! The deal is we give back, we make a difference with our lives and we tackle the plastic problem as part of the wave of activism that helps us tackle all of the world’s problems. And if we can commit to that deal then it’s only fair that we demand that government and business change … NOW. Step up and lead! Commit to the take off! We’ll be hooting you all the way!

Chris Hines was a founding director of SAS leading the campaign from 1990 to 2000, Director of Sustainability at the Eden Project and a special advisers to the Minister for Environment, amongst other things.

*1. Dominant Wave Theory by Andy Hughes, Booth-Clibborn ISBN 1 86154 284 4 Hughes, A. (2007). Dominant Wave Theory. (1st ed.). London: Booth Clibborn Editions.
*2. https://tinyurl.com/y7jop9ad
*3 BBC Radio 4 Plastic Fantastic Professor Mark Miodownik explores our love/hate relationship with plastic. https://tinyurl.com/y8ytbmn5
*4 Polystyrene and X-Ray Spex, The Day the World Turned Dayglo. The Day The World Turned Day-Glo” / “I Am A Poseur” (March 1978: EMI International, INT 553) – No. 23 UK Singles Chart[41] From the album Germ Free Adolescents (November 1978: EMI International, INT 3023) – No. 30 UK Albums Chart[41]
*5. As early as 1966 Kenneth Boulding already raised awareness of an “open economy” with unlimited input resources and output sinks in contrast with a “closed economy”, in which resources and sinks are tied and remain as long as possible a part of the economy.[2] Boulding’s essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” is often cited as the origin of the phrase “circular economy”.[2]

The Plastic Age

The Plastic Age

Chris Hines, the only surfer we know with an MBE (for services to the environment), examines the source and solutions to the ocean plastic problem. It is a fight we have to win.

Plastic. It’s everywhere, from the moment you hit the alarm on your smartphone to the cleaning of your teeth at the end of the day with your plastic toothbrush and toothpaste from a plastic tube. Most of us will touch, see or interact with plastic hundreds of times a day, me included. It’s the current norm and one of the results is the almost unbelievable level of plastic pollution in the oceans.
Back in 2006 in an essay I wrote for Andy Hughes’ brilliant book Dominant Wave Theory (*1). I did a little beach clean and then looked at how all of those bits of plastic were, in some way, connected to my life … and it’s the same for all of us. We are all deeply embroiled in this plastic problem and we are all going to be involved in the solution to it. Many people are doing lots of individual actions but that’s a tiny percentage of us and this plastic crisis isn’t going to be overcome on the fringes and, I would argue, the solution is about far more than plastic. We need mainstream change.
If plastic pollution is everywhere it is nearly outweighed by the number of people and organisations who are on the plastic campaign trail and the campaigners are on fire with Surfers Against Sewage leading the charge. Awareness is at an all time high. The population want this sorted but ultimately a long-term solution to our pollution of the planet will require a different attitude and one that a lot of people, especially business aren’t going to want to hear:

We have come to believe that we can, and should be able to, have as much of anything we want, whenever we want it and don’t even think about the consequences. Consumption has been disconnected from any moral compass and we’ve lost our way.
The economic structures of the neoliberal western world are all based around growth. More, more, more! Research from Bioregional shows that if all seven billion inhabitants want to consume like the average North American then we would need five planets. For the average European it’s three. (*2). The planet does not have that carrying capacity. It doesn’t work. The growth addicts have even stolen the term “sustainability” and come up with “sustainable growth”! On a single planet there is no such thing!
There are massive powers stacked up to keep selling us this version of the world, to keep selling us more. But much of it is a hoax, brought to you by advertising agencies that make you feel inadequate because you don’t have the latest phone, surfboard, bike or whatever. And those agencies are just working for the companies who want to sell you more and more. With built in obsolescence and constant development, the moment you buy something its already out of date and we’re constantly inventing another hundred things that we all must have. Our relationship with plastic is just a symptom of a life in discord.

One quick plea for climate change: Whilst the plastics issue is important we also need to remember climate change. It’s not as visible and whilst everyone is fixated with plastic, climate change is not getting as much attention. Remember it’s the same people who are giving you climate change who are giving you plastic pollution. Those good old oil companies!
When Surfers Against Sewage started back in 1990 our primary aim was to stop the 400 million gallons of raw sewage that the Dirty Man Of Europe (the UK’s environmental nickname in the 80s and 90s) crapped out into our coastal waters every single day. Mixed in with that sewage were countless plastic panty liners and condoms. Ironically having the plastic panty liners helped, as it made the sewage slicks more visible. The history of those first ten years of Surfers Against Sewage shows what can be achieved and in what timescale. The infrastructural change to go to from 400-million gallons crude, to all continuous sewage discharges receiving at least secondary treatment and tertiary treatment for two thirds of that took 15 years and a massive engineering project worth £5.5 billion. The difference between 1990 and 2005 (and now) in terms of the sewage in our coastal waters is like chalk and cheese. Porthtowan Beach used to be known as ‘Porthtampon’ (we even managed to get ‘Porthtampon’ into a House of Commons Select Committee report) with hundreds of panty liners and condoms coming in with the slick of sewage every day. When they weren’t getting stuck in your hair or wrapped around your legs or leash, they’d dry and blow up the road and onto the forecourt of the village shop. Thankfully they and the sewage have now 99 percent gone.

But in some ways we had it easy. There was tough European legislation such as the EC Bathing Water Directive (1976) and the EC Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (1991) to act as a focus and a reference point, a stick with which to chase the polluters with. The UK government was doing its best to wriggle out of its obligations and hence the need for the SAS campaign of the 1990s. Make no mistake that was still a very tall challenge. Unbelievably the whole plastics problem has hit without any relevant legislation being in place. Neither the EC Waste Framework Directive (1975) EC Hazardous Waste Directive (1975) really took plastic into account, although maybe there could have been a legal challenge over plastic waste being hazardous , but yes you got it, no-one saw this coming! So this is challenging and complex work to even have the legal, legislative tools with which to force everyone to the table. Unfortunately many of the big players will simply not engage until they are forced and that force has to have teeth that can bite.
SAS have already helped secure some vital bits of legislation Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 and a government commitment to a national deposit return system for some plastics but there are still more needed before all the legal sticks are in place. We need government to match the level of commitment and pace being shown by the campaigning organisations. We need to be cutting off the tide of plastic pollution now. Personally I think it is an outrage when a government says it will sort excessive plastic packaging within 25 years! I can see the argument of time needed to change legislation and infrastructure, but 25 years … come on! The supermarket Iceland and other industry leaders are doing it now and blazing the trail. There is already a massive waste management infrastructure in the UK and the vast majority of waste, plastic included, is either recycled or collected through household collections and disposed of to landfill or incineration, but it will need more work and investment. This isn’t going to be easy but it can be done. Again back to the sewage there were certain companies Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water and Wessex Water who pushed the boundaries and changed the game.

Fundamentally we need to have a wider understanding of our roles as citizens of this planet.

Ocean plastic is an emergency and of global importance. Imagine turning up at an intergalactic planetary hospital Accident and Emergency Department and Planet Earth and The Oceans are screaming: “Save me! Do something, this HURTS! and the Governments/Doctor saying: “Hmmmm let’s do some consultation on this.” Reality is the whales are washing up full of plastic crap like some self-sacrificing suffragettes, the albatrosses are screaming and dying.
The danger of too much consultation is that the British Retail Consortium, the soft drinks industry etc. and the plastic producers along with big oil will all lobby hard to delay it, legally challenge it and ultimately hope that the whole infernal issue just goes away.

But let’s just take a step back and look at this whole plastic issue. Is plastic in itself an evil? It’s safe to say that plastic has had a profound affect on us as a species as well as the planet and there have been a lot of positive benefits as well as the downside. Many of us reading this today will have benefitted from the medical uses of plastic in life saving medical equipment. The easy to use contraceptive pill packaging that showed the day of the month helped revolutionise women’s ability to take control of when to have children and control of their lives. The use of plastic in cars and other forms of transport helps reduce weight and therefore reduce the CO2 footprint and hence has a beneficial effect on climate change. There are many other examples.
As surfers and people who have an interest in surfing, climbing, cycling, exploring and general outdoor activities plastic has benefitted us. Plastic will have played a massive role in opening up these sports and activities due to decreases in weight and increases in durability. There was even a 1969 surf movie called The Fantastic Plastic Machine!
So plastic is not in itself necessarily bad, it’s the way we use and abuse it.
Research (now known as internet searches) tell you the first totally synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was made in 111 years ago in 1907. The brilliant Radio 4 series Plastic Fantastic (*3) (listen to all three parts its brilliant) said that the first plastic was invented in a contest to find a replacement for the ivory for elephant tusks used to make billiard and snooker balls. Importantly it was cheap and therefore commercially viable. One web search shows: “…it had no molecules found in nature…” Now if ever there was a reason for caution that should be one. If something is totally unnatural then “Proceed with caution!” signs should have been flashing up. Off went the scientists working hard to develop other plastics such as polystyrene, polyester, polyvinylchloride (PVC), and others. The oil industry must have loved it! Not only did their liquid black gold create energy by burning (again another unnatural activity that has helped land us in a right old pickle with climate change and air pollution) but they could now make hundreds of thousands of products from it.

Of course there were a few inconvenient obstacles to remove such as hemp – the perfect natural, renewable alternative. Henry Ford of Ford Motors made car panels out of hemp and even planned to run them on biofuel. So the plant was demonised and linked to its relative marijuana and heavy lobbying by the likes of chemical giant DuPont saw the 1937 Prohibitive Marijuana Tax Law that made not only marijuana illegal but also the wonder plant hemp. The DuPonts of this world were joined by William Randoph Hearst, a media magnate who owned 75 percent of the newspapers in the USA, and wanted all of the paper to be sourced from his logging companies and not hemp. (Anything sounding familiar?) Just think what the world and our oceans would be like if hemp had been the material used in the mass expansion of our consumer world…
The plastic and oil industry came out post Second World War with a clear playing field and very few critics. Everything was white, shiny and clean! Big production was king. The consumer age was upon us and off it ran completely out of any restraint or understanding of the long-term planetary impacts. Our world became plastic. As Polystyrene (and X-Ray Spex) sang on the Germ Free Adolescents album (*4):

I drove my polypropolene
Car on wheels of sponge
Then pulled into a wimpy bar
To have a rubber bun

And watched the world turn day-glo
You know you know
The world turned day-glo
You know
Oh-oh

The X-rays were penetrating
Through the laytex breeze
Synthetic fibre see-thru leaves
Fell from the rayon trees

And watched the world turn day-glo
You know you know
The world turned day-glo
You know
Oh-oh

Find it and play it LOUD!

After leaving SAS in 2000 I worked as Sustainability Director at the Eden Project and originated the Waste Neutral concept. This followed the normal waste hierarchy of “reduce, reuse and recycle” but had an additional element of buying back a weight of products made from recycled materials that was equal to the residual waste that Eden sent to landfill, or to be recycled. This had two effects: Firstly it encouraged a reduction in all consumption as reducing the weight of materials sent to be recycled meant we had to buy less recycled product. Secondly it gave value to the recyclates, which helps pull them out of the waste stream and turn them into a resource. If something has a value it isn’t thrown away. This is similar to the circular economy now being pushed hard by the likes of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, but first conceived in 1966 by Kenneth Boulding in an essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” often cited as the origin of the phrase “circular economy”. (*5)

We need to be realistic and understand that the opposition to positive change is huge. The UK plastics industry alone has an annual turnover of over £23.5 billion and employs over 170,000 people. The global plastics market is projected to reach $586.24 billion US dollars by 2021 and the plastics industry is supplied by the oil industry.
These companies aren’t going to give up easily! They’re going to fight this every step of the way. In fact they don’t see reduction in plastic at all, they see… yes you guessed it… GROWTH! Big oil companies are seeing their market for combustion engines contracting so they need new markets for the base product and that means more plastic. Right now there will be hundreds if not thousands of people looking at new markets and new products that can be made of plastic.
We need a marked change in the way we consume in general and we need to redefine our relationship with plastic and we need to own that change as the mass population. I recently spent two days talking to over a thousand students at a school in Geneva. They haven’t waited for others to act. They’ve removed all the plastics from their food outlets. They call it: “The new norm!” The planet and its oceans need a “New Norm!”
I don’t want this to feel negative and I am an optimist. The campaigners are doing an amazing job and it feels like we could be on the cusp of turning this whole plastic issue around but have no doubt there is a long hard way to go yet. To solve this is arguably more complex than solving sewage as it’s such a wide issue with so many players and products involved, but it can be done. I will continue to pay my subs to the environmental groups and would strongly urge you to do the same (How can any surfer not be a member of SAS or your countries equivalent? I’ve paid my membership for 28 years now and will continue to do so till the day I die). I will continue to sign the petitions, to talk to others, to say ‘No’ to things I don’t need or often even want and love and look after the things I have. Cherish them, value them and when you’re done try and find another home for them or dispose of them in the right way. I will try and do my bit and would urge everyone to do the same.

Fundamentally we need to have a wider understanding of our roles as citizens of this planet. We need to think about and understand our footprints. No one is perfect and reality is we can’t be but we can think and challenge ourselves and live a more examined life. This doesn’t have to suck the joy out of our lives but can become a quiet element of how we live. We need to think of what I refer to as: “The Deal”. For the majority of us, we are lucky. We’re warm, we’ve got homes and we’ll eat today and we get to live here on this amazing planet and do amazing fun things. For us as surfers we even get to GO SURFING! We are the luckiest! The deal is we give back, we make a difference with our lives and we tackle the plastic problem as part of the wave of activism that helps us tackle all of the world’s problems. And if we can commit to that deal then it’s only fair that we demand that government and business change … NOW. Step up and lead! Commit to the take off! We’ll be hooting you all the way!

Chris Hines was a founding director of SAS leading the campaign from 1990 to 2000, Director of Sustainability at the Eden Project and a special advisers to the Minister for Environment, amongst other things.

*1. Dominant Wave Theory by Andy Hughes, Booth-Clibborn ISBN 1 86154 284 4 Hughes, A. (2007). Dominant Wave Theory. (1st ed.). London: Booth Clibborn Editions.
*2. https://tinyurl.com/y7jop9ad
*3 BBC Radio 4 Plastic Fantastic Professor Mark Miodownik explores our love/hate relationship with plastic. https://tinyurl.com/y8ytbmn5
*4 Polystyrene and X-Ray Spex, The Day the World Turned Dayglo. The Day The World Turned Day-Glo” / “I Am A Poseur” (March 1978: EMI International, INT 553) – No. 23 UK Singles Chart[41] From the album Germ Free Adolescents (November 1978: EMI International, INT 3023) – No. 30 UK Albums Chart[41]
*5. As early as 1966 Kenneth Boulding already raised awareness of an “open economy” with unlimited input resources and output sinks in contrast with a “closed economy”, in which resources and sinks are tied and remain as long as possible a part of the economy.[2] Boulding’s essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” is often cited as the origin of the phrase “circular economy”.[2]

Plastic Planet

Plastic Planet

Around 1990 I met a young photographer, Andy Hughes. At the time I was involved in a very heavy eco campaign called Surfers Against Sewage. I collected all the condoms and sanitary towels strewn all over Porthtowan, we bought shares in South West Water, and fellow SAS’ers Chris Hines and Mike Hendy went to the shareholders meeting and dumped them on the doorstep with a “I believe these are yours”. It was a rambunctious, hard hitting time.
Meanwhile Andy, also involved in SAS, had a different tack. He was taking photos, determined to make difference by highlighting the plastic pollution on beaches through art. He spent years taking photos across many coastlines, then in 2006 his Carson designed book called ‘Dominant Wave Theory’ including essays by world leading scientists was released. He had written to David Attenborough in 2004 asking him to contribute, but got a polite refusal.
Fast forward to 2018 and the ‘Attenborough affect’ has taken ocean pollution to the forefront of politics. Good time then to catch up with Andy and find out why he was so ahead of the curve, and get his views on all things plastic.

When did you first notice beach debris? And how did your first book come about?
Probably around 1987, but it was in 1989 when I focused my attention very specifically towards plastic in the sea and washed up on the beach. It was whilst I was an art student in Cardiff, South Wales that a young Cornishman called Dean, suggested I try surfing. One of the nearest breaks was at Porthcawl, Rest Bay. There were many grey overcast days, bobbing up and down in the sea, sitting astride on a blue Tris twin fin 5’8”, looking out across the bay to the Port Talbot steelworks. In 1989 I moved to London to study photography at the Royal College of Art. Often I would return to South Wales. On one occasion, returning from a surf trip to Rest Bay I stopped at the beach at Barry Island. It was there that I spotted a very brightly coloured plastic object. Like a magpie I was attracted to it, it was a detergent bottle with a visually striking graphic emblazoned on its upturned surface ‘Radion’. Using a brand new Fuji6x9 camera I made my picture. My neural networks made a connection between the word and the lurid, supersaturated colours. At this time my mum was receiving treatment for a brain tumour, I made a connection between the typography, the subject and its colour. I noticed visual similarities. Radiation used on a human brain to kill tumour cells and the wasted plastic bottle containing a seemingly simple product, detergent to wash away dirt, appeared connected. Of course, nothing is ever washed away, there is no away. There is no over there, away from here, everything goes somewhere. Maybe not in the same form, but everything that exists is connected. From this moment, this picture was the start of a series of works that visualised surfing, surfers, and waste.

How was it accepted? What was the atmosphere like around then?
In the early ‘90s I had a telephone call from the Tate, regarding the new gallery that was due to open in St Ives. I’d already met Chris Hines and others from Surfers Against Sewage on their first demo in London. I believe someone at the Tate had asked them if they knew any artists who surfed, and the Tate invited me down to Cornwall. An opportunity to come live and work in Cornwall was too good to resist. I moved to St Ives in 1993, where I took up an arts residency, then I found a job teaching photography and stayed in Cornwall. Porthmeor was my home break, I loved it. I was working teaching full time and continuing to make work, when 1996 I bought myself a Hasselblad camera and started making new photographs. These were very close-up, in a square format: the subject was all the washed-up plastic and rubbish on the beaches between St Ives and Porthtowan. Between 1996 and 2004 I specifically set about photographing washed up beached plastic. I made trips to the very far north of Scotland, up to Thurso and along the far northern British coastal fringes. I also visited Los Angeles and met a surfer called Joe from Surfrider USA, he took me all around the coast of LA. One particular stand out memory was when we both sneaked through a fence at Palos Verdes, running across Donald Trump’s golf course, all in order to find a particular trashy spot on the beach. In 2004 I sent a letter about my work to publisher in London, a very well-known one. Booth Clibborn Edition publishes the work of many leading figures in art and design, Damien Hirst, Rankin, Saatchi are just a few. At the first meeting with Edward-Booth Clibborn he agreed to publish my book of photographs. I made contact with various scientists, environmental advocates, and writers, including David Attenborough. I also contacted David Carson who agreed to design the book for me. Everything seemed to just drop into place. The book was published in 2006 with a USA co-edition published with Abrams in New York.

Was anyone doing this type of work before you?
That’s a great question! Had I titled the book something less esoteric I believe the book might have surfaced earlier in the debate about the ocean, plastic waste, and other associated topics. Calling the book ‘Dominant Wave Theory’ might not have been my best choice. I guess many who read Carve will recognise at least the first two words. Originally I’d thought about a title such as ‘Average Wave Period’ or ‘Dominant Wave Period’, my thinking was to connect the title with the mathematical systems we use to measure swell and wave heights. In 2006 when the book came out, there was no Facebook, Twitter and the web was still not as pervasive as it is now, so the title might not have reached a wide audience as much as I’d hoped. But it is a well-referenced book, and I often receive emails from people all over the planet asking me about it. If one searches for the book on Google – hey presto, it pops up as number one. I remember my publisher telling me how a book is a ‘slow burner’. It’s a decade since I made that book and much has now changed. Plastic has risen to the top of the political agenda. It is really fascinating that when I first met Dr. Richard Thompson (leading expert on ocean plastic) he showed me some beauty products that contained micro-plastics, that was in 2005! It’s taken quite a while for this to find its way into the public debate about plastic, it’s about 13 years! Over the last 10 years, my book has surfaced and attracted attention in many ways. It has resulted in many invitations to speak in public, appear in the media, create and exhibit the work in galleries and take part in many great conversations. Whether making work at the Glastonbury festival, traveling to a remote Alaskan wilderness and connecting with a grizzly bear or talking to kids at a climate change conference, it’s because of that book. It has had a rhizomatic effect on my current work and that of others too. Interestingly in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, there were various people and organisations discussing plastic and also other waste pollutants. In the ‘80s in Australia, there was a group called POOO which stood for People Opposed to Ocean Outfalls, this small activist group included surfers, they campaigned for a change in the way effluents were being discharged into the sea near Bondi beach. Recently I had a message from a well-known campaigner who called me the ‘Godfather’ of plastic rubbish imagery. It made me chuckle, if my memory serves me right, and I have a good memory, I think many just thought I was a bit eccentric all those years ago. Always talking about plastic and making photographs and artwork about it. It’s interesting to now hear about those who I knew many, many years ago now have set up successfully groups campaign for plastic free zones or collecting beach trash. Well, I suppose it not that weird seeing how debates change, I think I certainly was ahead of the curveball, perhaps this sounds a bit self-congratulatory, maybe. In terms of art there is a long history of trash and the discarded being central to contemporary art. There’s Robert Rauschenberg who in the early ‘50s explored the boundaries and the definition of art, following from the radical modernist precedent set by Marcel Duchamp. Marcel Duchamp took a urinal and displaced it, then titled it Fountain. It is one of my favourite works of art. Many artists have explored the lines between painting, sculpture, and photography through the assemblages of traditional materials and the detritus of everyday life. Hans Haacke, created a work of art called Monument to Beach Pollution in 1970. This rubbish installation was sited and photographed at Carboneras in Spain. Many artists have picked over the detritus of capitalist circulation and I see myself as one of a continuing stream that is getting fuller and faster flowing as each decade unfolds. Of course over the last few years, as the visible nature of plastic has increased along with social media and apps such as Instagram, it has become easier to point a lens to such material and comment about it. I’m not sure that it’s art, there’s a distinction to be made between art, advocacy and work which is purely didactic. A large whale made of out plastic bottles driving around the UK might be a great way to engage a mass audience and create PR, but it’s not art. I know it’s not meant to be, but often I get engaged with people in discussion about art and art for change etc. it’s a complex polemic that can get feisty sometimes.

What have you been doing since then?
Over last ten years or so I have published other books and zines. I have been invited to many great events such as the San Sebastian Surf Film festival as well as co-curating a series of photo exhibitions in Cornwall as also participating in many other exhibitions international. I continue to support Surfers Against Sewage and have over the last ten years supplied a great many images for various campaigns such as the Marine Litter Report and various campaigns about helping to reduce plastic usage. I’m also an affiliated artist with the Plastic Pollution Coalition alongside other noted artists who work with plastic as a material. In 2013 I was invited with two other artists and a group of world class scientists on an expedition to the remote Alaskan coast. A book, film, and exhibition took place and toured the USA. It was an amazing adventure and started me exploring new ideas about the subject. I expect to be able to make a public announcement about two other project that I’ve been working on. One is a funded project that will enable me to create a creative art film to be shown in 2019/20. The other involves a trip to Japan where I’ll be making new work for a book, documentary film, and exhibition leading up to the Japan 2020 Olympics. I’d also say over the last few years I’ve taken to reading much more, this in turn has fostered a deeper kind of thinking about the subject. I’m very interested in looking at how philosophers and political thinkers might change my own perception of the subject and in turn the work I produce. In particular, I’m drawn to the ideas of Timothy Moreton’s ecological theories such as Dark Ecology as well as texts by Gilles Deleuze, the French philosopher, and Félix Guattari, the French psychiatrist, and political activist.

Where is the worst place you have been?
Another good question, in terms of waste and plastic I’d say going to a supermarket such as Tesco and attempting to choose products without plastic is pretty top on my list. I realise you’re thinking somewhere more exotic? Last year I was in Mauritius with fishers on a boat floating above a coral reef, amazing people and a great privilege to be there, but when I saw the state of the reef it almost brought me to tears. In Alaska in 2013, I wandered in the bright sunshine along a remote beach, I found large plastic five-gallon containers that had been chewed by bears. On the same day, I sat only a few meters from a female grizzly and her three cubs. For over 40 mins I was both transfixed and terrified, beauty and terror together, a sublime moment. So in one sense it was the worst but also one of the best experiences of my life to date!

How do you feel now the Attenborough effect has pushed the issue into the worldwide mainstream?
In 2004 I wrote to Attenborough asking him to write for my book, I had nice letter returned but with a polite refusal. I thought it was a good gesture to reply and explain his reasons. Fifteen years later I was pleased to see the focus shift and the way in which the subject of human waste including plastic is centre stage. A few months ago I sent him a copy of my book, and got a great letter back. I think the Blue Planet has made a terrific difference and that’s great. But I’m curious about the changes we can make, given ‘deep time’ we have no choice but to change. We often see in the media and on social media calls to ‘save the ocean’ and ‘save the planet’. It’s the human race that we need to save without destroying our one home and the home of all other life upon it. Perhaps the ocean and the planet will be fine after the human race has left the stage? Does this seem too depressing, it’s not meant to be – the world is very, very beautiful and as many surfers will know there’s nothing better than riding a wave in the ocean. For me, it’s not chasing endless surf, travel to exotic places, I’m happy watching the sun flicker through the back of a nice wave at Godrevy. Art and philosophy can heighten that awareness and in turn foster love and care for the spaces we live in now, that’s what I feel is important. To see the beauty in everything, even a tower of trash at Glastonbury within an inherent beauty, its speaks to us if you care to listen.

What are the most innovative solutions you have seen over the years?
In 2004 Greg Garrad wrote a book titled ‘Ecocriticism’ it explored the ways in which we imagine and portray the relationship between humans and the environment in all areas of cultural production. In it, he describes four positions with which people often align to. One is the Cornucopian, a type of thinking that ascribes that capitalism can mobilise us to solve pressing problems through problem-solving, the market, technological advances etc. Nature is valued in the sense that it is valuable to us, to us as human beings. So the question proposes that there is a solution, from a huge floating platform at sea to bottle deposit schemes. I think the simplest solution is the best, a bit like smoking, let’s stop using it wherever possible. It’s worth noting that technology can help us or hinder us. If one watches some of the early films made in the ’40s and ’50s promoting plastic as a wonder material it will make you laugh or perhaps cry. My favourite solution is what the Plastic Pollution Coalition proposes: that is ‘refuse’ plastic. I think moves forward in behaviour can generate the best results the quickest rather than retro or reverse engineering the planet. It’s hard to keep abreast, trainers made out of sea plastic and other similar products for me are simply examples of ‘blue-washing’, especially if the company extolling virtuous values have little history in ecological issues. There are others who do and are making moves forward, brands like Ecover have a long history of active design and product manufacturing. I’m looking forward to buying ice-cream in a cardboard pack like I did as a child, you can even cut through the box to get a good slice! Perhaps even milk being delivered in a glass bottle, now there’s a good idea, any takers?

Given the widespread nature of the pollution, and that it is in the food chain, do you think we can still save ourselves and the planet, or is it too late?
For myself and for others I think that taking the time to explore the subject and read and consider how others are talking and making progress is key. Each new day brings new discoveries and ways of approaching plastic and waste. Today I heard about a supermarket in Amsterdam launched a plastic-free shopping aisle, I thought to myself, that’s so Dutch. Forward thinking, liberal and creative exploration is key. These questions from Carve have made me think some more about personal histories, experiences, and futurology. In botany, a rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots, from complex entanglements one can find meaning. Twenty-five years ago I sat floating in a brown turgid sea full of poo and plastic, seems a bit crazy, not so now, it’s shaped and formed my artistic and creative life. In Britain today we have less poo in the sea, we can have less plastic too, and not just at sea but everywhere for all life and all over the globe.

For more of Andys work check out
www.andyhughes.net

Plastic microbeads ban comes into force

Plastic microbeads ban comes into force

Can you see them, I doubt’t it? Microbeads so small in size, huge in the problem they create for our oceans.

Tuesday January 9 2018 sees the manufacturing ban of the use of microbeads which are hugely detrimental to marine life and the environment. The ban bars the production of such beads, and from July a ban on sales comes in to force.
Mammoth quantities of these plastic beads which are used in many cosmetics, face scrubs and toothpastes make their way into the oceans causing untold harm to wildlife, the environment and eventually often ending up back in our food chain.
The huge problem with plastic pollution in our aquatic playground has gained a high profile in recent years with more than 8 million pieces of plastic making their way into our oceans daily. The microbead ban is a small but important step forward to cleaner oceans, and a happier planet for future generations to come.

For more info check out: sas.org.uk