The “war on plastic", recently declared by both Britain and the EU, is a just war — surfers should need little convincing of this — but too often it’s waged in platitudes and not in policy or practice.
Theresa May’s new 25-year environment plan is arguably a case in point. At the individual level, meanwhile, it’s easy to say, and indeed to believe, that plastics are bad and that something must be done and to leave it at that, without ever getting round to doing anything about it.
There is an alternative to such complacency, however, and it’s exemplified by the Devon-bred, Ireland-based surfer and environmentalist Sophie Hellyer. Unlike Mrs May she's strong and stable and she shall fight on the beaches, she shall fight on the seas and the ocean, and she shall never surrender. She's also an accomplished left-back (also unlike Mrs May).
Sophie spoke to Surf Europe about avoiding plastics both on the road and at home, and shared with us her list of eco travel essentials.
"It’s all about basic steps you can take to become probably 80% more plastic free"
1. Knife - A wooden knife not only means I never need use a plastic one, it can also fly in my hand luggage unlike the Swiss Army knife. This one was from Portobello market.
3. Toothbrush - In the US alone, an estimated 1 billion brushes go to landfill every year. Brushing with bamboo is the obvious answer, just throw it in the compost after use. Mine is from @thebamboobrushsociety.
4. Water Bottle - I take a water bottle EVERYWHERE, from yoga to the plane, plastic water bottles are my pet peeve. My favourite are the @kleankanteen bottles with sports tops that are carabiner-friendly.
5. Shampoo & Conditioner - I normally try to use bars instead of those tempting ones in shiny plastic bottles. My favourite are from @lushcosmetics. I recommend Big for salty mermaid hair.
6. Sunglasses - I don't leave the house without my sunnies, and after several years use, when my last pair broke I bought exactly the same pair again. These are from @dickmobyamsterdam. They are made from recycled plastics, the case from recycled leather and even the cleaning cloth from recycled plastic bottles.
7. Straw - Not for everyone but I drink a lot of smoothies, juice and gin and tonics! If you go for a walk on your local beach you'll notice straws littering the shorelines. There are metal, glass or bamboo options. Mine's a metal one from @therefilleshoppe, with a homemade little sleeve to stop it from dripping juice in my bag!
8. Coffee Cup - Hot drinks are a massive part of my lifestyle, post cold water swim or surf. I've had a lot of cups over the years but my firm favourite are the glass & cork ones from @keepcup. They also have silicone versions that break even in 15 uses. Save trees, water, landfill, greenhouse gas emissions and our oceans whilst enjoying your latte.
9. Journal & Pencil - I take my diary everywhere, and am always on the look out for beautiful journals made from recycled paper.
10. Oils - I'm not a big fan of perfumes, their excess packaging and nasty chemicals. Instead I take organic essential oils with me, either my own blend or something nice from Neals Yard Organics.
11. Toothpaste - I travel with a little glass jar that I refill from a fluoride-free, cruelty-free toothpaste.
(On the eternal search for...)
Razor - a wooden or metal razor to replace my nasty plastic one.
Towel - an eco travel towel that doesn't cost the earth.
SE: Have you got to the stage where you’re almost completely free of single-use plastics when you’re away?
Hmmm, mostly… I’m definitely not totally there yet, but I’m pretty good at avoiding most of them. The hardest thing when you’re travelling is food shopping — buying vegetables and that sort of thing at the supermarket if you can’t find a veg shop or a farmers’ market. Most accessories and equipment I've got covered, it’s literally the food itself. If I’m travelling from home I’ll normally take my own lunchbox, but when you’re away for a few days and have to start buying food on the go it does get a bit tricky.
So what’s your approach when you’re away on a surf trip?
It’s just a case of being a lot more conscious about it, I think, and trying to think outside of the box. On the way to Gatwick airport, for example, there’s a little organic farm a few miles outside the airport that I’ve stopped off at a couple of times instead of eating at the airport. On surf trips I normally keep a trangia in the car and cook up quick simple meals in the car park. And I always try to seek out farmers markets’ or veg shops and stalls so I can buy loose plastic-free veg.
In Ireland I get all my veg in a weekly box from the lads at Moy Hill Farm (pro surfers Fergal Smith, Matt Smith and Mitch Corbett). At home here I bulk-buy from Irish Independent Health Foods (IIHF), so I get a 25kg sack of lentils, porridge oats, chickpeas, flour, all those kinds of things. It works out cheaper in the long run, avoids plastic, is all organic and stops me going to the supermarket so often where I end up just buying crappy snacks I don’t need.
"I always try to seek out farmers markets’ or veg shops and stalls so I can buy loose plastic-free veg"
My advice would be speak to your local health food store and find out who their supplier is — we joined together with a few of our neighbours to make an order as there was a minimum spend, and then divided it up when it was delivered.
How about when you’re somewhere like Indonesia, or anywhere where you’re advised not to drink tap water… how d’you get around that one?
I just spent two weeks in Sri Lanka and didn’t drink tap water there, but where I stayed — the Sion Surf Camp — had a desalinator so you could just refill your bottle from their water. And the same with the boats I go on in the Maldives, Liquid Destination, they all have desalinators on board so you don’t have to use any plastic bottles. You just have to do a bit of research when you’re booking accommodation and look into this kind of stuff.
Tell us about this toothpaste. Where do you refill it from?
There are places like Lush that do toothpaste tablets or toothpaste powder, and you can just get your pot refilled. I get these little glass jars of natural toothpaste from Little Green Shop, but you can buy them in my hometown in North Devon so I think they’re getting more popular. Plastic tubes for toothpaste obviously aren’t great.
Plastic’s such an integral part of everyday life for most people that the thought of trying to cut it out altogether is a bit overwhelming…
Yeah, it can seem overwhelming. It’s just baby steps — there are definitely tiny little things everyone can do. Carry around your own water bottle, don’t buy plastic water bottles; I carry around my Keep Cup and don’t use single-use coffee cups; I take the spork everywhere and then you’re not using plastic cutlery; asking for no straw in your drink when you’re at the bar; taking your own shopping bag when you go to the supermarket — there are so many things you can do to massively reduce your plastic consumption. It’s all about basic, easy little steps you can take to become, you know, probably 80% more plastic free.