a colour wheel of plastic litter collected from a beach

The Power of Grassroots Surf Environmentalism

Words by Mat Arney & images by Mat Arney, 2minutebeachclean/Martin Dorey, Take Three, Julia Wheeler Photography

Humanity is in the midst of an environmental crisis, and ocean plastic pollution is a poster boy for the problem, capturing the zeitgeist largely following the airing of the BBC’s Blue Planet II series with Sir David Attenborough through the winter of 2017/18. Whilst action from governments and industry at a national or international level often feels glacial, many people are taking things into their own hands to address the problem in their local community, from French lifeguards collecting and publicizing the number of toxic cigarette butts collected within a square meter in front of their tower, through the many small beach clean groups around the world, to the artists who collect ocean plastic to turn into awareness-raising art works. Taken together, these many small efforts combine to create a groundswell of action. Surf Simply focuses on a few fantastic grassroots surf environmentalism projects, to see how individuals and small community groups can make a big difference and inspire others:

Better Beach Project, Virginia, USA

What was the catalyst for founding Better Beach Project?

The catalyst for the BBP was a half-dollar sized shard of glass that I found in my dogs paw when we were playing frisbee on the beach by our house. Why was it there? Either nobody noticed it sitting there or nobody cared enough to pick it up. I wanted to change both of those things.

What’s the concept behind the campaign?

The concept is to partner with local businesses, and incentivise community ownership. In any of our 68 businesses (and growing!), anyone can grab one of our containers for free, take it to the beach and fill it with broken glass, plastic, or cigarette butts. If they bring a full container back to one of the businesses, they can exchange it for a free coffee, stack of pancakes, ice cream cone, free dessert, half off a growler of beer or anything else the businesses provide!

How have you seen people react, and your community grow?

The BBP has been well received beyond what I could ever have imagined. Every age group has an equal opportunity to participate, and our message of making your beach better/taking ownership of your community has really resonated with our community. I attribute most of this to our partner businesses. They bring their clientele to our movement and are our biggest advocates, supporters, and promoters.

Where is the campaign at, and what’s next for it?

The campaign is currently located in VA Beach, but through the Surfrider Foundation will likely be expanding its footprint. The details are still in the works, but the idea is to spread our concept to as many communities that could benefit as possible.


What would your advice be for others looking to implement change in their area?

Never underestimate the power of a good idea. Find people who know more than you do and ask them all of your questions. There’s no person that’s too important for you to ask for their time. After that, get out there and do it. That’s probably the largest piece of the puzzle – getting out there and doing something positive.


#2minutebeachclean, Southwest United Kingdom

What was the catalyst for founding #2minutebeachclean?

A walk on the beach some time in 2007, seeing a quiet corner knee deep in plastic, was the moment when I decided to do something about beach litter. That led to organising beach cleans and setting up the Beach Clean Network. Then, after the storms of 2013, I started cleaning up every day and first used the hashtag. The beach was an absolute mess and I couldn’t see an end to the litter. Hence trying to inspire others to join in with a #2minutebeachclean.


What’s the concept behind the campaign?

It’s very simple: you pick up litter for 2 minutes each time you go to the beach (or anywhere). It’s about making it easy for people to start beach cleaning, helping them to stop feeling overwhelmed and encouraging them to join other organisations who do organised cleans. We have ambitions to bring many thousands more people to beach cleaning, and, in doing so, bring them to living greener lives.


How have you seen people react, and your community grow?

The community has grown enormously. We started with 1 hashtagged post on Instagram. There are now 95K posts, from every continent and we get around 250K views of our page every week. It’s extraordinary. Groups have met up and got together on the ground because they found each other online through our hashtag. We also find people with mental health issues are making the #2minutebeachclean part of their wellbeing as it’s soothing for the soul to pick up litter. Dolly, who does our social media is like a mum to many, having conversations all the time with people all over the world who want to connect, become part of a growing movement and feel they belong to a on online community that is also on the ground with a joint purpose.


Where is the campaign at, and what’s next for it?

We now have 500 + beach clean stations around the UK and Ireland (A-boards with litter pickers, bags and instructions) and we’d like to take them to Europe, Australia and the USA. We are trying to develop a network of Guardian Angels to look after our boards and become our eyes and ears on the ground. We are also working on the #2minutelitterpick and #2minutestreetclean. And generally trying to stay afloat!!! We don’t have a lot of funding so it’s a challenge keeping everyone going a lot of the time.


What would your advice be for others looking to implement change in their area?

Just do it. Any change is positive. Picking up litter for 2 minutes makes a difference. Everything you do matters, either in a positive way or a negative way. If you choose to refill rather than buy bottled water you are making a choice, a statement and sending a message – however small – to your peers, the manufacturers and the world that you want things to be different. So don’t sit on your backside… make changes!!!!

Take 3, New South Wales, Australia

What was the catalyst for founding Take 3?

In 2009 two friends, Roberta and Mandy, noticed the growing problem of marine debris washing up on their local beach. Rather than organic items like seaweed or driftwood, they noticed plastic water bottles, fishing line, food containers and plastic straws. Knowing the impacts these non-organic items are having on the environment and fragile oceanic ecosystems, the pair decided they needed to take action.

Their goal was to reduce plastic pollution and its potentially catastrophic effects on oceans, wildlife and the broader environment. Roberta and Mandy teamed up with environmentalist, Tim Silverwood, and the trio founded Take 3 together.


What’s the concept behind the campaign?

Take 3’s call to action: Take 3 pieces of rubbish when you leave the beach, waterway or… anywhere allows anyone to participate in our global movement anywhere, anytime and know that their actions have made a difference.

The concept behind Take 3 is that simple, daily actions can produce profound consequences. Take 3 deliver education that inspires participation – we give people knowledge on plastic pollution and how to live waste-free while igniting their connection to the planet and inspiring them to protect it.


How have you seen people react, and your community grow?

We are so lucky to have a community that is excited, inspired and cares deeply for the planet. Take 3 has grown from a local educational initiative on the Central Coast of NSW, Australia to a global movement of people connected to and caring for the planet.

#Take3forthesea has been tagged in 129 countries, we have 200,000 followers online and have educated 300,000 people around Australia through our education programs. It’s projected that the Take 3 community are removing 10 million pieces of rubbish from the environment each year.

This year, we developed our pilot storytelling program called Stories for the Sea, which is an ebook that allows people to submit stories about their connection to Take 3 and share how the movement has changed their life. The responses we received were profound and really hit us in the feels! We’re so glad and proud of have created an active, enthusiastic community of people connected to the planet.

Where is the campaign at, and what’s next for it?

Take 3 are in a really exciting time. We’ve grown rapidly in the last few years and our simple message is now a global movement. We’re encouraging people to Take 3. Give 3. Join the Movement. to reduce global plastic pollution, support our cause and protect our oceans.

Early 2019 will see the launch our new website which will allow people to interact with Take 3 like never before. As an organisation that continually evolves and embraces change, we’re now educating people on the waste-free, circular economy and encouraging people to adopt this waste-free lifestyle.

Take 3 advocates for a circular economy (opposed to linear), which is regenerative and renewable by design. Recycling has long been championed as the solution to pollution but overproduction and overconsumption are damaging our planet irreparably. The current system is not sustainable.

The circular economy is entirely regenerative and renewable as it recovers used materials and makes them into something new again. This unification of recycling, renewable technology and sustainable production can end the unnecessary production of items from finite resources. Take 3 promotes the circular economy as a sustainable solution for the future of our planet.


What would your advice be for others looking to implement change in their area?

Firstly, lead by example. #Take3ForTheSea, purchase reusable coffee cups and drink bottles, refuse single-use plastics at every opportunity and minimise your waste!

TAKE 3 – Simply Take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, waterway or… anywhere and you’ve made a difference. Share your micro-cleanup online with the hashtag #Take3ForTheSea and inspire others to do the same!

GIVE 3 – A $3 donation to Take 3 can educate one person through our programs in schools, surf clubs, communities and online. Our education programs give people the knowledge and inspiration to implement positive changes in their community.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT – Become part of our community of people connected to the planet. Join our newsletter to stay up to date with Take 3, receive tips on how to reduce global plastic pollution in your town, receive plastic-free living advice and much more!


Whether you live near the ocean or not, there are now countless inspiring ways in which you can do your bit to tackle the problem of plastic pollution, individually or as part of a organised group. If we all take small steps, the collective move forwards can be enormous and provide hope in the face of a seemingly insurmountable problem.

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