For me, paradise is a beach with white sand and a hammock dangling between coconut trees. Seeing heaps of ocean plastic on a trip to the Parley Ocean School was an unexpected change to my “inner postcard”.
The good thing is that, as a product designer, I feel more motivated than ever to tackle the root cause. When working on a collection there are so many things to take into consideration: fit, color, pricing, marketing concept and, even more importantly in the sporting goods industry, performance. Drawing away in my office, I have to admit that I used to spend more time worrying about the “birth” of a product and whether people will like it than worrying about the end of its lifecycle. When adidas presented the Sport Infinity project, the microbead-free shower gel and the concept shoe made from ocean waste, my curiosity was triggered.
“I wanted to play a role in paving the way for sustainable product innovation.”
The offer from the adidas Fund in cooperation with Company Sports to be part of the Parley Ocean School on the Maldives could not have come at a better time.
Back to school
The mix of education from Parley talks led by dedicated ambassadors for the oceans and being so close to marine life was perfect to understand why preserving the ocean’s natural resources and species is so important.
Five days on a boat and 120 hours traveling through the idyllic scene of the Maldives, I have learned that plastic is actually the most useless invention of mankind, because we cannot give it back to nature. It eventually lands in the ocean, gets into the food chain of animals, which often die in a horrible way, and then finds its way onto our plates. The fact that plastic breaks down into microplastic which cannot be fully degraded by nature is terrifying. Plastic lives forever (200 – 1000 years) and harms the environment by releasing toxic chemicals over time. Plastic is also an issue, because there are so many different forms of plastic, which makes it difficult to break it down for recycling.
Besides all the theory we also got to meet the people in the communities to learn how they are affected by the increasing pollution of the oceans. When we met the students of Gemanafushi, a lot of kids did not know how to swim, let alone dive, which surprised me a lot, because it meant that they were not even aware of the precious underwater world that is dying.
Hence, I was pretty impressed when we met Shaheena, a passionate diver and photo journalist who is very keen to make a change in her community, by bringing the program “reef ‘N’ me” to life. It’s a great education program, which teaches students more about marine life and helps them gain valuable knowledge about the crucial existence of the ocean. Playing games and fun quizzes about ocean animals makes it easy for the kids to learn in a fun way and then go into the ocean to explore it while snorkeling and diving.
Seeing is believing
Learning from the Parley ambassadors, meeting many inspiring people in the island communities and, last but not least, seeing the effect of plastic waste on the underwater world in real life had a major impact on me as a person and as a designer.
Re-using and sharing instead of inventing
“As a designer, I can make a true impact on reducing our eco-footprint further.”
Using as much recycled polyester as possible, e.g. from our collaboration with Parley or from a non-dyed base (no extra dye added, making products appear in an off-white shade), helps to avoid developing new material. In the long term, we want to work towards avoiding the use of virgin polyester completely and look more into alternative sustainable materials, such as tencel, lyocell, cotton or wool, because the use of recycled polyester is only a short-term solution. Instead of using prints which can contain chemicals, fully engineered fabrics such as woven and knitted jacquards are a true alternative.
Shedding the throw-away mentality
As a person, I am also committed to reduce plastic as much as I can:
I don’t use straws and extra plastic packaging for takeaways. Instead, I bring my own reusable bowl or bottle to refill. Metal or glass is my material of choice.
Going to the store for shopping, I bring my own textile bag and refuse to buy or take extra plastic bags. I always ask myself: “Do I really need to buy all this?”
Plastic bags and bottles are top of mind when it comes to plastic waste, but have you ever thought about toothbrushes? Buying a toothbrush made of bamboo and natural fibers is definitely something to think about.
It’s all not rocket science, but small changes can make big waves.
Protect what you love
Jacques Cousteau once said that “people protect what they love”.
“That’s exactly our mission as Parley ambassadors and I hope we can inspire many more to counter the effects of our throw-away society.”
Do you still remember the postcard of my very own paradise I imagined at the beginning? Now that I have started taking action, I am confident that sand and coconut trees will still be in the picture, but the heaps of ocean plastic washed to the shore will be gone.