:: Take 3 with Tim Silverwood


TG:  What a great organisation you're a part of! How did it all start? TS:  Thanks! It's been an amazing ride. It all started on the Central Coast after I gave a presentation about the importance of beach clean ups at a premiere of 'The Cove' back in 2009. Someone in the audience was moved by my talk and told her friends - before you know it I was talking to fellow co-founders Roberta and Amanda and Take 3 was born. Together we are a group of surfers and beach lovers who realised that the immense challenge we face when it comes to plastic pollution is firstly raising awareness of the problem and secondly doing something about it! Take 3 asks everyone and anyone to simply take 3 pieces of rubbish with them when they leave the beach, waterway...wherever! The beauty of Take 3 is the simplicity, we're not asking you for to commit any time, money or exert any effort - we just want you to pick up a bit of rubbish.

TG:  So you have been hosting presentations around Australia in schools and the community to raise awareness of these environmental issues, how else can we get it out there?

TS:  The biggest challenge we face is simply getting the message out there that this problem exists. It's so important that people know how significant an environmental threat plastic pollution is, then we need to empower them to take immediate action and to encourage others around them to do the same. I am still amazed at the number of people out there that have never heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or that plastic in the ocean doesn't biodegrade and that it kills over a million innocent sea creatures every year, I thought this had become common knowledge. That's why I've continued to travel around Australia and present my knowledge about the issue, show engaging films about it and leave people inspired and empowered to make a difference - no matter how big or small. My events page profiles other upcoming events - www.timsilverwood.com/events

We initially targeted 'Take 3' towards the surfing community. As a surfer I think nothing of giving a little bit back to the ocean each time I go for a paddle, taking 3 is my way of saying, "Thanks!" We have to realise that as surfers we are on the front line, we are like the canaries that are sent down the mine shaft to see if a gas leak has cleared and are safe. In parts of the world where water pollution is rife it is the surfers that are the first ones suffering from earaches and sickness. If this plastic pollution scourge continues, we'll be the ones plucking plastic bags from our leg-ropes everyday, rescuing entangled wildlife and crunching through plastic sand on our way to the waves.

We aim to educate through many pathways from pre-schools to universities, through public events, celebrity/ sporting ambassadors, major sponsorships, viral videos, social media campaigns and recruiting a whole bunch of volunteers and champions around Australia and the world to spread our simple message. Let us know at info@take3.org.au if you have a desire to help us out.

TG:  How would you sum up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

TS:  Well the first bombshell I can drop is that no 'floating island of trash' exists. This 'illusion' was created by the media to add drama to their news stories. I compare the North Pacific Gyre region to a monstrous, slowly rotating bowl of soup. The bowl of soup happens to be spread out over an area twice the size of Australia, over 5000 metres deep in places and has the Hawaiian Islands dotted in the middle like crunchy volcanic croutons. There are millions of creatures living happily in the soup but amongst it is a growing amount of man made junk - millions of tonnes of plastic with millions more added every year. And it's only getting bigger. What we see washing up on our beaches and islands is only a minute example of what exists out there, it's unfathomable to even imagine how much is out there - hovering on the surface, lurking just below and sitting on the bottom of the sea. I know quite a bit about this region having studied it for many years and having sailed through it in July 2011, crossing 5000km from Honolulu to Vancouver. The Garbage Patch is the name given to the region in the middle of the Gyre where the ocean currents converge, kind of like the eye of a storm. It is here where the concentration of debris is greatest. On some days I was able to look out from the boat and not spot a single item of trash - but that's not because it isn't there. 90% of the debris in the oceans is plastic and of that plastic most goes through a process of degradation - meaning it breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces as a result of the sun, waves and corrosive salt water. It never really biodegrades though, it just gets smaller and smaller. That is why you don't see a lot of the plastic but when you trawl a net through the ocean here you see small plastic flakes make up a considerable portion of solid matter. Some samples have revealed up to 42 times more plastic in a net than naturally occurring plankton. It is for this reason it is physically impossible for us to think about cleaning up the soup. We can walk around the croutons and clean up what is washed up but more importantly we can stop adding to the soup - we need to stop the junk (liquid and solid) from getting there in the first place or else our soup will be a stagnant bowl of off clam chowder before we know it.  For a full account of my expedition read more here. 

TG:  What sort of help would you like to see from the surf industry towards this crisis?

TS:  I really expected that more surf brands would have jumped onto this cause by now. When I first started fundraising for my sailing expedition I thought that it would be easy to target big companies to help me out. That failed. I have since had discussions with a number of brands to try and ensure some support for 'Take 3' but it is incredibly challenging. To date the only major money 'Take 3' has received has come from a grant from Taronga Zoo in 2011. We are all volunteers and are incredibly motivated but the bigger we get and the more initiatives we develop and institute in the community the more challenging it becomes. It's fantastic to have this event at Patagonia in Sydney and Patagonia is one of a growing number of brands that are truly inspirational to be affiliated with.

You'd think that the surf industry would be as a general rule mindful of this issue and taking big leaps to use less plastic in products and packaging, encourage recycling, use recycled and recyclable materials and put some energy into initiatives to protect the ocean but it rally isn't the case. If I'm to be critical it's not just about the surf industry - the entire corporate world is never going to change unless they are 'forced' into it. Once a corporation is governed solely by profit and shareholders they are never going to sabotage financial gain for doing 'good'. They'll spend millions on fantastic PR campaigns to make you think they are doing all the green things and they'll tweak a few products to look 'sustainable' but only where they see financial benefit. This is why I am so focussed on changing legislation to generate tangible changes in Australia - two of the campaigns I am involved in are to ban the ultra thin plastic shopping bag in NSW  (of which we use roughly 16 million every day in Australia) and to get an introduction of the 10 cent refund system on bottles and cans (that has successful in South Australia since 1975) adopted Nationwide. (http://www.boomerangalliance.org.au/)

Patagonia is an exception - a company deeply embedded in providing exceptional quality equipment with a minimal energy footprint, long lifespan and always with a focus on protecting and enhancing the environment. I feel the surf industry has a lot to learn from Patagonia.

TG:  Anything else to add Tim?

TS:  Just to say that the focus of 'Take 3' is on getting as many people engaged in this simple action as possible. Please get on the web and follow us on FacebookTwitter and at our website. If you want to watch a cool little clip about Take 3 on the web, click here.

We'd really love to hear from anyone keen to help us spread our message, volunteer or help us financially. As you'll learn at the event on Thursday - the problem is huge but we can all make a huge difference.