Turning Your Passion into a Sustainable Business: Rob Thompson

Turning Your Passion into a Sustainable Business: Rob Thompson

Season Two of the Clare Talks Rubbish Podcast Launches today. Episode 1 is with innovator an award winning Rob Thompson of Odyssey Innovation. Rob has created the world’s first ever marine recycled kayak and is moving on to make even more products with his new marine recovered material.

Scuba Diver turned Innovator

Rob was managing estates in Cornwall a few years ago and is a prime example of how following your passion can create endless opportunities. Rob is now the proud owner of a sustainable eco business and talks about his journey in this episode.

A great conversation for anyone out there who has any doubt that you can make a career from your passion. He is challenging the business status quo and setting an example for a circular economy future.  

Rob is a scuba diver who was fed up with finding idyllic coves in Cornwall full of plastic rubbish so decided to do something about it.

Fathoms Free

After rallying friends together, diving remote spots and debriefing on a cliff top around a camp fire, Fathoms Free was born.  Regular dives against debris ensued but Rob was still not satisfied as the rubbish they collected was still going into landfill.

World First Marine Recycled Kayak

Most people would have stopped at that point but after years of research, networking and hard graft, Rob has created the world’s first ever marine recycled kayaks from a new material he calls Gyre 2.

Rob had no background in materials, product development or indeed business and he shares his journey and advice on following your passion to create a sustainable business.

You can find more about the Marine Recycled Kayaks, Handplanes and other products on the Odyssey Innovation website.  There you will also find information about the Paddle For Plastic Campaign and the Ocean Recovery net collection campaign.

Other mentions:

Project Aware

Neptune’s Army of Rubbish Cleaners

Sea Shepherd Ghost Net Campaign

Global Ghost Gear Initiative

Paddle For Plastic Facebook Group

Paddle Cleanup Toolkit

This podcast was edited by Chloe Aust and marketing contributions by Megan Youngs. More about the team here.

Clare Talks Rubbish is a podcast brought to you by Clare Talks, a Coach and Ocean Advocate.  We are on a mission to inspire you to break outside the status quo, to create a wave of change.  We want to inspire and help change makers, leaders and every day heroes.  We love supporting and connecting people so do get in touch if you think we can be of assistance.

 

Helping you to clear out the rubbish and create space for boundless opportunities!

 

Podcast available on Stitcher, Spotify, Podbean and Apple Podcast.

 

How To Adventure With Less Plastic Waste.

How To Adventure With Less Plastic Waste.

Anyone out in the environment has a connection, an affinity to it and hopefully a desire to protect it.  So wanting to adventure with less plastic waste and leaving less impact or trace is often at the fore of our minds.  

We are all more aware now of the impact of single use plastics and the desire to produce less plastic waste.  We can’t carry on consuming it or producing it in the way we have done.  The great thing about this pandemic is that it is so easy to do something about it and to make your actions and choices create a wave of change. I tried to use as little single use plastic as possible on the last Paddle  Cleanup Expedition and I keep seeing posts in forums asking how we can reduce our impact so I thought I would share what I have learnt.

As for adventuring plastic free, I just want to expel that instantly.  Plastic itself is not a bad material indeed many of our adventure safety gear and vital kit that helps us to do the adventures we do in this new ultra light world are made from plastic. It is not plastic itself that is our enemy, only the way we use it and the way we value it.  And so here is my advice on how to adventure with less plastic waste.

 

Here Are My Top Ten Tips For Adventuring With Less Plastic Waste:

 

Tip#1 Buy Good Quality Gear

Support ethical brands that are leading in the way in waste reduction and providing quality products that last.  The more we support them, the more we provide validation for a different way of working.  In time, this raises general consumer expectation and creates a more sustainable blueprint for our future.  Brands like Patagonia, Finisterre and Craghoppers have a return and repair lifetime guarantee on their products so if it is damaged you can contact them and they will help you fix it, often for FREE!  

Tip#2. Buy Gear That Is Not Made From Virgin Plastic.  

Fourth Element, Ruby Moon, and GRN Sportswear all make performance wear from up-cycled fishing gear, and Riz Boardshorts are made from up cycled plastic bottles.  Yes I admit that these products do not solve the microfibre problem but they do reduce the use of virgin materials and highlight the possibilities if we embrace a more circular solution. 

For washing these products you can use a Guppy Friend Bag or a Cora Ball to reduce the release of microfibres into our waters.  Planet Care have however produced a filter that you can attach to your washing machine that is far more effective.  If you have a tumble drier at home another top tip is to keep the fluff, soak it in a little oil and use as fire lighters.

If you are a kayaker, check out the awesome up cycled marine plastic kayaks made by Palm Equipment and Odyssey Innovation.  I paddled one on Paddle Cleanup and it was great!

Tip#3 Buy/Sell Secondhand or Borrow / Share

How often have you had a whim to take up ‘X’ activity, bought all the kit and hardly used it only for it to sit around in cupboards.  With the digital age now there is no excuse not to put this stuff back into the secondhand market or to use this resource to grab yourself a bargain. Search on gumtree, eBay and Freegle for second hand gear where possible.  If your trip is short and a one off then try forums like Yes Tribe and Adventure Queens to see if there is someone local to you that you can borrow gear from.  

Tip#4 Cut Single Use Plastic Out Of Your Wash Kit 

This is becoming easier and easier as more products come onto the market.  You can see my wash kit for Paddle Cleanup below and that of my fellow team mate and Plastic Free Ovingdean champion Jessie.  We chose different options for our wash kits so there is a fine example of the variety out there now.  

A quick list of tips are below, I haven’t listed brands as there are a lot of options out there at the moment and I haven’t tried them all yet:

  1. Metal or Metal and bamboo safety razor
  2. Moon cup or similar for the ladies (these take a bit of getting used to but once you do, you never look back. Also think of all the money you will save!)
  3. Flannel (no more wet wipes please!)
  4. Shampoo/conditioner bars are the way forward
  5. Bamboo toothbrush
  6. Toothpaste in a jar or tablets
  7. Soap or solid shower gel (for adventures I just cut off a smaller piece instead of taking the whole bar)
  8. Deodorant in a jar or in a stick in a cardboard tube
  9. Refills (this is another option for trips where weight isn’t an issue.  I buy some products in bulk and then decant it)

Tip#5 Make Your Own Snacks 

This avoids unnecessary food wrappers, one of the main polluters of our waterways.  I made my own energy balls and granola bars for Paddle Pickup.  Top tip: make the ‘balls’ into a brownie type slab in a tupperware for adventuring as otherwise the balls can turn into gunk. 

Lots of recipes out there but I like the Ultimate Energy Bites by Deliciously Ella.  The ingredients I buy at a local unpackaged store. In Brighton there are loads (HiSBE or Charlottes Cupboard are good ones) but there are many popping up around the country if you search your local area – for London based peeps try Unpackaged at Planet Organic.  Alternatively, I go to a bulk buy shop which is super cheap, you can order stuff bulk online too.  Admittedly some use non recyclable plastic but I buy the largest container I can so it lasts a long time.

You can always try dehydrated fruit and veg too.  I haven’t tried it yet but after reading a blog by Cal Major – Paddle Against Plastic I am inspired to give this a try in the future.

Tip#6 Food Shop Wisely

It depends on the type of adventure you are doing and your dietary requirements as to the type of food you need to take with you, but my main advice is to shop wisely. 

Try to support unpackaged stores, try to buy produce that is not wrapped in plastic and take your own bags and containers with you when you shop.  

I noticed recently that Waitrose sell some pasta in paper, you can get pasta sauces in jars. Morrisons are encouraging customers to bring their own tupperware and Tesco is trialling this.  Iceland Foods are seeking to remove plastic from their own brands and over 40 companies including major supermarkets have signed up to a PACT to reduce plastic packaging so hopefully this will get easier over time.

If you eat meat then chorizo often comes just in paper and is a great high energy protein.  Eggs of course have their own biodegradable packaging!  Why not make your own humous?

Tip#7 Buy Food In Compostable Packaging

I found Outdoor Food super helpful when I enquired about plastic clever expedition food.  Recommended to me by the amazing Sian Sykes just before she set off to circumnavigate Wales.  For expedition food, it was surprisingly tasty. It comes in compostable packaging and in my opinion is a winner for those trips that need a lighter weight alternative.

For snacks, try Snact who sell vegan, gluten free, natural energy bars in compostable packaging.

Disclaimer: I am not vegan – I strive to be for environmental reasons but I believe if I tell myself I can’t ever have meat and dairy I will want it more. I would say I am a reduceatarian / flexitarian – some call it a conscious eater but that isn’t a label I identify with.

Tip#8 Take Reuseables With You

If you are adventuring in places that you can restock then take reuse bags with you, take a refillable coffee cup, take your own cutlery with you.  Take a refillable water bottle –  I use Water to Go.  The filters used in their BPA free water bottles are created based on technology originally developed for the NASA space programme, and their filter removes over 99.9% of all microbiological contaminants in water. That means that I can drink stream / river water, or otherwise undrinkable tap water. I drank tap water in India for 2 weeks with one of their filters and had no issues at all.

The image across the way is an affiliate link.  If you are interested in buying one this just gives me a commission which will help me to keep this blog and site going.  This is not why I have recommended them.  You can also buy from them direct and use discount code CTR15.

 

 Tip#9 Take ‘Leave No Trace’ To The Next Level

Not only do I take my waste home with me but I pick up whatever rubbish I can along the way.  If it is plogging, paddling against plastic, diving or hiking I tend to pick up what I can carry. 

It is interesting to save up all the single use plastic you use for a trip and document it then you can see where the problem areas are. You could maybe even write to / tweet those brands to ask them what they are doing about it.  e.g. follow the example of Kids Against Plastic and send your crisp packets back using the #PACKETin. 

For tips on what to do with the waste that you find see my blogs on what I did with the waste on Paddle Cleanup.

Tip#10 Talk about it

The more adventurers tell their followers about these tips and any others they are using, the more we can spread awareness.  By spreading awareness we raise expectations and demand.  More companies and product designers will then innovate to find sustainable solutions and governments will have to listen which helps keep this tide of change moving. So get out there and challenge yourself and adventure with less waste.  Leave any other top tips and comments in the comment box below.

Top Tips For Repurposing Your River Rubbish

Top Tips For Repurposing Your River Rubbish

Top Tips for Repurposing your River Rubbish

There are loads of useful tips and advice in the toolkit that you can download from the link below.  More information also set out below.

Bottle Tops and Hard Plastic

There are loads of projects repurposing and upcycling bottle tops now.  Look for a local one near you to avoid increasing the carbon footprint.  Our bottle tops and other hard plastic (HDPE) were dropped down to Odyssey Innovation on Erin’s way home.  Along with Palm Equipment Odyssey Innovation then turned the hard plastic into kayaks.  We were so lucky to be able to paddle the worlds first ever marine recycled kayaks for our length of Wales trip.  So we paddled kayaks made from marine plastic, picked up plastic in them and sent that plastic back to them to be made into more kayaks.  I love the circularity of that!

Balls

We also found homes for many of the balls we picked up as these were collected up, washed and taken off to dog walk groups and dog rescue homes.

Food Wrappers

Terracycle recycle for FREE many hard to recycle items that the Local Authorities do not.  These include crisp packets, biscuit and cake wrappers and cigarette waste, all of which are common cleanup treasures.  Search on their site for your local collection point or set up your own. Include items found in the cleanup as long as they are washed and dried.

Bags

Most large supermarkets have a collection point for plastic bags and film.  This varies by location so have a look and see what you can find locally.

Fishing floats

Some are reuseable so why not donate back to a local angler.

Clothes and Shoes

Washed, these can go to a fabric recycle bin or to a shop if it is in good condition.

Local Projects

I also kept a lot of the smaller every day items for outreach and campaigning.  Why not look to your local community to see what artists and campaigners can use.

Send it Back

There are lots of repeat culprits in our waterways.  Lucozade, Macdonalds and Coca Cola are some that come to mind.  Why not wash the rubbish and either send it back, take a photo and tweet them to ask them what they are doing about their packaging that keeps polluting our environment.  Share your posts in the Paddle Cleanup facebook group.

Top tips for repurposing your river rubbish

As it takes 25 years for a head of lettuce to degrade in a landfill site, it is really important to divert as much as possible.  Another challenge to add to the adventure! Strong headwinds and tide races meant that our length of Wales trip was pretty tough towards the end.  We had our first ‘man overboard’ too. At one stage we had to turn around and head backwards 1 km to wait for the tide to turn as the water was running so fast in the opposite direction.  Another great team of women though and we all pulled together and finally made it to Sharpness, 240km paddled over 3 weeks, with a few aches and bruises and very much looking forward to a long soak in the bath.

We picked up a shocking 5637 pieces of plastic! 

86% of this was avoidable single use plastic.  Imagine the difference to the environment if we managed to cut out single use plastic!  Bottles and tops were by far the biggest polluter, accounting for half of the plastic we found.  I should reiterate that we didn’t pick up everything, we couldn’t, and it was heartbreaking to leave what we did but you try fitting a shopping trolley in a kayak without going for a swim!  I know that there was so much more at the bottom that we couldnt see too.  We were given reports of plastic coming up with anchor lines and saw ourselves some of it sink as we tried to fish it out.

5 Take Aways From Paddling the Length of Wales

5 Take Aways From Paddling the Length of Wales

My five take aways from paddling the length of Wales  

In May 2018 Erin Bastian and I led a group of women to paddle the length of Wales to pick up plastic out of our waterways.  Erin, the kayak lead and my role to manage the conservation efforts.  As I know it takes over 25 years for a head of lettuce to decompose in landfill I was determined to do what I could to avoid it.  See my top tips on what to do with your river rubbish.

Paddle cleanup expeditions have become so much more than just rubbish treasure hunting in canal juice pong so here are my top five take aways from paddling the length of Wales. 

#1 Our British waterways are beautiful!   

Take a moment to immerse yourself in the wonders of the natural environment around you.  The patterns the water makes as it falls off the paddle and the drip drip splash sound it makes.  The smells of spring flowers springing up around you and the birds in dancing around in the sky.  I even noticed that the birds sometimes work together to protect their babies from soaring prey. Oh and the oh so adorable duckings, and damsel flies dancing about on the water sparkling blue in the spring sun.  Sounds pretty idyllic?  It truly was. Ok there is the odd bit of manky human detritus to pick up here and there but that is just a reminder of why we are here doing what we are doing.  Grab a kayak, paddle board, join a club, go for a walk, our waterways are beautiful.

#2 Teamwork is everything 

There’s a phrase that I can’t remember where it came from…. ‘there is no one of us that is better than all of us’.  It is so true that together we bring our own qualities to make a whole that is amazing.  This was no exception and the team were great.  There were laughs and jokes and songs about sandwiches and innuendo that you really had to be there for!

There are challenges on an expedition like this but with everyone chipping in to help others get in and out of kayaks and canoes and helping with the portaging around the locks the challenges become enjoyable.  We were soon singing river songs and cracking inappropriate jokes to pass the time in between locks and litter picking.

#3 Kindness of strangers

Our camp spots varied from wild camps next to the canal, to pub campsites, a falconry centre and sports field.  Huge appreciation to those who put us up for the night.  Erin and I do have a favourite from this trip though and that’s Nigel.  We came upon his house on our wet and muddy reccie back on a cold January afternoon.  Only to be greeted with a warm smile, a cup of hot tea and stories about four wheel drive adventures looking for war memorabelia with his son.   A true character and a bit of a legend.  Nigel let us camp by the water at the end of his lane and told us all about his party days of rock and roll.  We are extremely grateful and heartened by Nigel and hope that others take the time to wonder down his lane and hear his stories over a cuppa.

#4 Staying social on expedition is hard and sometimes counter-productive

Connecting with nature is an essential part of our DNA.  It has now been proven in many studies that nature connection not only benefits your physical health but also your mental wellbeing.  In a world where we are becoming more and more dependent upon technology, these opportunitites are scarcer.

My mental health has improved dramatically since I shifted my life to enable me to spend more time outside doing things I love doing.  And I think this would be one of the top take aways from paddling the length of Wales.  On that trip I truely noticed that by living in the moment and connecting with my natural surroundings I feel so much more clarity.  The run up to that expedition was super stressful for reasons I wont go into. As soon as the paddle started, all the woes and worries, the tears and anxt drifted away on the water and seemed insignificant compared to the moments of being there, present, appreciating our beautiful countryside.

It is challenging enough to paddle all day, then sort plastic and if I was to write a blog daily or be an uber social media whizz then I would miss something.  I am not sure how others do it but hats off to them.

#5 Being clear on your why gets you through the tough bits

It is tough to constantly be excited about stinky rubbish especially when you are hungry and exhausted.  This relates to every day waste challenges too, sometimes it is hard to keep going when you see other people completely disregarding their plastic footprint or chucking litter on the floor.

In all these occassions I find it useful to remind myself why I am doing it.  I think of the plastic I see on dives and the creatures I have seen suffering and I soon find a re-ignition. Even if you havent seen it first hand, by now most people have seen the turtle with a straw up its nose, the tortoise trapped in a ring pull, the whale eating a plastic bucket on Blue Planet or the albatross with a gut full of plastic pieces.  If you havent, its easy to find these on Google!

I also keep in mind a quote by Howard Zinn ‘small changes made by millions of people can change the world’.  If we can reduce plastic bag consuption by 86% with a 5p charge then just imaging what else is possible!

 

 

How do you know your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean?

How do you know your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean?

How do you know that your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean?

Its a tricky one isn’t it!?  You consume something, you put it in the bin, but how do you truly KNOW that your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean?  We know that since China stopped accepting our rubbish that it is still shipped out to Asia and those countries have no way to deal with it either.  Our rubbish is piling up next to rivers, drifting out on winds, being dumped and then we are blaming others for causing the issues!  Its a crazy world we live in right now.  I have decided to take some action and for me that action is to get out and clean up the beaches I go to, rivers and oceans that I paddle or country lanes I walk along.

The key thing about paddle cleanups for me is the ability to connect with our waterways and to get upfront and personal with the waste that is in it.  By doing this you can clearly see a reflection of our daily lives, discarded ‘away’ as if there is some magic worker bee that will come and clean it all up.  Ok, so I am out there doing exactly that but 70% of the litter is out of reach so we are only tackling the bits that float or get stuck.

The best way to know that your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean is to produce less waste in the first place!  

See my tips below for how to do that.  Also, get out there and clean up the waterways, streets, river banks etc before it gets to the ocean.

There are other positive impacts to cleaning up your local waterways:

  • Help your stretch of water to look how you want.
  • A great way of meeting others in your community and helping them to learn about plastic and to get involved.
  • Saving marine life
  • Awakening of your own consumer impact on the environment
  • Getting out in nature and doing a good deed is great for your wellbeing.

I have never been one for putting myself in the limelight but a biproduct of wanting to get the right information out and not just preach to the converted, means getting involved with media and press.  The launch was great to get a bit of exposure from BBC North West (even though they got Erin and I mixed up on the footage) and to have local group Plastic Free Chester and the amazing Tim and Ella Meek from Kids Against Plastic join us.  

Within two hours we had to regroup though and squash the bottles we had into the back hatch of the kayaks so we had space to take on more.  It was crazy the amount of rubbish we found just outside Ellesmere Port.  We collected almost 350 plastic bottles in the first morning after which we had to stop as we ran out of space!  It was shocking the amount we picked up on the first day.  Mostly avoidable plastics like plastic bottles, food wrappers and the ever evil polystyrene.

 

I had arranged with some of the Local Authorities to recycle a lot along the way but after meeting the Canal and River Trust Environment team at the launch they are arranging for our rubbish to be collected from canal side which is ace.  We picked up a staggering amount on day one, over 600 pieces in total. Thankfully the rest of leg 1 was far less plastic orientated and canal juice ming than day one and we pootled through a lot of rather beautiful countryside interspersed with the odd collection of curious cows and super cute ducklings.  See my 5 takeaways from paddling the Length of Wales.

 

It is now thought that over 9 million pieces of plastic enter our oceans every year.  Most of it is avoidable and we can all make a big impact to this by reducing our plastic footprint.

My top tips to avoid your rubbish polluting the ocean:
  • carry a reusable bottle, coffee cup and cutlery
  • refuse straws
  • use a tote bag instead of a plastic one
  • make your own lunch in a box
  • think carefully about the snacks you buy and the packaging they come in

I feel like we now need to concentrate on finding sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging and it seems that food packaging and plastic bottles are the main culprits to tackle.  So I would encourage you to select your favourite plastic wrapped food, save up your wrappers and send them back to the manufacturers with a note asking them what they are doing to reduce their impact on the environment. It is time that manufacturers started to design products with the end in mind.  If brands like Lush and Patagonia can make huge profits with sustainable values there is no reason why others can’t follow. See the Hugh and Anita campaign #OurPlasticFeedback and join in!

Read my tips for repurposing your river rubbish here.  

More tips to avoid your rubbish polluting the ocean

Head over to my podcast for inspiring sotires from every day people who have decided to take action to reduce their environmental impact.  Practical advice from grass roots experts who are on the ground ‘doing’.

Where is the rubbish now?

Where is the rubbish now?

When I joined Paddle Pickup in 2017, I had just handed in my notice at work and when I heard about it, it just felt like I was supposed to do it.  I can’t explain why or how I knew that but I just had this feeling and so I signed up for the full 300km paddle despite having never been in a sea kayak before and certainly never paddled for more than an hour stint before. I mostly hoped I could raise some much needed funds for Incredible Oceans and potentially find a solution for some of the plastic we collected.  And we collected a lot of rubbish!  Over 3000 pieces, a third of which were plastic bottles, the second largest culprit being food packaging. So where is the rubbish now I hear you ask!

It didn’t take me very long to realise that there had been minimal forward planning about what to do with the rubbish itself.  Erin had done the reccie of the journey on her bike and hadn’t seen much rubbish so assumed there wasn’t much there.  Her usual office and playground is the ocean and so she had been increasingly finding beaches covered in plastic but inland it was less obvious.  It was there though, just hidden in the banks and out of sight until you hit the water.  I just couldn’t sit back and let it all go into already overflowing village bins and landfill.

With no infrastructure in place to deal with the plastic, and knowing that via Incredible Oceans we could put the waste to good use and reach more people I started to keep it.  And so I became the person who was excited about rubbish and the potential of what we could do with it and really it was at that point that Clare Talks Rubbish was born.

So where is the rubbish now?

Events

I washed and saved a lot of the plastic and then took it to various events with Incredible Oceans. 

Walking into the prestigious Royal Geographical Society in London with bags of river rubbish was an experience I can’t say I ever thought I would have in life!  Incredible Oceans also took it to the World Travel Market and the Telegraph Outdoor and Travel Show where it inspired lots of meaningful conversation.

Any small every day items I kept for education and outreach and to see if I can find solutions after the event.  

Crowd Fund

Shortly after joining the expedition I launched a crowd fund to raise funds for Incredible Oceans to create something with the plastic we found so that it could not only reach more people with the message about plastic, but also show that plastic itself is a valuable and versatile material which deserves more respect.  We raised £1500 and then launched a match funding bid with Brighton University to turn our plastic and other beach plastic into an innovative material which would be used to make a life size basking shark for future events.  Sadly, that match funding was not successful and so we are currently looking for another project.  In the meantime we still have all the waste from that expedition stored and the funding ring-fenced. Watch this space.

Art

Brighton based artist Lou McCurdy and photographer Alex Bamford have used some of the plastic for a recent project highlighting the huge problem of microfibres being released into the environment from our clothes and washing machines.

What next

I am continuing to look for solutions for the waste I find on Paddle Cleanup trips.  Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions.  In the meantime, I am now working on a new project with the waste I crowdfunded for.  Its very exciting so watch this space.