A cold and blustery dawn walk this morning from North Berwick to Seacliff Beach. It’s a wild and rugged coastline, even more so today with snow and ice down to the oceans edge. Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock have a dusting of snow and the breakers are huge and relentless. We collected six plastic bottles, a couple of plastic bags and various marine plastics from the local fishing and lobster industry. Its easy for us to do, and easy to recycle.
It reminded us of an awesome day a few months ago: The 27th of November 2020, otherwise known as Black Friday. Yup, Black Friday. You know the one, the orgy of consumerism and getting more stuff [that you probably don’t need] for less money [that you probably don’t have].
Black Friday of course comes from the home of consumerism: the USA. But ironically the term “Black Friday” comes from a financial crash. A couple of Wall Street chancers bought up significant quantities of gold hoping to turn a huge profit, but were unfortunately met with a gold market crash on Friday 24 September 1869, or as it became known: Black Friday.
And then the term was repurposed to represent sales weekend, which follows Thanksgiving in the USA. Eat as much as you can. Buy as much as you can. Amazon has a hand in most transactions across our beautiful planet, and in 2010 introduced the Black Friday concept to the UK. In 2013 Asda [owned by USA Walmart] jumped on board resulting in a feeding frenzy of chaos and physical confrontations as customers went head to head [literally] to get the “best” deals. And now pretty much everyone is at it. Here’s a crazy stat: in 2019 on Black Friday between 1pm – 2pm Barclaycard recorded an average of 1,184 transactions a second, or 4,262,400 in one hour. Ouch.
Of course not everyone is at it. There are plenty bold, admirable and abrasive anti Black Friday campaigns, companies, and wild cards out there. We love the response from Patagonia: Nothing on sale, we close our stores; the staff gets a day off. They even famously took out a full-page advert in a prominent broadsheet stating, “Please don’t buy this jacket”. Boy you have to love Chouinard and his crazy accomplices.
And this brings us back to the awesome 27 November 2020. Why so awesome on this blackest of unsustainable gluttony days? Because for Ocean Vertical it was our second year of Blue Friday. Blue Friday I hear you say? As an ethical business the natural environment and wilderness are at the heart of everything we do. We are not faultless, but we do place a powerful environmental lens over how we conduct our business and the products we use.
And so a couple of years ago we had a loose throw away idea: lets make a point on Black Friday of getting down to the ocean in East Lothian and picking up as much crap as we can. Oh and lets call it Blue Friday. We just like Blue. It was fun, sociable, had a purpose to it and didn’t cost anything. And we didn’t consume stuff, apart from coffee and muffins. We are lucky with our coastline. There’s a hell of a lot worse out there, but there was no way we could shift the bulky marine debris, old nets and bust up creels.
We mentioned it to a couple of folk, and social media did its job. Wow, seems there’s a whole community out there who would quiet happily pic up crap on Black Friday, Or Blue Friday. And so to 27th November 2020. It was tough to build on the momentum of 2019 with the pandemic hanging over us. A raft of restrictions just stopped the potential of a full speed community beach clean over around 15 miles of coastline.
But still, the show did go on, to a certain extent. To put it directly, we have a strong emotional relationship with Seacliff Beach and the surrounding coastline, stretching up to and beyond North Berwick and down to Dunbar. It’s magical and very special. Ask John Muir.
We reached out to Tommy Dale and his team at Caledonian Horticulture. Tommy lives at Seacliff and his extended family have been there for generations farming and creel fishing. As a custodian he has a deep connection and passion for the place, its history and a great sense of responsibility to keep it wild and beautiful for generations to come. He’s in the recycling business and has developed the most extraordinary and well-ordered collection of “beach rubbish”. More on that later.
We decided upon a simple pincer movement: his team start where the Tyne flows into the Tyne Estuary by Belhaven Bay, our team starts in North Berwick and we meet at Seacliff Beach. Genius. And so we did on a fine and blustery Blue Friday 2020, finishing in the dark with half a beer, cold hands and a mountain of sorting to do. What we couldn’t carry, and when bags were full, we left for day 2 and the pick up truck. Any idea how heavy discarded trawler nets are?
Day 2 and we gathered at Tommys improvised recycling / sorting centre. [Garden shed]. And here’s the thing – Tommy organises and collects the various “culprits” into neat boxes: tampon applicators, plastic ear buds, creel pot parts, cut knots of fishing rope, the list goes on and on. Tennis balls, Barbie dolls, the curse of the Irn-Bru can and bottle, bottle tops, and a whole lot more.
Why collect, sort and keep this motley collection of plastics? The answer is education. Visible, physical evidence of what is being discarded into our local ocean, and often who the culprits are. It’s building evidence and a case, and then using this as an educational tool within the local and wider community. The more this is highlighted the greater the chance of action and real change.
We need to move beyond our western throw away culture of overconsumption of short life single use products that constantly need replacing and upgrading. The answer surely lies in a more Circular Economy with a focus on durable multi use goods; all products, plastics, metals and textiles should have their raw materials recoverable and recyclable.
There’s a new generation coming through who simply wont tolerate environmental vandalism any more; and at Ocean Vertical we recognise that a love for our beautiful wild places demands active participation in the fight to save them. See you on Blue Friday 2021.
"There’s a new generation coming through who simply wont tolerate environmental vandalism any more; and at Ocean Vertical we recognise that a love for our beautiful wild places demands active participation in the fight to save them. See you on Blue Friday 2021."