The world is broken.
We are polluting, consuming, dredging, deforesting, poisoning and suffocating our poor little planet faster than it can cope with, giving it no chance to regenerate or recuperate. But, dispite this doom-laden introduction, there is hope. Environmental groups are rallying for almost every cause there is and the general public is slowly but surely entering a period of paradigm shifts, awakening to the need for a global consciousness and the knowledge that the ability for change lies in our own two hands.
As individuals, we can each do our part, recycling, purchasing reusable cups and cutlery, signing petitions and making little changes within our daily lives so insignificant yet accumulatively so profound. But there are some who go above and beyond. They want to make a difference, to do their part, but they also want to do my part, your part and everyone else’s part as well. Enter Tim Silverwood.
In 2009, Tim Silverwood had had enough. As a surfer, he had seen jetsam, the man-made debris cast adrift on ocean currents and washed up on coastlines the world over, he had witnessed the post-holiday influx of trash left behind by tourists and he had observed people walk past the trash strewn across our beaches as if it didn’t even exist, completely blind to its presence. Something had to be done.
With an insightful perspective and first-hand experience, Tim knew that demanding people clean up the garbage in one fell swoop would never work. The despondency of the masses invariably results in complete apathy when faced with an almost insurmountable challenge. What Tim realised was that, if he wanted to make a global change in perception, if he wanted Average Joe to lend a hand, he needed to make his target accomplishable, simple and easy. And so he founded Take 3.
“We’re not asking people to go out and chain themselves to a bulldozer and fix the planet,” he shares, “we’re just asking them to go out there and do something small, and I think that has really good resonance.”
Take 3 asks exactly that: for each of us to take three pieces of trash with us every time we leave the beach. This simple gesture may not seem like much – a bottle top here, a cigarette butt there and perhaps a chip packet and you’re done – but if every single beach goer were to adopt this mentality, our beaches would be immaculate in a week – and our marine life a whole bunch safer because of it.
In 2011 Take 3 was awarded the inaugural Taronga Conservation Society Green Grant. A $50,000 purse and the assistance of the team at Taronga Zoo allowed Tim to significantly expand his cause, enabling it to become a viable initiative and his full time occupation. Since then, Tim has travelled the world, given TEDx talks, appeared on national television numerous times and visited a swathe of schools nationwide to educate our next generation of the problems and dangers of trash.
Take 3 has grown exponentially, causing Tim to look outside the initiative, at recycling, refundable deposits on drink containers and reusable products to replace single-use takeaway products.
“We live on a planet with finite resources,” says Tim. “Whether we like it or not, it can’t go on the way it is.” From his days picking up a handful of trash after a surf at his home beaches of Ourimbah, on New South Wales’ Central Coast, Tim has expanded his vision globally, looking at not only taking three and cleaning up after ourselves but trying to negate or lessen the garbage initially and recycle it efficiently, ‘post-consumer’.
Now based in Bondi, Tim has worked tirelessly in every aspect of this issue, spreading awareness and pro-actively going into communities to make a change. In September last year, Tim was approached by Adrian Midwood, an American adventurer who had seen the trash problem first hand in the now well-documented oceanic gyres such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. With his yacht in Brisbane but needing to be in Sydney, Adrian connected with Tim, who then proposed an East Coast voyage, visiting 15 towns along with way, to clean up, talk trash and educate people of this problem.
“Over the last three years, I’ve done a huge amount of outreach and it’s one of the reasons for the success of our organisation, so I’m always keen to go out and talk trash, so to speak. In 2012, Adrian sailed his vessel from Tonga to Australia. Well, his vessel sailed – he actually kitesurfed and stand-up paddled the whole distance. This was as publicity and a fundraiser for his new clothing label, Leisure Activist Group, which uses waste plastic to produce clothing.”
Setting off at the beginning of January, the pair trash-talked their way through Brisbane and the Gold Coast before arriving in Byron Bay on their way South. On a scorching Saturday afternoon, on a jam-packed Main Beach, Tim presented Take 3 to a crowd of eager locals before dispatching them to the hot sand for a beach clean-up. Four wheelie bins of garbage later, all neatly separated into waste and recyclables, Byron’s pride was restored to much of its former glory and a handful of minds were opened to the Take 3 message.
“When I hear people saying, ‘I actually took three for the first time today,’ it’s amazing, because I know they’ve gone through a process of walking over rubbish, walking over rubbish, walking over rubbish and thinking about picking it up, thinking about that for a little while and then, boom, they suddenly do it. If we can get people taking that first step it becomes inevitable that they’ll take another step and another step, because once your eyes are opened up to it that’s when the wonderful journey begins.”
But this wasn’t Tim and Adrian’s only reason for being in town. Mooring their boat, The S.V. Moana, in Ballina, the duo visited Australian Seabird Rescue, giving a presentation, sharing their message and joining the volunteers as they released one of their successfully rehabilitated green sea turtles into the ocean.
A strong crowd gathered on the beach at Flat Rock to bid adieu to Cruise, the day’s four-finned celebrity. With the salt spray cooling his face, the turtle could taste his home. But, just as he was about to regain his freedom, a shout was heard. “Wait!” it cried, “there are more people who want to say goodbye!”
As if scripted by a Hollywood screenwriter, a wave of a hundred more people surged around the corner, some running, some under umbrellas, others still wet and in their boardshorts and bikinis, all wanting to wave a found farewell to the little, shelled trooper. Tim was overwhelmed. The Gold Coast had been a surprise success, Brisbane had gained excellent recognition, but this staggering display of awareness and support was breathtaking.
It is these actions that begin the ripples, small events to show people that one person can make a difference and united we can accomplish anything. In 2012, Tim visited the Gold Coast to screen the documentary Bag It. In just over a year, he was astounded at the response.
“The Gold Coast Council said to me, ‘you have no idea. Since you came here and did that in 2012, it has gone off. There are so many groups working on so many projects geared towards plastic reduction – we just can’t believe it.’ He reported back to his supervisors saying that it was best investment they’ve ever seen. That makes me feel so great. We’re not getting reports from every single area, so we don’t know what’s going on. But just to hear that and to know that good things came from the things I’ve been trying to do is so rewarding.”
We are all capable. It is a cliche thrown around so frequently, particularly in the Byron Shire, but the truth remains: we can all be the change we want to see in the world.
To learn about Adrian Midwood’s Leisure Activist Group, go to: leisureactivistgroup.com.
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Jan 15, 2014