From coast to coaster – how Oly is tackling Purbeck’s plastics problem

Long distance swimmer and environmentalist Oly Rush has come up with an inventive way to deal with the tons of plastic rubbish which washes up along Purbeck’s Jurassic Coast every year.

He cleans, shreds and recycles the colourful trash which collects on beaches between Swanage and Kimmeridge to produce gifts for sale like drinks coasters, swimming paddles and keyrings.

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Piles of one use plastic amass on the beach at Chapman's Pool
OLY RUSH

Some of the plastic rubbish found at Chapman’s Pool

Working with schools to help save the beaches

The money which Oly gets from the repurposed rubbish goes towards funding more of his regular beach clean-up sessions and publicising the work he does with local schools to raise awareness of the plastic problem.

He is already planning a third summer marathon swim adventure after becoming the fastest person to swim around the Isle of Wight in 2021 and the first person ever to swim non-stop around Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, in a ‘brutal’ 37-hour challenge.

In the process, he has raised more than $50,000 to fund his battle against sea pollution and now intends to double down on the publicity in September 2023 by swimming around Ithaca, the island home of the mythological Greek hero Odysseus.

Before then, he will continue with regular trips down to coves along the Jurassic coastline where prevailing winds and currents wash up regular mounds of plastics which are playing havoc with the natural ecology.

OLY RUSH

Sea life often interacts with discarded plastic, absorbing poisons as they break down

New Year’s Day cleanup recovered 76 kg of plastics

A trip to Chapman’s Pool on New Year’s Day 2023 recovered 76 kilogrammes of plastic bottles, fishing crates, fishing nets, crabbing lines, buoys and the like, which if left uncleared will be smashed against rocks and turned into microplastics within a matter of days.

Those tiny pieces of plastics, which often look like fish eggs, then enter the food chain causing starvation and poisoning amongst marine animals like fish, birds, turtles and the deaths of an estimated 100,000 marine mammals every year.

Taking the plastic debris off the Dorset beaches does manage to keep it out of the food chain and help to keep the beaches looking their best, but there has always been a problem over what to do with the rubbish next.

But Project Plastic, Oly’s fledgling business, has become the first in Dorset to make new items out of the single use plastics he hauls off the beaches, and the first sales were made in time to get people talking about his idea over the Christmas dinner table.

Discarded crabbing line plastics fill a huge skip bag waiting to be recycled

Recycled into useful and long lasting products

Oly said:

“I recently set up a small workshop at my home, where I am able to process some of the plastic waste we collect on our beach cleans.

“Fishing crates, ghost nets and various other items I find are washed, cut up, fed through a shredder and then remoulded into drinks coasters, custom made hand and finger swimming paddles and keyrings – all useful, long lasting and thought provoking products.

“Over the last few years I have given 25 talks at school assemblies locally to inspire and educate the next generation on plastic pollution and have had the children collecting plastic bottle tops.

“These have been sorted by colour, washed and shredded and will now be made into rulers that I can take back to schools as an example of how even single use plastics can be turned into something else that is useful and long lasting.”

Oly with a small selection of the coasters made in his workshop

Drinks coasters have proved most popular

His drinks coasters have proved especially popular, and now Oly is planning to have custom moulds made which will have the address of his website on the back, or even the name and logo of sponsors who back his work.

Money raised from the sales of his goods will hopefully help him fund future beach cleaning exercises, local charities and his own publicity raising swims.

While he has a dedicated band of followers on his social media accounts, Oly is aware that these are the people who already believe wholeheartedly in his ecology message – and he needs to find a way to inspire ordinary people who may not have given the problem much thought.

Drinks coasters have become an early favourite at Oly’s new online shop

Single use plastics which end up on beaches have now become long lasting keyrings

“I realised the true extent of the damage we cause”

Oly said:

“It all started for me when I was working six or seven days a week as a plasterer and was very near burning myself out, getting zero satisfaction out of life.

“I convinced myself to take a day off and headed to Chapman’s Pool for some sea air and to catch some waves. I’d always loved being in the sea, whether it was swimming, surfing or just exploring.

“Although there weren’t any waves for my surfboard, I persuaded myself not to go back home to do some more work, but struggled down a steep field to sea level where I was greeted with the most spectacular serene little cove and not a soul in sight!

“I ended up in a spot with small pebbles and a little waterfall, sat on a rock and looked out to sea. Then I glanced around the beach, noticing I wasn’t alone, but it wasn’t another person, or animal.

“Along the tide line there were plastic bottles, fishing waste and numerous other items amongst the seaweed. I picked up a fishing crate that had washed up and began filling it with the plastic and trash that was seemingly endless. It seemed the right thing to do.

“Looking back today, that day for me, was the turning point, it was the point in my life when I realised the true extent of the damage we were causing to the planet, by living the ‘normal’ lives we live.”

Bottles tops are being recycled into rulers for schools

Less than 10 percent of plastics are reused

Now Oly is hoping that his new business will be a step on the road towards a full time role campaigning against the reliance on and overuse of single use plastics, and educating youngsters about the alternatives – all through his love for the coast.

While he doesn’t oppose the use of plastic entirely, he says it is worrying that less than 10 percent of plastics worldwide get recycled, and that in many countries, disposal is as basic as throwing rubbish in rivers so that it gets washed away.

Highlighting the issue was one reason why Oly completed a 37-hour nonstop swim around Grand Cayman in spring 2022, where tourist beaches are kept clean – but the rest of the island is swamped with litter.

Oly Rush completes Grand Cayman swim
Maggie Jackson

Oly completes his 37-hour swim of Grand Cayman in May 2022

Publicity shook up the government

Oly said:

“They have a huge problem with plastics pollution in Grand Cayman, and after I set the Guinness World Record for swimming round the island I was privileged enough to be invited to meet members of their government, who did promise to ban certain single use plastic items.

“The publicity shook them up, though I don’t think that their promises have been honoured yet. But raising the problem in the mainstream press and getting the issues talked about is very important and may be the best way to bring about change.

“It’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to swim around Ithaca in Greece in September – no one has swum around it non stop, so there’s a record to be set and they have a problem with ghost nets which have been lost in the ocean and entangle turtles, dolphins, seals and birds.”

OLY RUSH

The start of a January clean up at Chapman’s Pool – up to 100kg of plastic will be taken away

“The healing journey won’t be easy”

He added:

“Cleaner Seas already do a lot of work out there and the island has already banned plastic bags, so they are already working towards solving the problem and will welcome our effort to help raise awareness of the issues which affect us all.

“We aim for all funds raised during the events to go to relevant charities, so we are looking for sponsors to help cover the costs, and hope it will encourage ordinary people to change some of their habits so that we can help the ecosystems we love so much.

“The healing journey won’t be easy and it might not happen in our lifetime, but I know for my own journey, I can’t spend my time on planet Earth without at least trying.”

Further information

  • Keep up to date with Oly’s latest fund raising swims on his Project Planet website
  • Shop for planet saving coasters at Etsy
  • Future beach events will be publicised on the clean up calendar – all volunteers welcome!

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