Super environmentalist Gina shares her top 5 tips for getting involved

We had decided that we wanted to do a beach cleanup during our "glamping" weekend at Bukubaki in Peniche to see if we had a different experience in another part of the country. We had already seen the amount of trash in the beaches close to Lisbon, and the contrasting amazingly clean beaches in downtown Cascais. Via Instagram we found "The Peniche Beach Conservation", and that they had posted photos from cleanups. We took contact and were met by the most welcoming, engaging and warm spirit of Gina, the German girl who moved to Portugal to live a life in stronger contact with nature.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

As a child, I was already deeply in love with the ocean, this feeling of being ONE! Whenever we were on family holidays at the coast I spent hours in the water and I have always been a collector. Back then I collected rocks, fossils, and shells.I have always been in awe and love with nature, animals, being outside and caring for things and people.I spent some years traveling the world and working in many different jobs, among others on the vineyards in Australia, as a farm helper, in restaurants and cafés, in a kid's toy store, learning to grow edible mushrooms in Peru, at the radio as a reporter in Germany.Then I started studying Biology in Berlin. I came to Peniche because I needed to get away from the city - to the ocean, which I usually did during short travels. Peniche appealed to me because of the description "sleepy old fishing village with world class surf" and because of its funny shape on the map in the travel guide. At the end of my studies, I contacted the local university and asked if I could write my final thesis about "Microplastics on sandy beaches in and around Peniche, Portugal". Sad but true, all the samples I collected (five samples at each of the five tested beaches) contained microplastics and nano plastics on a very small scale. The majority of microplastics were microfibers, which could derive from fishing-related tools like nets but also synthetic fibers from our laundry. The synthetic fibers end up in the ocean because filtering systems in wastewater plants are not sufficient enough to filtrate these tiny pieces of plastics out of the water...I realized the danger of the plastic in the ocean, but also saw the potential "beauty". Some of the pieces of plastic seem to be a message from the ocean, and I would like to translate that message to other humans, simply by documenting and sharing things that I find on the beach or by creating artwork.

The ocean is our "Life-Support-System": The ocean does not need us but we need the ocean. I think it's my mission to spread this message and to invite people to be good and to be the change now.

After my studies, I stayed in Peniche and started a non-profit organization called Marmeu. Our first project is the "Peniche Beach Conservation Program". On the Facebook and Instagram page, we share some scientific facts and information on how to be good to the ocean, together with things I find on the beach. We organize monthly beach cleanups, recycle the plastic, and keep the "treasures" - pieces of beach plastic that we later transform into artwork. We (try to) sell the things to raise funds for our work.

When and why/how did you become an environmentalist?

Travelling the world, I discovered great injustice related to unsustainable consumption and mass production, monoculture, and drought. In Australia, we went to a lake which was on the map, but when we arrived we were wondering where the water had gone. In the middle of a little village, there was a hole in the ground with remains of boats and piers. It turned out that because of climate change it had not rained for ten years, the lake had dried out, its inhabitants had died, and the village's inhabitants had to leave their home because of the drought.I also saw people living in paradises, surrounded by jungle with sweet tropical fruits, sun, and nature. But on the streets, there was no-one to be seen. It turned out they were sitting indoors, watching TV, abusing drugs and alcohol, dreaming of living an "American/western way of life" including buying all products that one "needs" in this world: Smartphones, Coca-Cola, brand clothing...I saw giant landfills with fumes that went up in the air and drove through palm tree fields - for hours - which were sprayed, and the orang-utans and other animals shot, and I saw beaches full of plastic garbage.I realized that I didn't want to do any harm through buying the products that I buy or the way that I live. For a while, it was really stressful because I couldn't really manage to change my life in order to have less impact on climate change and injustice and environmental destruction. But in the past two years, I have changed many things. I moved to Portugal, where I live outside, I started a garden, I make things myself, I repair and build things, and in general, I try to be as sustainable and as self-sufficient and independent of brands and big industries as possible.

In 2050 there will be more people picking up trash than there will be producing trash ♥

What is your favorite meal?

From the taste, I must confess it's fries! But I really really love "fresh" stuff that you could say is still ALIVE - coming straight from a tree or picked up in the garden.... Mmmmh!!!!

Why should people join beach cleanups?

To see the SOS that the ocean is sending us. What it sends us in the tides, being disposed on the beach is a mirror. Our garbage, the things we use in our everyday lives, is in the ocean and on our beaches. 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. We need to be aware that plastic is a serious harm to the environment and to the ocean because it does not go away. Animals get tangled up and die, others eat the plastic and also ingest a toxic mix of chemicals.  These mess with the hormone system, because they have the same structure as estrogen, leading to irreversible effects in not only fish but also its end consumer (us).It's also really fun to get together in community and to do something good for nature.And, if you like the ocean and it's obviously calling for help when you take a closer look, it simply feels good to give something back. It gives us so much, but we cannot take it for granted.

What are your top 5 tips for a more environmentally friendly life?

  1. Start a garden - grow your own food (and make compost)
  2. Buy local - support local farmers & refuse supermarkets
  3. Slow down - be happy with less and see beauty in the little things (nature)
  4. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! and RETHINK to find ways to live without
  5. Be motivated to #bethechange and to be part of the people who change the world! It's tough at first finding out about all that bad stuff in the world, but actually, it's a really creative mission to be good to the planet in these times. Don't be upset and don't give up! Find like-minded, they are everywhere around you.

How the heck does plastic end up in the ocean? And how does it affect your health?

It's no secret that the world is facing a huge plastic problem - and we are not talking about that p surgery. Plastic is made of a material that is meant to last forever, yet we tend to through away bottles, straws, and plates after using them only once. What's alarming is that huge amounts of it end up in the ocean. It's not sexy to surf or swim among used plastic bottles, fishnets, and bags. Once you start paying attention to plastic, you see it absolutely everywhere. It's wrapped around food and drinks, it's part of the material of your clothes, shoes, headphones, sports watches and bags, it's in your makeup, toothbrushes, shampoo, and the list goes on. Luckily, it is possible to turn this trend, and a lot of people are already leading the way with zero-waste movements, beach clean-ups, and making really cool sustainable brands.

Why should we care about plastic?

Even though plastic has been hugely practical in many ways due to its eternal lifespan, it has become a major environmental issue for the same reason. According to UNEP, every square kilometer of the world's oceans has 63,320 microplastic particles floating around (1). Toxic chemicals from plastic leach out, and by now almost all people have traces of plastic in their blood (2).

MICROPLASTICS: Plastic particles with the size ranging from 1 nanometer to 5 millimeter (3). When plastic enters the ocean it breaks down due to external forces, for example, water. This in turn makes it harder to see and easier to forget.

Some of the main problems with plastic occur because it never breaks down entirely. The most important issues are:

  1. Fish and other sea animals eat plastic, which in turn can lead to hormonal, reproductive and digestive problems.
  2. Humans are indirectly consuming plastic through eating seafood and fish, which in turn can cause the same problems for humans as for the fish and sea animals at high enough concentrations (4).
  3. Humans are also directly exposed to plastic though plastic bottles, food packaging and chemical additives in cosmetics such as BPA, phthalates, and DEHP which are known to interfere with the human hormonal function (5).
  4. Animals are eating and getting stuck in the plastic litter, fishing line nets, plastic bags, balloons, and straps. Research shows that more than 100 million marine mammals are killed each year due to plastic in the oceans (6).

How does plastic end up on the beaches and in the oceans?About 80% of the plastics come from land-based activities (7) (meaning not from boats and ships). Lots of items have drifted off land from the streets, garbage cans, and landfills and into rivers or directly to the ocean. Ships also lose some cargo when they are out in the sea, or caught in a storm. Ocean currents bring the items far from where they originate.Further, small plastic particles enter the ocean through the drains. Some examples of are microbeads in most kinds of toothpaste, dishwashing powders and synthetic clothing fibers that shed in washing machines (8).

What can we do about it?

The problem and the solution to this start on land. Not only are big manufacturing companies responsible, but every single consumer has the power to change this trend through what we chose to buy and consume. Here are some tips:Five things you can do today

  1. Avoid single-use plastic bottles and buy a BPA-free bottle
  2. Change your tooth-brush from plastic to bamboo
  3. Bring your own bags to the grocery store
  4. #stopsucking on plastic straws
  5. Bring your own cup or box when you are getting take away food or coffee

Five things that need some planning

  1. Choose natural toothpaste and cleaning products
  2. Recycle as much as you can
  3. Try to repair what you already have instead of buying new things
  4. Support environmental friendly clothing brands (such as HallaxHalla)
  5. Check out eco-friendly makeup brands made without chemicals

Photo: @vanhamiesAre you interested in learning more? Check out:We also highly recommend the Netflix Documentary "A Plastic Ocean".Big eco-friendly high five!

Amazing bikinis that help clean the ocean?! Meet Halla x Halla

These girls design the coolest swim wear we have seen in a while. On top of that, the swim wear is made of recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets! We had to find out more about the creators behind the brand, and how they came up with such a good idea.Photo: @vanhamies

Hi HallaxHalla! Who are the people behind the brand?

Halla Halla is a Nordic swimwear company established by Hanna Chalvet & Salla Valkonen in 2016. We first met in university, studying fashion design, and always talked about our dream of having our own swimwear line. After graduating and adventuring around the world together we decided it was time to pursue our dream and combine our passion for being active, leading a sustainable life, and designing swimwear.Photo: @vanhamies

Why did you chose to make your swimsuits out of sustainable fabric, and how is it done?

After traveling the world together to the most beautiful destinations we realized there was a big problem with the amount of plastic in the oceans. We surfed in the most remote locations among plastic bottles, bags and other items. Paddling in the ocean, getting plastic and other debris stuck on our hands really made us think. We decided we wanted to start a swimwear line that would be sustainable. We did a lot of research and finally found a fabric that could change everything. A fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets! The plastic waste for our fabric is collected through different initiatives and projects and transformed into high quality fabric. Therefore, we are helping clean the oceans by creating our products.Photo: @vanhamies

Where do you find inspiration?

We find inspiration from traveling to tropical destinations, from all the beautiful places and colors. They have inspired us when designing our unique pieces. We want our pieces to look like the sun, waves, sand, corals, making you feel as though you are a part of the ocean.

Why is sustainability important?

We aim to create our pieces with sustainable material, because we want to do our part to save the oceans. Sustainability is a vital key in ensuring that the oceans stay clean and our future generations can enjoy them as much as we do. We want to be a part of the movement to help sustain this beautiful world.Photo: @vanhamies

What are your top 3 tips for a more environmental friendly daily life?

There are so many things you can do on a daily basis to make your daily life more environmentally friendly. The key things are to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

  1. Reduce: Use & buy less! Try to for example take shorter showers and use less electricity.
  2. Reuse: Try to reuse! Always take your tote bag when getting groceries and never forget to bring your water bottle with you.
  3. Recycle: Remember to separate your waste because it might be transformed into something new!

Finally, where can we get our hands on the gorgeous swimwear?

Our Halla Halla swimwear is only sold in our online shop at hallaxhalla.com! More stock coming soon!Check out HallaXHalla's webpage here, on Instagram and Facebook.Photo: @vanhamies

The corporate hippie Simen Knudsen

Some people are so inspiring that you literally want to do just like they do. These are the kind of people we want to put in the spotlight in this series of "inspiring people & projects". Simen Knudsen is one of those - a 32-year-old self-proclaimed corporate hippie who works for various environmental initiatives in Norway, and a dedicated surfer. We had a chat with Simen to get some insight into the life of a tall blond beach cleaner.Tell us a bit about yourself?I am a 32-year-old male. I was born in Nord-Jæren, and I am currently living in Oslo. I love to be outdoors playing, and surfing is my favorite activity. I work as a Business architect in Æra with an initiative for sustainable innovation called Floke. We founded Nordic Ocean Watch a couple of years ago because we thought we should get more people to take care of the ocean. I am also an ambassador for Infinitum Movement.

NORDIC OCEAN WATCH (NOW): A Nordic environmental organization which is dedicated to taking care of the ocean. The organization aims at building a culture where nobody uses the sea without giving anything back. Get involved by sending them an email or visiting their Facebook pages NOW Norway, NOW Sweden and NOW Finland. They regularly organize events such as beach cleanups, hangouts, pop-up movie screenings etc.

INFINITUM MOVEMENT: An environmental movement, which is also the owner and manager of the recycling arrangement for bottles (pant) in Norway. They have an amazing website which is a source of inspiration for various environmental engagements, and a paper magazine (printed on environmentally friendly paper) that is sold across the country.

FLOKE: An innovation program designed by Æra to solve complex societal challenges in order to put society on a more sustainable trajectory. Together with a number of organizations from private, public and volunteer sector Floke uses innovation tools to create new and more sustainable solutions.

Why do you care so much about the environment?Because it's essential for a happy and healthy life. And because it's not doing to good right now, mainly due to our way of living. Especially the ocean, which actually is on the verge of collapse. Being in nature and outdoors is the key ingredient for to have a good life. And if I don't care for my favorite playground, how can I expect others to?What are your top five tips for living a more environmentally friendly daily life?

  1. Recycle (especially your plastic bottles aka pant)
  2. Eat more greens, less meat, and fish
  3. Use WWF's seafood guide for sustainable fish choices
  4. Fly less, and play more in your own back-yard.
  5. Leave a handprint anywhere you go, e.g. pick some plastic.

In general, start looking at yourself as a contributor instead of a consumer, and magic starts to happen ;)

Who and what inspires you?I get inspired by everyone I meet that uses their energy to leave the world in a better condition. I love all initiatives, big and small. I get a lot of inspiration from Arne Næss, Daniel Quinn, Sustainia, my colleagues in Æra and Floke, the Nordic Ocean Watch collective and the Infinitum Movement ambassadors.What is your favorite meal?Veggie burrito with black beans, sweet potatoes, and Midsummer hot sauce from Jæren. Mmm.Follow Simen on Instagram to see what kind of stuff he is up to next.Tavaha!