The Power of Conscious Choice with Tim Silverwood

Almost three quarters of our planet’s surface is covered by ocean, leading Tim Silverwood to believe that we should be calling it Planet Ocean rather than Planet Earth.

Tim is an environmentalist, a campaigner, and the co-founder of Take 3. He’s a dynamic voice within the movement away from single use plastics, and a refreshingly optimistic presence within the environmental movement.

As a keen surfer, Tim has closely watched the evolution of the ocean and its responsiveness to human life. In 2011 he sailed 5000 kms across the North Pacific Ocean to study the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch and has shared these experiences through his popular TedX talk, appearance in the ABC’s unmissable War on Waste, and as an ‘ocean guardian’ in the documentary Blue.

When reflecting on his connection with the underwater world, Tim says: “The ocean is a place where I can step away from the normal realm of terrestrial existence and dabble in the fringes.”

In this episode you'll discover simple tools to reduce your single use plastic pollution, and Tim's advice on the one thing you can start doing today that will change your relationship with nature.

Photo credit: Chris Prestidge

Photo credit: Chris Prestidge


The oceans help us breathe.

“In the Gaia hypothesis we learn that our planet is a living, breathing organism. Every second breath of oxygen we take comes from the ocean, so it really is the Mother. It’s where life begins. The oceans are always moving - there’s no such thing as a static ocean. The currents are what animals migrant on. They’re what we use for navigation. They dictate our climate. It’s a beautiful beast our oceans.

But the quantity of plastic in the ocean is so great that you could gather it together to make an island. It’s spread out over vast distances, and it’s not just on the ocean’s surface - it descends all the way down the water column right down to the deepest ocean trenches. Plastic is everywhere. So we have a lot of work to do to improve the management of waste to prevent the dastardly amount of plastic that’s entering our precious oceans every year.”

Technology can be used for good and collective impact.

“I’d never consider myself to be savvy when it comes to technology or communications, but I know that when I see a catchy campaign it stays with me. And we’ve realised with Take 3 that we can use social media and technology to help this message spread across the world. We have an online community now that’s spreading across 129 countries - that’s how many countries have utilised that hashtag. We’re not the first organisation to ask people to pick up rubbish and we’ll certainly not be the last, but what this does is help people to feel good about their individual actions, and to know they’re one of thousands doing it together. That’s the secret special feature of collective impact. There’s no way that one person can solve this problem but together with millions of people we can. Social media shows us that we’re not alone in that.”

We can be conscious consumers, imperfectly.

“I’ve been acutely aware of my own impact for a long time. I like to label myself as a conscious consumer, without for a minute pretending that I’m perfect. It’s not about perfection but doing what you can within your schedule. I let my actions try to speak loudly in my everyday life rather than preaching to people. When people flick cigarette butts they’re now living in a society that’s highly intolerant of that behaviour - so whether it’s me who goes and says something or their friends or colleagues, somebody’s going to say something. I like to focus on finding and sharing positive environmental solutions. Along with my lifestyle, that’s how I walk the talk without being perfect.” 

Plastic particles have been found inside bottled water.

“What’s been really powerful in recent history is the incidents of microplastic inside bottle water. I’m not necessarily saying that the water had plastic in it when it was in that bottle, but the simple act of screwing on/off the plastic bottle cap and the manufacturing process of that bottle is leading to those tiny pieces of plastic being in your water and then in your body.”

Science has discovered that we’re breathing plastic particles too.

“We’re entering a really interesting era where we understand much more about microplastics and nanoplastics. A lot of scientists are getting air time now talking about the amount of plastic that we’re breathing on a daily basis. For instance, you’re walking on a carpet that’s made of synthetic material, or the clothes that you wear are made of synthetic fibres, and that’s naturally shedding particles that you’re breathing in. We’re going to see a huge increase in awareness in the amount of plastic that’s entering our bodies through what we eat, drink, breathe and put on our skin. What the result will be - I don't know. That’s where science is so important in identifying the harm that we’re actually causing.” 

There are positive alternatives to our dependence on plastic.

“The model that I give the most credo to is the circular economy. We know that we live in a structured society where economic growth is key. Any idea that we can completely eliminate that is not going to be well-received by other people. But in the circular economy we’re saying that economic growth is okay but let’s look at how we can change our relationship with ‘stuff’. Because in the linear model we’re taking all these resources from the earth - that’s where they come from - and we then use non-renewable energy to manufacture, transport and sell them. It comes into our lives for such a short period of time through planned obsolescence, single use plastics, and then we throw it away. That simply will not work long term. 

But in the circular economy we find ways of re-designing those products: let’s use recycled ingredients inside those products, let’s use renewable energy, and let’s ensure that it’s not being thrown away into landfill but sent back to the manufacturer to be re-processed when the customer is finished with it. This is not new thinking - cradle to cradle has been a vision that’s been championed for decades. But what we know is that if large multinational companies adopt the circular economy in principle and we can start shifting their supply chain, we can start to localise the industry. I’m not saying that we can change this overnight but we can definitely start to make changes.”

There's a larger story behind the journey of our waste.

“Here in Australia, we think of ourselves as fantastic recyclers - separating items from the kitchen or the office into the commingled recycle bin. But that’s just the first step of a bigger process. After it’s been sorted at a material recovery facility - metals there, glass there, plastics there - you’re left with these large bailed-up masses of stuff that enters the commodity market. The commodity market is dictated by economics. Who really wants to buy our scrap plastics or mental? More often than not it’s people on the other side of the world, and traditionally that’s been China. But now China are saying that they’re getting better at their own recycling and don’t need the world’s waste anymore. They’ve put in place a new policy called the National Sword and are no longer taking mixed plastics from around the planet. So what this is doing it starting up a great conversation - where people didn’t realise that our waste was going to China or that children and people in impoverished conditions were re-process our stuff into these goods.

I want this to be a great chance to start talking about the circular economy and to incentivise businesses here in Australia to take back our recyclables and to process it here in Australia, and to take back that burden of shipping things around. It will generate jobs and growth here in Australia - which the politicians love to talk about - but nobody is showing leadership on.”

Your individual choices matter.

“The first step that people can take is the mental shift of realising that your individual choices matter. Whether that’s your coffee consumption and switching out your two coffee cups to a reusable. It’s also realising that people watch you, in your life and online. You have an opportunity to be an educator and an inspiring advocate, even if you don’t consider yourself to be one. Your choices matter.

In terms of the message to take 3 for the sea, it only takes one plastic bag or one six-pack ring to kill or harm an innocent creature. When you walk past it and pick it up, you feel like you’ve helped and contributed positively.

And then you can support the bigger picture. When you get that annoying petition from your friend on banning plastic bags - sign it. Support the big pushes like this as well as well.

Change is possible. We’ve already seen some of it - we just have much more to do. There’ll never be a greater time to do more than right now.”


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Kayla Robertson