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Plastic pollution is destroying our oceans and waterways. A plastic bottle can spend up to 450 years in the water, whilst they slowly disintegrating into microscopic pieces that never truly go away. Deadly to wildlife, damaging to our coastlines, microplastics are already in our food chain. This is a global crisis that affects us all.
Cornish kayaker Rob Thompson decided that something needed to be done and has come up with an inventive closed-loop solution to help tackle the problem. After kayaking out to collect rubbish from an inaccessible part of the coast, he came up with an ingenious idea for re-using the plastic he’d collected - turn it into kayaks, then use those kayaks to collect more ocean plastic! We spoke to Rob about how he got started, the inspiration behind Odyssey Innovation’s marine recycled kayaks and what’s next...
How long have you been kayaking for?
I have been kayaking since I was a child. I have always loved the ocean and growing up in Cornwall it has always been part of my life.
What inspired you to start making kayaks out of ocean plastics?
6 years ago I started a charity called Fathoms Free in which we have been collecting ocean plastics and fishing nets through diving and kayaking to inaccessible coves, allowing us to collect marine plastic that is otherwise difficult or impossible to get to. After one such session, we had got back to shore and were looking at the array of plastic collected and wondering what it would be recycled into. It then occurred to me - why not make kayaks from the plastic we collect and then use these 100% marine recycled kayaks to access more coves and collect more plastic. Thus contributing to the circular economy. Four years of development later the first 100% marine plastic kayak was produced.
What kind of materials do you find when you’re out kayaking and can it all be recycled?
There is a huge array of materials out there floating around the ocean. Varying from rigid plastics, nylon fishing nets, trawl nets, micro-plastics and much more. When it comes to recycling, some of the plastic found is so contaminated that it is not recyclable. However, the nets and rigid plastics that are not contaminated can all be used to make kayaks and other products.
Once you’ve collected and sorted the ocean plastics what happens to it before it can be turned into plastic?
After collection and sorting the plastic has to be shredded and made into pellets which then can be put into a mould to create the kayaks, litter bins etc. The different plastics have different properties and certain plastics are harder to shred than others such as trawl nets which need a specific shredder.
What have been the biggest challenges so far in developing the kayaks?
The biggest challenge was finding the right mix of recycled material that would work.
How do the kayaks made from reclaimed materials differ from those made from new plastics?
The differences are that they are 100% recycled no virgin plastic. They are a mixture of different marine recycled plastics so strength wise, longevity and paddling wise they are no different from a normal kayak. They are all black and UV protected which means they should last longer than a traditional kayak.
What has the response been to your efforts so far?
So far it has been amazing to work with people who are passionate about changing the way we work with resources, and support from different people in different walks of life has been immense. Thanks to everyone for their ongoing support.
How can people get involved and help to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the water?
We are running a campaign called Paddle for Plastic which is simply people going out on kayaks, paddleboards etc. with the aim of clearing inaccessible areas of marine plastic. The more people out there removing the plastic from the ocean the better and we are always interested in hearing about other people's paddles, so please tag #paddleforplastic. The plastic collected can then go towards making more kayaks and other products. As part of the campaign, we give a number of kayaks away a year to charities and community groups who actively get out and clean our oceans. Please check out our website on details of how to apply, plus information on how businesses can sponsor a kayak to a local community group.
What’s next for Odyssey Innovation?
There is an exciting year ahead. With the Paddle for Plastic campaign running, our new Ocean Store open in Newquay and online, alongside some new 100% marine recycled products in the pipeline - watch this space. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates.
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Photos by Tom Young