Arts Lab Experimental visual arts for social change

Landlocked Jo’burg Street Surfers’ impact on a cleaner ocean

July 2019 – BBC news extract

Daily, it seems new research points to the increasing severity of plastic pollution on our environment. You’ve heard the statistic: more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Plastic is the global addiction we just can’t kick. And that’s largely because when we throw it away, most haven’t the faintest idea where it goes.

Surfers have a better sense, maybe. We see floating plastic bags in lineups, garbage littering the sand and distaste turns to changes in habits. We cart around reusable water bottles instead of buying water sold in plastic ones. Maybe we carry around reusable metal straws and utensils.

But, for ocean advocate and big wave surfer Frank Solomon, it’s telling that until recently he had little grasp of how Johannesburg’s “street surfers” – a group of people that skate through the city streets picking up discarded plastic to earn an income, actually survive.

‘I think very few people know places like this even exist,’ Solomon narrates as the camera pans across a shanty town surrounded by heaping piles of sorted plastic bottles and garbage. ‘The whole camp of people revolves around recycling our trash, recycling our plastic.’

After seeing the homes of Thabo and Mokete in Johannesburg, Solomon invites them both to his native Cape Town to see the ocean for the first time.

‘There’s a connection to what they do picking up recycling and to this clean beach,” Solomon says. ‘They’re helping to save the ocean to stop marine plastic pollution by doing this recycling every single day.’

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