Reimagining Waste with Waterhaul

We take a trip to Cornwall to meet Harry Dennis, founder of Waterhaul. We join him on a beach clean to learn about the problem of ocean plastic, and shifting attitudes towards materials considered waste.

 

When Harry was a teenager, he developed an obsession with surfing. It was an adolescence spent exploring hidden beaches, searching secret surf spots, most at home with sand between his toes. This connection with the coastline would later become the motivation to solve one of nature’s biggest challenges: plastic waste.

Over a decade later, we meet Harry on a wide, sandy beach in his native Cornwall.  “I went to university in Aberystwyth on the Welsh Coast to study Marine Biology. I wanted to learn more about the ocean. I think partly that was just an excuse to be by the sea and be able to surf a little bit more.”

Coastal guardianship

As Harry spent more time around the ocean, he became aware of the huge challenges it faces. “It became impossible to ignore that our ocean is facing some real threats. As my relationship with the ocean grew, it developed o a point where I got a bit more out of actually protecting and trying to do something for the ocean rather than just it being kind of a one way street where I was just getting enjoyment out of the ocean.” 

Like many that live by the coast, a connection with our outdoors spaces fosters this desire to give back to the places we care about, a kind of guardianship. It was the problem of plastic pollution, specifically ghost gear, that Harry wanted to address. 

Every year, around 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is lost or discarded in our oceans.  It becomes known as ‘ghost gear’, as it can continue to kill wildlife long after the fishing boats have left it behind. “Ghost gear is the most abundant type of plastic in the ocean. This plastic is designed with the sole purpose to catch and kill marine life. So when it becomes detached from a vessel, it still continues to do that. It can last in the ocean for 500 years, and it’ll continue killing wildlife unless we can intercept and break that cycle.”

Harry spots a bright green colour sprouting from a sand dune. We approach and tug at the small piece of fishing net. It becomes clear it is merely the visible part of a much larger net buried beneath the dune. No matter how hard we pull, there’s no chance of removing this piece. “A lot of these dunes are full of plastic, totally embedded.”

Making products from fishing nets

In 2018, Harry founded Waterhaul, a social enterprise that developed a way to turn ghost gear into purposeful products, removing waste from the environment and turning it into a resource. The Waterhaul team receive tip-offs informing them where ghost gear has washed up, or they’ll go on weekend expeditions following high-tides or a stormy period, to recover washed up fishing gear.

The process then begins to turn the nets into a usable material. The nets are shredded down, so all that remains are small fibres. Once contaminants are removed, the fibres are melted down, and from that, plastic pellets are created. “This point is very exciting, because we've turned waste into something that has potential. These pellets can be moulded into a new form. Suddenly we've got something that's got value.”

This innovation from Waterhaul deals with the legacy of the linear economy, where materials are taken from the environment to be made into products that end up in landfill, or in the case of ghost gear, the ocean. It reimagines the lifecycle of materials that are considered ‘waste’.

“The problem lies with the attitudes about waste, and the way that we don't attribute any value to plastic once it’s been used - it’s seen as a throwaway material. I once heard someone say that if the plastic pollution problem was £20 notes floating around the ocean, someone would have figured it out.”

Sustainable sunglasses

They began creating sunglasses, the flagship product for Waterhaul. The sunglasses tell a story of waste to resource, a journey of removing the most harmful and abundant ocean plastic and turning it into a purposeful product.

“Sunglasses are a visual item that can be a conversation starter. They embody this concept of turning something that was a problem into something functional and purposeful that’s going to last a lifetime. They hopefully inspire you to get out, have some adventures, but also make those adventures purposeful and positive.”

Beth wears the Freshwater model in Compton Clay

Adventures help us connect with our natural spaces, like our coastlines. We’ve worked in collaboration with Waterhaul to design sunglasses that inspire a message of purposeful adventure. They embody the sense of guardianship we have for the natural world, and the desire to leave it in a better state than we found it.

Explore sustainable sunglasses, made from recycled fishing nets here.

 

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