Merijn Tinga, also known as the plastic soup surfer, is a Dutch surfer that turned into an anti-waste expert and activist. Ever since we learned about plastic waste and the impact that it has on the environment, we have been following him closely, and the appreciation for what Merijn does has only grown over the years.
In his story, we jump into the world of the art of turning awareness into legislation and how small actions can sometimes lead to lasting impact with the right timing.
"Around 8 to 9 years ago, I started on this journey to talk about plastic waste and to create positive change. Back then, no one was really talking about these subjects, because it wasn’t really seen as a big problem. I came up with this idea to make a story about surfing From Belgium to Germany, where I would be going across the whole Dutch coast, which no one had ever attempted before.
So I wanted to make the story about more than just me, and that is where I started to think about all the plastic that I saw lying around. That’s when I thought, "Why shouldn’t I try to make a board from plastic waste and use that to make the trip”. All of a sudden, this idea made it so the trip had a bigger story: a story about plastic waste. As I’m not the best surfer, I felt that this would give the story extra body and people would like to watch it."
Since this trip, Merijn noticed that telling this story about plastic waste got a lot of attention from different groups and organizations. All of a sudden people were talking about the subject and awareness about the problem started to grow. This is the moment that Merijn begin see the impact that stories can make.
"The mission when I started out was really to make people conscious of plastic waste and the impact that it has on the environment. The nice thing about plastic is that people can see it. It is very clear to spot, track down and to make people aware about it. On the other side, this also creates a problem, because some more urgent problems like CO2 or loss of biodiversity are more important but more difficult to actually see and understand."
"To create impact, you need the right timing. A great example of this was the time that legislation regarding deposits on cans got passed in The Netherlands. When we presented it, it was a perfect storm of the right message at the right time when the sentiment about this topic was pointing in the right direction. We weren’t aware of this timing and just let it happen, which is sometimes the only way that awesome things can be created.
In the end, I’m hoping for a cascading effect, where the awareness and subsequent actions that we now see with plastic waste, overconsumption, and deposits will also spill over into the other important problems that we face as a society."
"My mission is completed when the throwaway society is gone, but we have a long way to go. If you look at single-use paper cups (with plastic lining on the inside) for example, we throw away around 5 million pieces each morning in The Netherlands, which is an insane amount. That's why my last trip and documentary was on a board made of recycled plastic waste from Brussels to Amsterdam. This distance wasn't chosen by coincidence, as it is the same length as 5 million of those cups placed behind each other."
"If we ever reach the time where the overconsumption and throwaway society is gone, I can go back to surfing with a smile on my face".
If you want to stay up to date on all the adventures of the Plastic Soup Surfer, you can find his Dutch podcast here, and follow him on social media, where he does deep dives into different important topics.
Also, you can use the plastic avengers app and take pictures of waste that you find, which not only increases awareness, but also creates data on pollution in your environment, and that in turn can lead to better local legislation and direct steps toward a better future.