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Clean up & give back

As the weather starts to warm and Spring awakens, there is no better time to turn our eyes towards the ocean and beaches and consider what we can do to clean things up than right now. Litter4Tokens founder Clare Swithenbank-Bowman tells us how her organisation is making a difference.

There is a fair amount of ‘doom and gloom’ and an increasing amount of poverty around us every day. It can be hard to stay focussed on the positive or believe that we can make a difference. But, according to Clare, we all can.

When she founded Litter4Tokens in 2015, Clare’s goal was to help prevent ocean-bound plastic from reaching our oceans while creating a platform for unemployed people to feed their families at the same time. And that’s just what she has managed to do. She says more than 2.7 million kilograms of plastic have been collected and over 105 600 people fed since they launched.


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The Litter4Tokens concept is simple: community members collect litter, which they can then exchange for tokens to buy dry goods from the token shops. The token shops are kept stocked through various donations and partnerships. “The aim of the Litter4Tokens campaign is to instil pride and cleanliness by putting respect back into the communities, and encouraging hard work whilst employing and educating the nation. This campaign is also addressing climate change, global public health, and global poverty at the same time,” says Clare.

Litter is exchanged for tokens used to buy food

If you made your way down to Ballito’s main beach during last year’s Ballito Pro you would’ve no doubt seen people collecting nurdles. Nurdles, also known as ‘mermaid tears’, are tiny pellets of plastic used to make most of our plastic products. Billions of these end up on beaches every year.

“In 2017 Durban’s eyes were opened to the global threat nurdles pose to our oceans when a freak storm resulted in two billion nurdles spilling into the Durban harbour and quickly spreading along the entire KZN coastline.”

In response, Litter4tokens came up with an award-winning product called a Mermaid Tear Catcher (a small frisbee-like disc used to sift plastic from the sand), which they launched at last year’s Pro.

Billions of nurdles, or ‘mermaid’s tears’ (tiny pellets of plastic) end up on our shores every year

“The total impact of the collection over the Ballito Pro was over 240,000 mermaid tears (or 2.4kg) at the seven-day event. This was a huge awareness campaign, while at the same time making the most impactful difference in the environment by preventing these plastic nurdles from being in our food chain and being eaten by birds and sea life!”

A nurdle trommel is used to separate the micro-plastic from the sand and companies can purchase trommels and arrange their own beach clean ups

Litter4Tokens is the SA manufacturer of nurdle trommels (hand-powered sifting machines used to separate micro plastic from beach sand) for Nurdle SA and the Mermaid Tear Catcher’s, which means all funds from these goes to stocking up the token shops. These are branded for companies, who are encouraged to organise their own team beach clean ups.

Like so many other things, COVID-19 has had a negative effect on recycling and Litter4Tokens is currently partnering with local companies and schools to have their recycling rebates redirected to support the Litter4Tokens token shops. “We have partnered with the Ballito Lifestyle Centre and Ashton and Umhlali Preparatory and all their rebates from recycling are coming to support the token shops. We are heavily reliant on donations.”

Clare says Zimbali recently ordered a Nurdle Trommel, which they will use for a beach clean up on 29 November (lockdown restrictions permitting) and Plastic SA have also ordered a Nurdle Trommel to clean up the micro plastic in Cape Town. If you are interested in ordering Mermaid Tear Catchers or a Nurdle Trommel, or helping out in any way in a token shop, contact Clare.

If you are interested in ordering Mermaid Tear Catchers or a Nurdle Trommel, or helping out in any way in a token shop, contact Clare.
Details: [email protected]

Text: Leah Shone | Photos: SAM MABER PHOTOGRAPHY



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