The Henley Royal Regatta course was visited by some rubbish rafts last Saturday (16 June). The Whale Company, an organisation with a passion for plastic reduction, paddled along the Thames on their boards made from re-purposed plastic bottles. Aiming to change the conversation on conservation, the spirited Stand Up Paddle-boarders are on a journey that follows the Thames from source to sea.
On the ninth day of their charitable challenge, Carolyn and Carlos (founders of the Whale Company) made their way from Henley to Hurley, collecting river litter along their route. Their adventure aptly began on World Ocean’s Day, and will see the duo tackle a 300km quest over the course of 17 days (with 15 of them falling one after another). Having started in Lechlade, the pair will make an important stop to address parliament on 26 June, before finally finishing their expedition beyond the Thames Barrier in Gravesend. In a special interview with John Howell MP on Saturday morning, Carolyn and Carlos revealed the motivation behind their mission.
Speaking to John, Carolyn explained the influential role that children have played in the planning of their trip. “Along our route we’ve been talking to children from 12 different schools and been collecting their messages about plastic pollution, which we are hoping to deliver to parliament on June 26th,” she said. “It seems to us that the kids are passionate about saving the earth, and the wildlife in particular.” Carolyn and Carlos are both former teachers, and have been delighted at the response from the schools they’ve visited. Indeed, Carolyn’s board was made with the help of children in Barnes, who collected the plastic bottles for the project. John Howell commended the Company for the impact they were having on the younger generations. “The stuff you’re doing in schools is really fantastic,” he proclaimed. “Trying to get them not to use plastic is a fantastic idea.”
As they prepared to paddle the Henley Royal Regatta course, the conversation turned to the rapidly approaching rowing event — and in particular, its aftermath. Carolyn expressed her concern over the plastic cups and picnic waste that could make their way into the river. Determined to protect our local environment, Carolyn questioned Mr Howell on the Regatta’s policy on single use plastic. “What we need is a commitment from Henley Regatta not to use one off plastics,” Mr Howell suggested. “It would be great to see them take some firm action as they could set a good example.” He continued, “It’s a subject that people are very keen to pursue, as am I.” Carolyn, too, shared her thoughts on the issue. “What we really would like to see is this message from children reaching the organisers of events like this,” she declared. “Next year let’s see what commitment we can have from Henley Regatta to ban single use plastic.”
Beth Staley, a Henley resident and videographer for the Whale Company, pointed out that it was perhaps the visiting vendors that should take the most responsibility for regatta waste. “It’s not just about the regatta itself,” Beth commented, “it’s about the bars and clubs that come to the regatta.” Beth has been working with the Whale Company for three months, and is just as enthusiastic about their cause. “What they are doing is so cool and it’s really engaging the kids,” she said. And really, it’s hard not to be engaged by Carolyn and Carlos’ passion for turning waste into a resource. Given the rising interest in the plastic debate, the Whale Company are pushing the conversation forward at just the right time. “I think change has to happen really quickly,” stated Carolyn. “We’ve reached pretty catastrophic levels of plastic now. In the last 10 years we’ve used more plastic than ever before.” Reflecting on the next step towards a solution, she said, “It’s not about raising awareness. I feel that people already have the awareness. The Blue Planet effect has been amazing. Now, it’s about changing behaviour.”
The Whale Company, who are soon to be granted charity status, are crowdfunding to finance their campaigns. If you would like to support them, visit their JustGiving page. You can also find out more about the organisation via their website, and keep up to date with their progress on Facebook.