Summer activities seem to generate a lot of stuff. From broken flip flops and abandoned beach toys to punctured paddling pools and torn tents, how can we enjoy summer outdoors without sending a heap of plastic to landfill? These kinds of items are often hard to repair and even harder to recycle – but we’ve got some ideas!
In this post we’re going to look at four common sources of summer waste: flip flops, paddling pools and inflatables, swimwear and wetsuits, and body boards. We’ll cover how to keep your stuff in good condition for longer, how to recycle it, and whether there are any lower impact alternatives available.
Got a tip we’ve missed? Please do let us know so we can add it!
And just for clarity, we don’t have any kind of advertising thing going on, so if we mention a brand it’s because we feel their ethics and transparency are good enough to share with you. We use tools like Good On You, the Fashion Transparency Index, Ethical Consumer, and CITI to understand more about brands – you might find these tools helpful too. As always, we never want to give the impression that we can buy our way out of the climate crisis, so making the most of the item you already have is always better than buying a more sustainable upgrade.
Some general tips for a lower waste summer
Borrow, don’t buy.
Do you actually need to buy that thing? Few of us use things like camping gear or beach toys regularly, so ask around and see if someone can lend you what you need. If you have a library of things near you then they often have useful gear to borrow, such as camping chairs and kitchen equipment for a BBQ, or luggage for a summer holiday.
If you can, buy less but buy better.
We’re very aware that, for many, the cheapest option is the only option, but if you can put a little more money into buying a more robust item then it will save you money in the long run as well as keeping your item in use for much longer.
Use and store with care.
I know I’m guilty of it – the damp tent crammed into a bag that I’ll definitely, definitely ‘deal with later’. The greasy BBQ that’s too gross to even think about, and gets grosser the longer it’s left in the rain. It’s so easy to accidentally waste resources by not caring for our things the way we know we should. But a little extra attention to how we use and store seldom used items will massively extend their useable lifespan.
Do I need it?
My kids spotted a picture of a giant inflatable unicorn. Inevitably, they now desire it with a fiery passion that cannot be extinguished by any cautionary tale about sea life tangled in plastic. I do not want the unicorn, but I do know how they’re feeling – after ten minutes scrolling about on instagram I’m so bombarded with tempting things that it can be a real effort to stop and ask myself: do I need that? What will it genuinely bring to my life? What will happen to it once I’m done with it? Producing, shipping and disposing of stuff is a massive contribution to both climate change and land and water pollution, so – while sustainable products can be less harmful, usually the best thing we can do is take a bit of thinking time and choose not to buy.
Flip flops (aka zories, thongs or slippers depending on where you're from!)
The problem: About 90 tonnes of flip flops wash up on east Africa beaches each year. On Australia’s Cocos Islands close to a million shoes, mainly flip flops, are piling up on beaches and being buried by the sand. Flip flops are often so cheap that we don’t expect them to last longer than a holiday, or maybe a single summer season. What can we do to keep them out of oceans and landfills?
Look after it: Wash grimy flip flops by letting them soak in a tub of warm water and washing up liquid, then give them a scrub with a toothbrush. A paste of bicarb and washing up liquid will help with really grubby patches. Darker colours will obviously hide sweaty foot marks better!
Fix it: Flip flops usually break in the same way – the strap pulls out of the sole. True (and gross) story – this once happened to me while I was walking down the street – I was already late to a maternity class – I’d already missed one and I had literally no idea how to care for a baby so I didn’t want to miss this one too – so I used the gum I was chewing as a temporary flip flop fix and successfully limped the rest of the way there. Why am I sharing this with you? I don’t know.
Anyway, there’s a better way. A paperclip or safety pin through the ‘stopper’ bit of the strap will stop it pulling up through the hole until you can fix it properly. A ring pull from a can around the stopper will also work. Once back home you can do a more thorough repair job. This is one of the neatest repair methods I’ve seen but please be aware that the guy uses some bad language in his video.
Disposal: The good news is that there are a couple of ways to recycle them.
Waves are a company making natural rubber flip flops. They will accept your old Waves flip flops back to turn into rubber for children’s playground matting, but they’ll also accept flip flops of any brand which they’ll recycle through Terracycle. Find out how to send Waves your flip flops and get a 10% discount code in return.
Speaking of Terracycle, ask your company if they’d consider paying for a Terracycle Zero Waste box to allow the whole team to recycle flipflops, crocs, and other plastic shoes. These boxes start from £112 for a small one.
Lower impact alternatives: Look for flipflops made from natural rubber but dig into the supply chain a little deeper, as rubber harvesting is a major cause of deforestation in South East Asia. Look for companies that have a zero-deforestation policy and rubber supply chain that’s been independently audited – the Rainforest Alliance is a reliable symbol to look out for – and if the company doesn’t mention where their rubber comes from then don’t be afraid to ask! Recycled plastic flip flops are also available, and some companies – such as Ocean Refresh – will take your worn out shoes back for recycling.
Paddling pools and inflatables
The problem: PVC is strong, and it’s designed to be durable, but it is very rarely recyclable. So when inflatables like paddling pools, swimming armbands, inflatable beds, lilos, and blow-up pool toys get a puncture or a split, they’re usually discarded, and will last – in landfill sites or the environment – for hundreds and hundreds of years. Often people dump them at beaches and campsites as they’re not sure what else to do with them.
Look after it:
For paddling pools, lay down a couple of old rugs, blankets, or a layer of cardboard to stop the base of your pool getting pierced by sharp stones or sticks.
Don’t let water sit in paddling pools as it’ll quickly go slimy, and it’s also a hazard to wildlife who may get trapped in there. If you do want to leave it overnight then pop a fitted sheet over it to keep everyone safe.
Once you’re done, empty it out, wipe it dry-ish then give it a spitz with vinegar spray (50:50 white vinegar and water) or something like a bathroom or kitchen spray. Let it dry fully before you fold it up and put it away.
Fix it: Punctures are pretty easy to fix! Two or three layers of duct tape is a quick and dirty solution and usually does the trick as long as the surface you’re sticking it to is completely dry. This is probably only a temporary fix though, as the tape is likely to peel off over time. Some inflatables come with repair patches – most air beds do – or you can buy PVC patching kits for a couple of pounds. Don’t try and patch it with a bike kit as the glue won’t stick to PVC.
Disposal: The clever team at Wyatt and Jack turn old inflatables into amazing (and strong) bags. Through their ‘Inflatable Amnesty’ they collect pretty much anything that isn’t mouldy, including paddling pools, blow up beds, and toys. They make it easy to send them stuff by letting you buy a pre-paid postage label based on the weight you want to send.
Body boards and their cousins.
The problem: Polystyrene boogie boards, body boards, belly boards, surfboards and similar have a pretty whopping carbon footprint as they’re made of oil based materials and shipped from China.
Often bought on a whim for a fiver at the beach they get dumped when they get broken (or won’t fit in the car for the journey home) and a big pile of discarded boards around the bins is a regular site at many beaches. Last year, a single beach in Devon had 400 boards dumped. Some beach towns such as Westward Ho! have already banned them, and some stop-gap solutions to the waste have been found. For example, Quince Honey Farm in Devon worked with a local beach clean group and recycling company to turn them into hive insulation.
There’s no ‘look after it’ or ‘fix it’ suggestions for this one, as the long and short of it is: don’t buy a cheap polystyrene board. It will break. And when it breaks it will release loads of tiny polystyrene fragments into the sand and sea. Hire a better quality one instead, allowing you to try out different kinds and see if it’s something you’re going to really get into long term.
Disposal: Sadly there’s no simple way to recycle your board. Land and Sea Cornwall have managed to set up collection points at a number of local beaches thanks to a partnership with a local recycling company but this hasn’t spread nationwide yet. If you have a board to dispose of then the best thing to do is take it to the tip then not to replace it with another plastic one, and put some pressure on supermarkets and online retailers to stop selling easily breakable polystyrene boards.
Swimwear and wetsuits
The problem: There isn’t currently a biodegradable material that works for swimwear and wetsuits, so all swimwear is made of plastic based fabric which can be hard to recycle and sheds microplastic fibres.
Look after it: Wash your swimsuit or wetsuit as soon as possible after swimming, as salt and chlorine will both take a toll on the fabric. If possible, give it a soak in the sink in cool water, then, for swimming costumes, rinse with a blob of laundry detergent or just a little bit of shampoo. Wetsuits are best rinsed with fresh water or use a specific wetsuit soap.
After handwashing, don’t wring it out (as it begins to stretch it out of shape and cause bagginess) but spread it out to dry or hang it up, out of direct sunlight. If you’ve got a wetsuit then dry the inside first, then the outside.
It’s better to handwash your swimming costume but if you do pop yours in the washing, or wash other plastic based things like workout gear or fleeces, then a Guppyfriend is worth considering. It’s a mesh bag designed to catch microfibres in the washing machine (without shedding any of its own) so they can be safely disposed of and kept out of water systems. Don’t use the washing machine for wetsuits, they don’t like it.
Torn wetsuits can quite often be repaired – Barefoot One offer this service but there mayb e someone local to you too so have a Google.
Dispose of it: Swimwear and wetsuits of any brand can be recycled through Alpkit’s Continuum Project – in fact they will take any outdoor clothing! Anything in usable condition is rehomed with people who need it, everything else is upcycled or recycled. You can drop it off at their shops or post it to them. Stay Wild also offer swimming costume recycling, and Barefoot One will take wetsuits for recycling.
Lower impact alternatives: Recycled swimwear is quite easy to find now – look for products made from Econyl, a kind of nylon made from landfill and ocean plastic: things like old fishing nets and carpets. Econyl still sheds microfibres though, so wash with care.
We hope these tips come in handy!
In next week’s Sustainable Summer post we’re going to share some tips for lower waste camping trips. If you’d like to get all our summer resources straight to your inbox each week – plus a month’s free membership of The Something Club – just pop your details in the form below. And if you try any of these tips do let us know! Leave a comment below or tag us on social @bemoresquirrel