Plastic Pollution
October 19 2008

To Sobe Or Not To Sobe

by Rob Nixon

On September 6 and 7 of September the Third Annual Third Coast Surfrider Foundation Conference was held in Austin, Texas. At the conference representatives from the four Texas Chapters (Upper Texas Coast, Coastal Bend, Central Texas and South Texas) and the Louisiana Chapter gathered with representatives from Surfrider Foundation's National Headquarters to discuss the creation and implementation of a strategic plan for the region.

During the conference, Surfrider Foundation CEO Jim Moriarty brought up a conundrum that Surfrider Foundation had with one of it's very generous supporters and backers; Sobe Beverages. Sobe provides a huge amount of product to the Surfrider Foundation and its national chapters for events such as International Surfing Day, The Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue and others. Unfortunately the product comes on pallets containing cases of Sobe Energy Water in single use plastic bottles.

It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of events that Surfrider Foundation Chapters hold, especially cleanups, are on the beach! What are the enemies of bare feet on the beach? Glass bottles and torn open aluminum cans. Both of which my feet have come in painful contact with. In addition, most if not all beaches encourage plastic containers in contrast to glass.

Moriarty honestly acknowledged this vexing predicament especially in light of Surfrider Foundation's "Rise Above Plastics" campaign and posed the question to the conference of what Surfrider should do. Should the Surfrider Foundation not renew its contract with Sobe because of this and risk losing their support or should we continue and accept this as a reasonable alternative to glass and cans on the beach?

What do you think?

I personally voted on the side of discontinuing the distribution of the bottles to the chapters. On one hand I did it because of the sheer volume of the bottles we receive. The South Texas Chapter is a new smaller chapter and I still have most of a pallet left from ISD 2007 and I just received a new pallet for our Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue. The other reason I voted against the renewal was that I truly believe that this makes us look hypocritical. Through the RAP campaign we are asking individuals and coastal communities to say no to single use plastic bottles and then we are turning around and distributing them out at our official events.

There is no doubt that the partnership with Sobe has alleviated some of the cost to chapters in the supplies that they must bring to the volunteers and guest that show up at their fundraisers, parties and cleanups. Without the free product, chapters would have to expend more energy or funds to produce either a donation of refreshments or buy them from a retail grocery store. However, just as much energy and resource, possibly more, would have to go into responsibly recycling the Sobe bottles after each event.

So what are the Surfrider Foundation's options? Well the most obvious is to leave it up to each individual chapter to come up with their own drinks. The second is to keep distributing the single use bottles and ask each chapter to make sure that these bottles are properly recycled. Possibly play off the possibility that it could be treated as a fundraiser in selling the bottles to a recycle center. What about a third option?

What if Surfrider Foundation pursued a beverage company, possibly even Sobe, that provided the drink in a powder concentrate. This would be similar to what Kool-Aid, Gatorade and other companies that market to traditional sports teams provide. The packets are given to the chapters and they mix it up with water, stick it in a 5 gallon dispenser and divvy it out themselves.

The new cleanup notices could read like a college kegger!
There will be a cleanup this Saturday at Isla Blanca Park. We will provide the gloves, bags and refreshments! All you need is shoes, sunscreen and your own refillable bottle!

I am not the expert, don't know the answer and this is only my suggestion, but perhaps this might be the next step for Surfrider Foundation to take in it's evolution within the "Rise Above Plastics" campaign. We talk the talk and perhaps solving this conundrum may help us walk the walk on a little straighter line as an environmental organization.

Please leave a comment and let us know what you would like to see Surfrider Foundation do.

Would you like to see Surfrider Foundation continue to distribute free Sobe product
in single use plastic bottles or would you like to see Surfrider seek an alternative?