• Earth Day inspiration with Biarritz Beachcomber Sea and Gather

A little goes a long way…Day in and day out, our Billabong Womens graphic designer Becca of @SeaAndGather, spends the early morning hours combing the beaches of her beloved Biarritz, France.

As an avid traveler and artist in her own right, she has created a treasure trove, in a sense, from the trash dispersed along some of the earth’s most gorgeous beaches. While finding a lucky baby arm, might be an exciting endeavor for Becca, she’s constantly reminded of all the liter left behind... Things trashed on our beaches, pollute our oceans, and drift to other beaches near and far.

With her years of beach combing efforts, Becca has learned much in the ways of what little things she can do to make a difference in her everyday. Read her Q&A to see how you can celebrate Earth Day in little ways everyday…

What are some things you frequently find on the beaches?

Here in Biarritz I find tons of plastic in all shapes and sizes. Some of the most common, recognizable things are lighters, bottle caps, plastic sticks from Q-tips, biocarriers (little filters from water treatment plants), nurdles (or mermaids tears - small plastic beads of plastic that come from plastic production), razors, bits and pieces of colorful micro plastics (broken down from larger objects), and lots of plastic toys - especially strange doll arms that always make me laugh when I find them, and then wonder how so many end up in the ocean. And on special days I find beautiful sea glass, sea marbles and tiles, in rare shapes and colors that are especially old over here in Europe (much older than I used to find in California), so that makes the hunt extra exciting!

When traveling, how do you make it a priority to always leave a lighter footstep? Is there somewhere you recently visited that you were inspired to make a difference?

When we travel I always try to bring a re-useable water bottle and re-useable shopping bags with me, so we're prepared for getting groceries when we get to our destination, staying hydrated on day hikes, etc. I've found small refillable glass jars for all my toiletries so I re-fill those for every trip, and recently started using bamboo toothbrushes (after finding so many plastic toothbrushes on the beach it convinced me to make the switch!).

Anytime we travel to a destination near the coast, I always try to make it a priority to go to the beach and do a small clean up. Even if we're not near the coast but near a river, like in London or New York, I even go 'river combing' - there's also tons of trash and pollution near our rivers, and rivers are often how trash ends up in the ocean in the first place. I feel like doing beach clean ups when we travel is a small way I can give back to the local community - so many beach towns get bombarded in the summer with tourists who leave a trail of trash behind them (I see this happen every summer in Biarritz, and saw this a lot when I was growing up near Yosemite National Park), so I try to be very conscious about our travel footprint!

We've been fortunate to travel a lot this past year and I was able to beach comb / clean in Corfu, Greece, Baja, Mexico, Barcelona, Spain, the Blue Lagoon in Malta, Bray, Ireland. I'm always amazed that I can be in such a beautiful spot in the world and STILL find SO much trash on the beach. It's really just one big ocean and the trash makes its way to all parts of the world!

Any tips on someone looking to make small changes in their daily lives to reduce their waste?

Having your own refillable water bottle and to-go coffee cups are a great start! Most people don't realize that a lot of the 'paper' cups from places like Starbucks are actually lined with a thin layer of plastic, so they aren't recyclable. And of course, re-useable bags - I keep one in my purse, in my work bag, and some in my car so I always have them with me! At home we started using cloth napkins - they're so easy to wash with your regular laundry and it saves so many paper towels & napkins. I started collecting vintage linen napkins from local antique & flea markets and gifting them to all my friends - everyone should have reusable, washable, napkins! My sister (Little Rad Rhino) also just made me some reusable fabric cotton pads for removing makeup, etc. - also so easy to wash. Something I find way too many of on the beach are the plastic sticks from Q-tips / cotton buds... most people don't even realize these are plastic, and often flush them down the toilet, so millions are ending up in the oceans. Don't buy the colorful plastic ones! They sell them with paper / cardboard sticks (and you can often find organic options), these are so much better!

I realize changing your daily habits is not easy, especially when we have such busy lives - but just making small changes can make such a huge difference! 

What are some easy ways someone can make a change today…

1. Keep a reusable shopping bag in your purse so you're always prepared for shopping + groceries

2. Bring a refillable coffee cup to coffee shops

3. Bring a refillable water bottle to work, the gym, & when you travel

4. Kindly refuse plastic straws when you order a drink in bars & restaurants

5. Buy paper Q-tips / cotton buds, instead of the plastic ones!

6. Use washable cloth napkins for meals at home

7. Use refillable toiletry containers when you travel

8. Beeswax Wraps are an amazing replacement for plastic wrap!

9. Simplify & consume less : Less impulse-buys and more thoughtful purchases will lead to less 'stuff' ending up in our landfills!

10. Pickup a few pieces of trash every time you go to the beach

What are some remarkable community changes you’ve seen recently where you live?

When we moved to France over 4 years ago, I was instantly impressed with how eco the community was here. Life moves at a much slower pace here, so people aren't rushing around with their to-go coffees (you can hardly find to-go coffees in Biarritz) or grabbing food to-go to eat quickly at their desks. People take their time to enjoy their meals, and eat slowly AT restaurants, so that automatically creates less trash and reduces the amount of single-use-plastic significantly. Everyone is also really good about bringing reusable bags here - I see everyone walking through town with their cute market baskets filled with fresh bread and veggies, sans packaging. 
 France was also the first country to ban plastic plates and cutlery, which will officially go into effect in 2020, so businesses have a little time to figure out more eco-solutions. Amazing!!

Are there any organizations that have inspired you…or that you work with?

I recently became a member of Panthalassa SocietyPanthalassa Society, a group who raises awareness about all things ocean related ('Life is all Ocean' - their motto) and tells beautiful stories about the ocean from all perspectives, whether it's through art, film, writers, scientists, activists. They've been helping me spread the word and raise awareness about trash on the local beaches and encouraging more people to do beach clean ups.

I've also been inspired by and a member of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter and try to participate in local beach cleanups they host. 

What makes the beaches in France unique?

We have really big tide swings in this part of France, so somedays the tides can get extremely high and also very low (exciting for a beachcomber!), and combined with the heavy winter storms and rough surf, some crazy things get washed up on the beaches!

But the trash I find here doesn't necessarily mean it comes from Biarritz directly - I find trash all the time with writing in Spanish on it, so the currents carry a lot up from Spain and other places. It really is just one huge ocean, and trash from anywhere can eventually get carried to other parts of the world. Here's a great video explaining this!