Our local waste innovators

Thu, 16th Feb 2017

Plastic is taking over the environment faster than Donald Trump can write executive orders, but there are Sunshine Coast innovators who are taking sustainability to a new level and saving our marine life in the process. Roxanne McCarty-O’Kane shares their stories in the lead up to Clean Up Australia Day.

In the past 26 years, Australians have devoted more than 31 million hours towards the environment through Clean Up Australia Day and collected more than 331,000 tonnes of rubbish.

With March 5 fast approaching, the call is once again going out to Sunshine Coast residents to set aside a morning to join a green army dedicated to cleaning up our public spaces.

While all manner of weird items from false teeth to entire couches have been found by volunteers during past clean ups, Clean Up Australia Day statistics show plastic is by far the most common category of rubbish collected each year.

About half a million plastic shopping bags, an average of 40 at each clean-up site, are collected around the country and as much as a third of all rubbish collected each year is plastic. 

Not only is it an unsightly blemish on our pristine green spaces, but plastic is killing off marine life and native wildlife at unprecedented rates.

“I am a firm believer that the little things you can do to help make a big difference for our environment”

Ocean Crusaders estimate 100,000 marine creatures die each year from plastic entanglement and around one million sea birds die as a result of interactions with the material. 

It is a heartbreaking statistic for Alexandra Headland’s Steph Gabriel, who founded OceanZen Bikini after seeing first-hand how plastic is destroying the Earth.

Gabriel has been involved with some incredible research projects around the world and went on to gain a degree in Environmental Marine Science at the University of the Sunshine Coast before she began designing and selling bikinis made from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets that are collected from the ocean.

The 27-year-old now splits her time between continuing her environmental awareness and conservation work with the successful bikini brand.

“I wanted to have my own voice for sustainability and began to research ways I could create a sustainable brand that represented my lifestyle,” Gabriel tells My Weekly Preview.

“Through my research, I had discovered a creative and innovative way of combining both of my passions; marine conservation and swimwear together.  

“The fishing nets and plastic bottles are cleaned, shredded and recreated into a very fine yarn, which is 100 per cent sustainable and then mixed with lycra to make a soft fabric. We then design and create amazing and sustainable bikinis from this.”

The eye-catching bikinis were launched in Maroochydore in early 2014 and quickly gained popularity. 

Gabriel now dispatches her bikinis internationally on a regular basis and describes bumping into a British woman wearing one of her bikinis in Bali as one of her favourite moments. 

Her profile was boosted last year after OceanZen Bikini received an Ethical and Sustainability Award at the Sunshine Coast Fashion Festival and Gabriel was also named a finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the Sunshine Coast Business Awards. 

Gabriel says she is the first to admit her lifestyle is not 100 per cent plastic-free, but she hopes her stunning bikinis and OceanZen’s annual expeditions with groups of women to Tonga to swim with wild humpback whales will keep raising awareness about keeping our oceans clean, and to continue to encourage people to start saying no to plastic bags and plastic bottles. 

“I am a firm believer that the little things you do can help make a big difference for our environment,” she says.

Another Sunshine Coast local making a huge environmental statement on the world stage is former Buddina Beach resident Andrew Turton and business partner Peter Ceglinski from Byron Bay.

The pair has taken the world by storm with their ingenious Seabin, an automated rubbish bin that pumps water into a basket, catching floating debris, oil, fuel and detergents without disturbing marine life.

Now based in Spain, Turton and Ceglinski have secured agreements with the Port Adriano in Mallorca and Porto Montenegro to pilot the Seabin Project in the prestigious marinas in collaboration with local schools.

Students will be able to see what is collected by the Seabin and use this information in conjunction with the lessons to learn more about plastic pollution and the effects on the environment.

“It was a pretty crazy idea really,” Turton says of his invention.

“I always thought it was such a simple thing. I’d never ever seen a rubbish bin in the water. 

“My whole thing with this Seabin is just trying to get it out there and letting people know we are all responsible for our waste. My ultimate goal is to see it all around the world, but I hope we’re not going to need them eventually – if we could create an environment where we didn’t need the Seabin, it would be really something.”

Sunshine Coast Environment Council coordinator Leah Hays says Gabriel and Turton are amazing advocates for the reduction of marine pollution and have been innovative in their approach to achieve this.

Hays says there are dozens of environmental groups across the Coast who were making a difference to our natural assets every day, but she is concerned the number of Coast residents participating in events like Clean Up Australia Day is not increasing in line with our population growth.

“There were 1100 people participating across the Coast last year, and that is a tiny percentage of our population,” she says.

“It is disappointing to see a disconnection between us and our environment and marine life. People can be selfish when it comes to the environment and think if it doesn’t directly affect them or their family, they don’t have to worry.

“But there are micro particles of plastic in the ocean, which are ingested by the fish that we then eat, so we are all affected.”

The next few years will be huge in terms of change when it comes to plastics for Queensland.

SCEC has been working closely with the Boomerang Alliance and the State Government on the implementation of a container deposit scheme, which will see Queensland residents able to receive a small rebate for recycled items.

It is hoped the scheme, which will begin in 2018, will emulate the success of South Australia’s long standing program, which sees more than 80 per cent of bottles and cans recycled.

Plastic bags will also be on the chopping block from 2018, with the State Government announcing a ban on the single-use plastic shopping bags.


• Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags each year. 

• An estimated 20,700 tonnes of plastic is disposed of in landfill in the country every year.

• Around 50 million bags are littered every year. If this was made into a single plastic sheet, it would be enough to cover the entire Melbourne CBD.

• Australians are the second highest producers of waste, per person, in the world.

• Each Aussie sends 690 kilograms of waste to landfill each year.

• The amount of waste sent to landfill across the country each year is enough to cover the state of Victoria.