Clear the coastline and your conscience during a Zero Co Untrashed Eco Tour on K’gari (Fraser Island), just like Carla Grossetti did.
It’s 4pm on a Friday afternoon and I’m standing in torrential rain on 75 Mile Beach on K’gari (Fraser Island), with the wind whipping sand and rain into my face, as part of an Untrashed Eco Tour. After southern Queensland’s recent deluge of rain, the water is choppy and the brown, foaming crests of waves are tumbling along the beach. It’s like the staging of The Tempest.
In the distance, I can hear the melancholy caw of a crow as I bend, lunge, stoop and plough my way along the sand, racing against a ferocious incoming tide that threatens to swallow the rubbish that it so recently spat onto the shoreline.
For all the bleakness of the moment, the fact that I’m walking alongside 25 like-minded individuals as part of an epic Untrashed Eco Tour designed by K’gari Adventures and Zero Co makes us all rise to the challenge.
“Our strength must come from what lies ahead. The only answer is to keep moving forward,” says co-founder of K’gari Adventures, Hana Robinson. Hana and her husband Mark coordinate the clean-ups of this endless river of rubbish like a military operation, constantly scanning the shoreline and directing the fleet of 4WDs via walkie-talkie to maximise efficiency.
“K’gari is famous for its windswept beaches, rocky headlands and rainbow-hued cliffs. But it’s also a natural catchment area for rubbish. Being part of a regenerative travel experience such as a beach clean-up is a very tangible way to see the depth of the plastic problem the Earth faces and become a more conscious traveller,” says Hana.
Cleaning up K’gari is a feel-good experience. (Image: Carla Grossetti)
The impact of the Untrashed Eco Tours
For the past 18 months, Hana and Mark have run the Untrashed Eco Tours together with Mike Smith, founder of Zero Co, a company that turns plastic waste into household products for the kitchen, laundry and bathroom.
Since kicking off the beach clean-ups about five years ago, K’gari Adventures has collected an estimated 40 tonnes of rubbish from the shores of the World Heritage-listed sand island, which at 123 kilometres in length, is the largest in the world. That’s on top of the equivalent of about one million plastic water bottles’ worth of rubbish plucked from beaches by additional Zero Co initiatives.
The brilliant blue-hued Boorangoora/Lake McKenzie. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
The single-use plastic problem
“The rubbish collected from these trips goes toward making Zero Co’s OBL [ocean, beach and landfill bound plastic] material, which helps fund our ocean clean-up initiatives,” says Mike, whose travels to some of the most remote countries in the world inspired his mission to tackle the plastic pollution problem head-on.
Zero Co was Australia’s most-funded Kickstarter project of 2019, with 6892 stakeholders signing up to help ‘Untrash the Planet’ and support Mike’s quest to eliminate single-use plastic packaging from every Aussie kitchen, laundry and bathroom.
“The proliferation of single-use plastics is a global problem. By 2050, it’s estimated the plastic in the oceans will outweigh the number of fish. When my wife Alyssa and I went on our 18-month trip [visiting places like Iran, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, North and South Korea, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar], we were horrified and dismayed to find these places that were choked with plastic. Those travels informed my vision for Zero Co,” says Mike.
“We’ve got 60,000 customers now and 100,000 people on our email list. It’s so incredible to invite our customers and stakeholders to come to K’gari, to get their hands dirty and hopefully inspire them to make changes in their own personal war on waste and truly have ownership of the brand. Zero Co is a name that articulates what the company is about. We’re trying to create a zero-waste world,” he says.
The Zero Co team are hands-on during the Untrashed Eco Tours. (Image: Zero Co)
What the beach clean-up process entails
We find a lot of flotsam and jetsam on our second day of clean-ups on the Untrashed Eco Tour. There are empty packets of instant noodles. Fish-shaped bottles of soy sauce. A flaccid party balloon. And even a message in a bottle. By the end of the experience, we’ve collected a whopping 1.25 tonnes of rubbish (that’s about 50 kilograms per person) in a total of seven hours.
It takes another four hours or so to sit and painstakingly sort and sift the rubbish into different categories, including the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) that will be recycled into Zero Co’s ‘Forever Bottles’, reusable dispensers that customers can refill for a lifetime with body care and home-cleaning products.
A clean-up convoy with K’gari Adventures. (Image: Carla Grossetti)
“You’d be amazed what we find on the beach,” says Mark, who grew up in Maryborough and first visited the island, on the Traditional Lands of the Butchulla people, when he was eight months old.
“We’ve come across prosthetic legs, sex toys, shipping rope, wheelie bins, a pontoon from the City of Brisbane, pegs, bottle tops, you name it. And yes, sometimes I do feel a bit overwhelmed. But then, when I fish a plastic bag or something a turtle could choke on out of the sea, I suddenly feel motivated and proud of the fact that what I’m doing is making a small difference and might have saved one marine animal’s life,” he says.
Mark says the amount of plastic waste picked up over the course of a three-day Untrashed Eco Tour is an effective way of communicating the true and tangible impacts of single-use plastics.
A small amount of effort has a big impact on K’gari. (Image: K’gari Adventures)
How to care for Country
Bruce Waia is a community ranger and member of the local Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation who is engaged as a cultural advisor and guide for K’gari Adventures in order to share “the island’s rich cultural history”.
With an estimated 500 Indigenous archaeological sites scattered across K’gari, Bruce says having a cultural guide onboard “provides visitors with the complete experience and a sense of oneness with K’gari”. Bruce adds that his Elders and the broader Butchulla community have a lot of faith in K’gari Adventures and are humbled by the tour company’s efforts.
“My people have the utmost respect for what Hana and Mark are doing. They have even been given permission to tell a few stories, which was not an overnight process… it was years of asking questions and being respectful. What that says about Hana and Mark is they are trusted and the Butchulla mob have big respect for them,” he says.
Bruce says the Butchulla people believe that K’gari is a princess and that she comes from the sky. “When we go to the lakes, we know it’s her eyes looking back at the sky and the running creeks are her voice. When I join K’gari Adventures for a tour I tell visitors how the actual island was created and why the creeks and lakes and dunes are so important. It’s all in our Creation stories,” Bruce says.
“My people find it very upsetting to see that rubbish on the beach, and to think most of it is not from the island – the fact it is stuff that has travelled across the sea – means this is a problem that is on a global scale. Despite saying that, the Untrashed Eco Tour gives me hope. When we do have a good day and get rid of a lot of rubbish that gives me a mad smile. Like together, we’ve all mucked in and done something really wonderful for the island,” he says.
Boorangoora/Lake McKenzie is a perched lake on K’gari (Fraser Island). (Image: Tourism Events Queensland and K’gari Adventures)
The impact of leaving a place better than how you found it
K’gari means ‘paradise’, and while there is plenty to trouble the mind while picking through mounds of plastic rubbish, K’gari Adventures and Zero Co have curated an itinerary that also allows weary eco warriors to draw breath and reflect.
We drift along with the current at Eli Creek, enjoy a paddle in Boorangoora/Lake McKenzie, where the sunshine lifts our hearts, and watch the water rushing past the rusted hull of the shipwreck, The Maheno.
But it’s the thoughtful chats around the campfire under a night sky studded with stars that provide the perfect full stop to the day. It’s like looking through a dark window and finding a glimmer of beautiful light.
Eco warriors take some time out at Boorangoora/Lake McKenzie. (Image: Carla Grossetti)
A traveller’s checklist
After flying into the Sunshine Coast Airport, participants in the Untrashed Eco Warrior tour are picked up from Noosa at 7.30am or Rainbow Beach (9.30am). Drop-off times back to the airport on Sunday are 5pm (Noosa) or 7pm (Brisbane).
Accommodation is included as part of the Untrashed Eco Warrior Experience. Stay at Beachcamp Eco Retreat, where you will enjoy mostly plant-based meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Making a difference there
K’gari Adventures aims to be 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2025 and is working with Jaunt Motors to convert its fleet of Land Rovers into electric vehicles. Find out more about the three-day Untrashed Eco Tour experience on its website.