Brazil: from surfing to giving plastic a second life

#environmental sustainability #social action

re.turn, in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, noted for its marked social character: the project aims to inspire people, help the most vulnerable groups and, especially, to care for the sea. Its founders — surfers — are seeking to return to the oceans everything that the oceans have given them and are rolling out sustainable initiatives with recycled materials.

"Each positive or negative act we do in this world will come back to us". Return, in Brazilian Portuguese expressed as retorno, is where the name of the re.turn Project comes from, an initiative of surfers Cassio Tramontini, Diego Polly and Ángel Mirapalheta. Yet the story of this original project began in Indonesia, where Tramontini saw something that sparked the idea: a fisherman threw a bag of a rubbish out of his boat into a coral bank.

That was in 2014, and the Brazilian, who had been visiting true natural paradises for years to surf, suddenly became aware of how often he had seen similar acts without doing anything to stop them. Back in his home town of Porto Alegre he pondered how he could give back — retornar — to the sea everything that it had given him, based on one premise: re.turn would seek to inspire people and undertake initiatives with the aim of achieving, little by little, a better world.

Charity projects in the city of the five rivers.#RRSSCharity projects in the city of the five rivers.

 SEE INFOGRAPHIC: Charity projects in the city of the five rivers [PDF]

Porto Alegre, in the Brazilian state of Río Grande do Sul, is one of the most up-and-coming cities in the country, and its daily life is shaped by its geographical location. It is a riverside community, known by the locals as the city of the five rivers, and groups of people have settled on meanders and islands where plastic waste constitutes a serious environmental problem.

Fight against plastic. Cath Lord Plastik! Join.

Brazil is one of the countries of the world that produce the most plastic, surpassed only — according to data from the World Bank and WWF (the World Wildlife Fund) — by the US, China and India, and its recycling rate is well below the world average (9%), even though the authorities, particularly in the large cities, have efficient collection policies. It is in the least-developed regions of the country that waste management is the most complex.

The use of plastics in Brazil.#RRSSThe use of plastics in Brazil.


So, the first re.turn project took on this problem locally in a village on the island of Pintada (Ilha da Pintada), where 140 children were given a class about environmental awareness and then went on to pick up waste plastic from the Guaíba River. A total of more than 600 PET bottles, which they later made into perfectly operational paddle surfboards, thereby bringing together the two passions of the initiative's founders, water sports and helping the environment and local communities.

The Association of Artisan Friends and Fishermen of the Island of Pintada is also creating initiatives to help its community, especially with children, and its members, mainly fishermen, are aware of the complexity of managing water resources in the area, and of the problem posed by plastic pollution. This is why working with re.turn was a success from the outset: collecting plastic and giving it a second life is just one of the perspectives of this project, and the inhabitants of the island place special importance on awareness from childhood.

Following that first project, re.turn has made collaboration with local communities its creed, but on that journey of fighting against the deterioration of the oceans and of seeking a "better life for people", as its manifesto states, they have also teamed up with others on a multitude of initiatives. For Cassio Tramontini the involvement of private companies in sustainable projects aimed at caring for the environment and social issues is vital.


So for the founders of re.turn there is a clear relationship between environmental and social impact, and any activity aimed at protecting the environment, and raising awareness about caring for it, has a positive effect on society. And vice-versa. This is why they recruit all kinds of companies and suggest initiatives and projects to them through which they end up helping very diverse social groups.

In total, re.turn has carried out 16 projects in which it has managed to involve 40 private companies, and which have affected over a million people. Among the most significant, the two tacobol championships — a sort of cricket but practically devoid of rules, just for fun — held on the beach of the city of Capão da Canoa. More than 1,500 people attended the games, played by recovering children from the Child Cancer Institute.

Fun, for the creators of re.turn, is a constant in the projects that they undertake. Although the Removies initiative takes open-air cinema to deprived communities of Porto Alegre, its true purpose is actually to offer ophthalmic care to children in need. Return Sunset, another of the activities, is a real party for the senior citizens from the senior homes in the area, whilst Manos a la Obra (Hands On) has succeeded in rebuilding the Island of Pintada centre where the aforementioned Association hosts and organises activities for the area's youngsters outside school hours.

The ideas of the people running re.turn are ever more social, without neglecting the environmental character of the project. Making a paddle surfboard from plastic bottles collected from the river was the beginning, but the spirit lives on: little actions can produce big results, and the road to sustainability and a better world can and should be fun.