Doing Good in the Hood

On her return to Manly from years living in the U.S, ocean swimmer Jude Furniss got straight back in the water. What she found there inspired two things: a start up business and an anti-plastic crusade.

“It was the Shearwater migration that was the turning point for me. We actually came across a lot of dead mutton birds - which Shearwaters are colloquially known as - on the beach. I felt quite alarmed by this, it never used to be like this, and I started looking into it. One of the things they’re attributing the deaths to is the plastic. So they’ll be finding all that micro plastic floating along on the surface, feeding themselves up on it, or feeding their chicks plastic, and dying as a result. Results from autopsies were showing that 99% of the birds' stomachs were full of plastic. They’re thinking they’re full, but they can’t make their (migration) journey because they just don’t have the energy.”

“So I started beach cleanups as a result of finding out about that. I live and breathe here - I love it and it’s very easy to do - so we do a beach clean up every Wednesday.”

Meanwhile, winter mornings on the beach exposed a gap in the market, inspiring Jude to start making hooded towels by hand using environmentally friendly fabrics. “There wasn’t really anything fun for women, the market pretty much caters for males, so I started making them for girlfriends that I swim with, and their kids, and it grew from there.” Now Bommie manufactures beachwear from Oeko-Tex 100 certified textiles here in Manly.

“When I set up Bommie, I didn’t want to just be making another product, I want it to have some purpose, to raise awareness about plastic pollution. So it was really important to me to not only create quality functional clothing, but to connect the two and create an environmentally conscious business that measures its success by also bringing about positive change to our marine environment.”

“We donate 1% of our sales to an organisation called Tangaroa Blue, an Australian not-for-profit organisation focused on protecting our marine and coastal environment by reducing marine debris. Tangaroa Blue coordinates the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI), a program that monitors the impact of marine debris along our Australian coastline.

The debris from Jude’s weekly beach clean up is separated, counted and uploaded to the AMDI program so a debris profile can be created for Manly Cove. “It became apparent to me very quickly that we’ll be cleaning this all up until we die! We need to go beyond that and stop rubbish at its source, by reaching out to the businesses and saying: ‘Hey, we found a thousand black straws, you sell black straws, there’ s a good chance that a percentage of this is yours, what can we do to change that?’ Manly Cove is heavily impacted by local litter, as well as debris washed in on the tides.”

So when Jude heard about Plastic Free Manly on the local grapevine, it was a natural fit and she became a Business Engagement Warrior.

“We’ve all been given a zone, to go and visit all the retailers. We do a bit of an audit on where their business is at, their level of usage of plastic bags and other types of plastic packaging. We see what their challenges are and introduce them to the campaign and see if they want to get on board.”

“I’ve been given the precinct all around Manly Wharf, so it’s quite high in fast food related businesses. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how open they are to the campaign, and how many are being proactive. Quite a few of those businesses that you would assume are probably the worst offenders are actually quietly stepping away at it.”

Nando’s is a great example - pretty much all their packaging is eco friendly, bar the cutlery. They’re plastic bag free, all their packaging is paper, and their sauce products are all in these little biodegradable cardboard containers.”

Max Brenner is another one, they’re plastic bag free, with paper packaging, and they have quite a strong corporate responsibility program as well. Guzman y Gomez is another good example of trying really hard.”

Once businesses are engaged, “the next phase is to go back and help with training, getting that message through to all their staff, and providing options for solutions. We’ll be helping them with lists of suppliers and getting support and information out to them, because some of them don’t have the time or the resources to research that stuff. Also, we can help promote their businesses as the campaign progresses - give them a plug, help them be proud.”

With another hat on (via the Surfrider Foundation of Australia) Jude’s also involved in driving Boomerang Bags Manly, an initiative to place bag swap bins around Manly. Shoppers who’ve forgotten to bring their own bags from home can help themselves, bringing the bags back on their next visit and eliminating the need for disposable bags.

“Boomerang Bags is a national community initiative that was founded on the Gold Coast by two young girls who wanted to make their community plastic bag free. It’s a very organic initiative, communities can really adapt it to whatever they want it to be. There’s a national resource that everyone can access and then apply to their own community. Avalon was the first in Sydney and we’ll be the second.”

Currently the team are building a bank of available bags via local schools. “We’re reaching out to the community to donate all their excess (fabric) bags - for me they’re almost the equivalent now to grey plastic bags! You end up with 20 of them that you don’t know what to do with. I don’t want to throw them out! So we’ll rebrand all those donated bags for Boomerang Bags.”

She confesses: “at the moment, all these projects are a juggle, they’re all relevant and they’re all happening right now, so it can be quite challenging. My business does get sidelined at times, but I set up Bommie to be a socially conscious brand, so that’s OK.” 

BusinessesAlex Davidson