On July 25th 2016, Durban, South Africa, experienced severe flash floods. Lives were lost, homes and businesses were flooded, roads washed away and our rivers deposited huge amounts of plastic waste into the Indian Ocean.
It was a catastrophe.
After seeing the state of his city’s beaches in the wake of the week’s extreme weather‚ Durbanite Richard McLennan took to Coca-Cola South Africa’s Facebook page to appeal for help.
“Dear Coca-Cola South Africa, as you are no doubt aware we have had some serious rain and flooding in KZN, besides the loss of lives, damage to homes, schools and roads we have also seen our rivers spilling huge amounts of plastic waste into our oceans. A lot of this waste is actually your empty bottles.
Much of this plastic waste will end up far out at sea where it takes hundreds of years to decompose, if its not consumed by marine animals, either way this is bad for our planet and your brand.
Now, there is some good news, as I write this, a large amount of this plastic is washing up on our beaches, it will eventually get washed back to sea but this does give us a short window to cleanup.
Local municipalities have insufficient resource to deal with this quickly and effectively, any chance Coca Cola can muck in and help us clean up their bottles, you would be setting a great example for the rest of big business.”
Coca-Cola were quick to respond and everybody on the Facebook Page joined in the conversation.
The response was not just lip service for PR points, they really did mean what they had said.
On Saturday, while the massive #CleanBlueLagoon initiative was underway at the Beachwood Mangroves and along the beach at the uMngeni River mouth the beverage company had rallied hundreds of other volunteers to the right of the Blue Lagoon pier.
Among the volunteers were over 70 children from a school in Inanda.
“Four hours later and the majority of waste had been cleared from the beach with tons of PET bottles separated for recycling. By all accounts an incredible achievement and a great example of business and community rolling up their sleeves, mucking in and doing good.”
McLennan wrote a LinkedIn post on lessons he learnt during the
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know
My message to Coca-Cola was spur of the moment, but it was relevant, its timing was perfect and it also provided a great opportunity for them to do good. I asked, they answered, things happened.
The internet is full of ‘trolls’, with opinions, ignore them
I was astounded by some of the negative comments and posts from people regarding the cleanup and my challenge to Coca-Cola. Initially it was quite upsetting, I was insulted, Coke was insulted… but I was able to easily put this aside when I witnessed the amazing results of our efforts on the beach. (When the cleanup actually happened these trolls had suddenly become very silent.)
People are inherently good
This sounds cliche but it is true. I have witnessed first-hand hundreds of people across race, age, religion and social status working together to do good, sometimes we just need a common goal, in this case clean our environment.
Do your homework, things aren’t always what they seem…
When I first saw the mess on the beach I was upset with my fellow humans. How could people throw their rubbish in the river? Why weren’t companies recycling? Why didn’t companies care?
I was wrong on all of these:
a) A large amount of the waste in the rivers was from the flash floods, rubbish dumps had literally been washed away, uncollected municipal waste had also spilled into our rivers
b) Companies do care, ABI (Coca-Cola) have numerous recycling schemes, are rolling out more environmentally sound products and mobilize their teams to do cleanups on a regular basis.
c) People do care, hundreds joined us for the beach cleanup, giving up their weekend, doing back breaking work and clearing tons of rubbish.
Be polite and respectful
From the onset of my dealings with ABI (Coca-Cola) both parties were polite and respectful, it was not about blame, it was about finding a solution, mucking in and doing some good.
Actions speak louder than words
We can whine, post, tweet, snap and write until the cows come home, but the real difference happens when people role up their sleeves and take action. Coca-Cola did, the Durban public did, amazing things happened.
The beach cleanups are not a one off, they are happening on a monthly basis, if you wish to join in the next one, or just share some love, visit the #CleanBlueLagoon Facebook page.
This journey has only just started for me, cleaning the beaches and rivers is just a plaster on a gaping wound, its a short term fix. We need to get to root cause of this dreadful injury to our environment and cure it.
Government, Business and Community all have key roles to play if we are to succeed, watch this space…
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