Why an Ugly Beach Inspired This Couple to Quit Their Day Jobs

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A surf trip turned into a new, more meaningful career.

ING Dreamstarter has been supporting social enterprises for more than four years, and so far has helped over 70 businesses reach their goals. 

Daniel Smith and his partner Natalie Woods were hiking through remote scrubland in search of the perfect wave when they stumbled upon an environmental disaster that mystified them.

Some of Australia’s most secluded beaches were an ugly mess of plastic debris and litter.

“We were confused,” recalls Daniel.

“We were so far from any public place that we didn’t expect to see so much rubbish. There was far more rubbish there than what you’d see at an urban beach.”

When the couple started researching the issue, they discovered just how big a problem marine debris is.

Every year, around eight million tonnes of rubbish enters the world’s oceans. Worse still, 80 per cent of that waste is made from plastic, which kills marine life and is notoriously slow to decompose (a single plastic bottle can bob around for 450 years before disintegrating).

There are a number of reasons why secluded beaches seem to cop the worst of it. Trash can be channelled into unlikely places by strong currents and winds, while sometimes those on nearby cargo ships and trawlers irresponsibly toss their rubbish overboard. And the fact that no-one is around to pick up the trash means there’s nothing to stop it from accumulating.

Unable to unsee the environmental damage they’d witnessed on their weekend surfing trips, Daniel and Natalie quit their jobs as public servants in Canberra and set off on a road trip around Australia to discover the extent of the problem.

“When we got to Cape York we realised how absolutely overwhelming the problem was. We felt pretty defeated. How could the two of us do anything about it?”

But Daniel and Natalie put their heads together and came up with the idea of leading week-long ‘Trash Tribe Expeditions’ on isolated beaches. They applied to ING’s Dreamstarter program and in 2015 managed to raise more than $22,000 through its crowdfunding initiative. This allowed their newly created social enterprise, the Clean Coast Collective, to fund its first expedition and buy inventory stock that could help fund future expeditions.

Daniel said that Dreamstarter appealed because it wasn’t a one-off loan or handout.

“With Dreamstarter, you are essentially getting assistance to become self-sufficient in whatever end it is you’re pursuing. It’s not about getting funds to run a particular project and that being the end of it,” says Daniel.

“There are also 70-odd Dreamstarter alumni and it’s great to be connected to that community and have opportunities to learn from and collaborate with them. Fellow Dreamstarters OceanZen make bikinis from rescued ocean plastics and their founder joined us on one of our Trash Tribes, and Words With Heart, a social enterprise eco-printery also supported by ING, now print some of our packaging.”

The Clean Coast Collective is based in Byron Bay and stocks high-quality products that provide an alternative to disposable plastics, such as gold straws made out of stainless steel (classy!), heavenly-scented shampoo bars and bamboo toothbrushes.

It’s a two-pronged approach to trash: stop it at the source and nix it once it appears.

The social enterprise model works well for the Clean Coast Collective, as Daniel explains: “One of the issues that we have with traditional not-for-profit structures is that you are quite restrained in what you can do. Being a social enterprise allows us to operate the way a normal business would – but our end goal is to do something good for the planet.”

Daniel says he has never for a second regretted his sea change.

“It’s rewarding to contribute to something that’s bigger than me. At the end of my life, what will I look back on? Will it be that I had heaps of money or an amazing car? I don’t think so. I think I’ll reflect back on this. I will have at least tried to make the world a better place while I was there, and tried to be the best person I could be. I think that will be incredibly consoling at that point.”

What’s the other thing he loves about his new life?

“I get to spend every day with my best friend. Usually, we see our partners before we go to work and then when we get home. That’s how it is for most of the week and it makes no sense to me. It’s really cool that I get to hang out with my partner all day long.”

Are you a social entrepreneur with an idea that will create positive change in your community? Dreamstarter by ING can provide the support you need. 2018 applications are now open and close April 3.

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