Shark Bay's War on Waste

Quietly tucked away at the end of the main drag in Denham sits a special little thrift store. If you’re in the mood to find some hidden treasure, look for the rainbow pinwheel taped to the charming chalkboard sign and take a dive inside.

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Chris and Josie welcomed us into their opportunity shop with cheery smiles and a quick introduction on the War on Waste mission. A few years ago, the Australian government shared images of how much ocean pollution comes from citizens’ waste output, and the coastal community quickly took action. Shark Bay’s War on Waste campaign was born on the simple plan to reduce ocean pollution by reducing waste production.

“We want to protect the natural beauty of our home. We love this place because of the ocean. People come here for the ocean,” explained Josie. It makes sense - marine ecosystems are such a part of the Shark Bay identity, so the community is keen to protect them. 

Thrift stores are a great way to encourage communities to reuse old materials instead of letting them go to waste. So WOW put out a few donation boxes around town and started their shop.

The campaign also passed a local ban on plastic bags. Sea turtles often mistake floating bags for jellyfish, one of their preferred food options. Once ingested, a plastic bag inhibits digestion and will usually kill a turtle. All the stores in Denham have stopped providing plastic bags and instead require a 10-cent donation to the War on Waste campaign if you want one.

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But 10 cents isn’t quite breaking the bank, so they took it one step further and offered a creative alternative. They took tank tops from the donation boxes and designed a no-sew reusable bag to disperse around town!

Not only does this take an article of clothing out of the waste stream, but it also reduces plastic consumption at the same time! It’s a win-win. Chris and Josie excitedly explained how they got the community involved at an annual festival. Their booth featured a hands-on workshop to show folks how to make their own no-sew grocery bags and engage with environmental protection from home.

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After teaching a visiting school teacher how to make the crafty bags, she brought the project back to her classroom in Perth as an activity to engage kids with sustainability. Not long after, a group of her students were awarded with a certificate of excellence from the Mayor for convincing three shops in town to stop using plastic bags.

“Environmentalism is a domino effect - it starts here, but it keeps spreading!” Josie was proudly grinning ear-to-ear.

Not long after the shop opened, they were making enough to hire a full-time overseer to keep their hours consistent. They were thriving. Their profits even covered a new sewing machine, which quickly changed the game.

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No-sew bags were soon accompanied by campy tote bags sewn from colorful linen donations. Eventually they started holding sewing workshops to teach others how to make things out of old cloth instead of adding it to the waste stream.

Chris stressed the importance of grassroots community campaigns, “you can’t wait for the big corporations to do it.”

Now, the shop proceeds go back into the community. WOW donates to local emergency medical volunteers, search and rescue teams, and local scuba divers. By providing the funds for oxygen tanks, WOW gives divers the opportunity to do ocean cleanups. They’ve created a campaign that interjects at each point of the cycle, from waste reduction to recovery.

Since the plastic bag ban, WOW has expanded to other waste reduction initiatives. Nowadays, if you bring your own reusable mug to any of the shops in Denham, you can save 50 cents on a coffee! There's also a local student working on a design for reusable titanium straws as an alternative to the harmful plastic ones.

Denham’s War on Waste is an exceptional example of how community-driven campaigns can make a big difference for environmental protection. Lifestyle changes are the best way for people to make a difference without waiting for political action. Chris and Josie explained how easy it is to create a holistic approach to saving our oceans. It all starts with initiative.

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When we walked in, they told us that they had so many donations that everything in the shop was only $1. Needless to say, we scored some sweet finds.