The Garbage Man

Text by Nikolai Schirmer


I wanted to be a surfer; to move under the folds of the mountains that roll through the sea, to see the sunlight break through the drops of water above me, to touch my hand to the otherwise shapeless drops of water held together during the wave's long journey from ocean to shore. As a 12-year-old, I was lucky enough to experience the living valleys of the Great Barrier Reef, deep underwater off the coast of Australia. I also surfed the entire east coast, and to my enormous joy discovered that I could continue surfing beside the snow-covered pebble beaches back home in Northern Norway.


But now my hand touches plastic, my snorkel gets blocked with microplastics, and the coral reefs are dying in seas that are becoming steadily more acidic with every tonne of CO2 they absorb. Pollution and emissions are not a new problem, but there has been a growing focus on waste in the sea in recent years, especially plastic waste. We are filling the seas with plastic, which breaks down incredibly slowly and fills the stomachs of whales and seabirds. Our footprint has never been bigger.

Fortunately, we can also turn our attention onto our handprint. In autumn 2018, I was picking up trash on beaches in Lofoten with the gang from Infinitum Movement, and Simen Knudsen (surfer, environmental activist, and innovation consultant) was telling me about this alternative way of looking at things.


While it is important to focus on reducing our negative footprint, it's also just as important, and of course much more pleasant, to focus on our positive handprint. What are we doing to make the world around us a little better for those with whom we share it?

Next to giving someone a hug, clearing trash is probably the easiest thing you can do to make the world a little better. Even very young children can master this art. Norrøna ambassador Merrick Mordal dropped by last week with her two youngsters. On the way, they had personally picked up all sorts of plastic and paper trash, proudly tossing it all into the respective trash cans.


Beach cleanup days are organized every year by Hold Norge Rent; they usually take place in springtime and are a fun event for adults and children alike. If you follow enough environmental organizations on social media, you'll find out about at least two or three chances to join forces with the local community and clean up beaches. The one that I joined in fall 2018 even had a party afterwards!

Personally, I am an incurable picker-up of trash, and this is not limited to when I'm on a beach. The plastic bottle I found in the parking lot in Stubai became my drinking bottle for the whole winter. Plastic floating between the waves gets stuffed into my wetsuit. The Snickers wrapper on the cross-country trail goes into my pocket.


No matter where I am, if I see trash of a manageable size, I make a point of picking it up and taking it with me. It feels good and requires minimal effort, but watch out for anything that might be toilet paper!


It's not exactly effective altruism—it doesn't make much of a dent in the gigantic trash field in the Pacific Ocean—but it's a good way to move through the world. Just as long as you're not riding the face of a wave at the time.