Take a moment and consider your daily routine. You wake up, cook breakfast, commute, open a package or two, eat lunch, work, tidy up your space, and head home. During that ritual, it’s inevitable that you’re going to use, and then dispose of something made from single-use plastic like a water bottle. While most people never give their carbon footprint another thought after putting it in the trash, the irrefutable truth is that our plastic waste doesn’t magically disappear.
So where does it go? The short answer, our oceans.
As a result of the rampant impact of plastic debris on our oceans — with an estimated 5 trillion pieces either floating, or already washed up on beaches — environmentalists have rightfully made several grim forecasts; the end of most sea life happening in 6-16 years, a disappearance of all coral reef ecosystems by 2025, and a collapse of all commercial fisheries by 2045. And since every second breath for humans is created by our oceans, humankind simply can’t continue if our greatest natural resource fails.
While the most common images of ocean debris comes in the form of beach clean-up initiatives, it’s reactive, not proactive. The plastic pieces eventually become too small to be detected by humans, but still large enough to be misidentified as food by fish and birds.
It’s not enough to just stop using plastic. Something must be done with the 250,000 tons already out there, and the influx of 8.5 million tons entering the oceans each year.
Enter, Parley for the Oceans, a not-for-profit environmental organization founded by Cyrill Gutsch in 2012 to fight against the destruction of oceans with a focus on plastic pollution. Their three pronged attack – Avoid; Intercept; Redesign – is their AIR Strategy to End Marine Plastic Pollution. It acknowledges the need to ultimately replace plastic for good, and in the transition phase make “ocean plastic products highly desirable.
Thus, Parley acknowledges that profitability and sustainability must coexist in the fashion sphere.
“It’s no longer about activism or environmentalism,” says Parley Operations Director, Mike Long. “We’re far too down the pipeline for that. We have to look at other ways and creative ways and innovative ways to create change. We have to make it lucrative for brands and for governments to participate in the health of our environment, and the health of the ocean.”
To achieve this, adidas Football and Manchester United — including first-teamers Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, and Scott McTominay — were invited to a Parley presentation in Marina Del Rey. The goal was to instill in the players a greater knowledge about the third kit they will wear for this upcoming season which are each made from 13 recycled bottles and Parley Ocean Plastic — first used on an unreleased shoe collaboration — which was such a successful proof-of-concept and educational tool that adidas has made it a mission to completely eliminate virgin plastics in design by 2024.
Aesthetically, the blue iteration is both a club commitment to the environment, and also a call-back to United’s first European Cup win over Benfica at Wembley in May 1968.
Humanitarian efforts are a natural fit for Juan Mata. He is one of many footballers who have pledged portions of their income to charitable project, Common Goal, in hopes of using football to generate social change and improve people’s lives.
“I cannot win a football game by myself,” Mata says. “I need my 10 teammates to win. And I think that’s why the leaders in Parley are doing that. And why we all should join. And try to think, knowing every day, our daily routines, how little things [can make a difference]. I’m in a lucky position. I play football. I do what I love. I have quite a platform to say what I feel and people will listen to it. So I think it’s important for me to put myself into the other’s position.”
Leading by example, his efforts have not been lost on 21-year-old, Scott McTominay, who continued the 80-year streak (and counting) of Manchester United academy players cracking the first-team lineup when he debuted in April of last year. First and foremost, McTominay says that Manchester United wants to cultivate greatness in areas beyond football.
“I feel like that was one of the most important things growing up through school [was] to be a nice human being for a start,” McTominay says. “You respect people, you have manners, you always show the right attitude towards people, you’re always smiling, always happy, and things like this. That was the first thing we got taught before any football. Be a Manchester United person, and then be a Manchester United player on the pitch.”
The event was punctuated by a presentation by big wave surfer, Greg Long, who took the United players into the Marina Del Rey harbor for 15 minutes of paddle boarding. He later came back with a grocery bag full of ocean plastics. Having seen the catastrophic effects in places like Bali and Indonesia, he’s also seen the positive impact that Parley can have as well.
“The greatest success story that I think you can point to is over in the Maldives,” Long says. “When Parley for the Oceans went over there, every single piece of plastic and garbage was being taken to a single island. That was the standard for waste disposal, because they had nowhere else to take it. Now, when you go over there, there’s a very efficient collection program, where it’s being sorted, compacted, and shipped back, and being created into a variety of products. If you look at what was happening there, only five years ago, to what it looks like now, a tremendous amount of change, and that’s just the beginning.”
Although the soccer pitch and the ocean may seem like unlikely bedfellows, Long still sees a correlation between the two, and recognizes the influence that players like Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, and Scott McTominay can have.
“The star players onboard have influence that transcends generations, genders, all geographical regions of the world,” he says. “Football, soccer, is the greatest sport in the world. I’ve traveled the world surfing, and there’s a lot of places, with oceans, nobody’s even seen a surfboard. It’s such a foreign idea to them. Yet, I’ll come in on the beach and there they are, playing in the sand with their ball, the makeshift two sticks as their goals. These guys have got a platform to reach everybody. They’re idols, people hanging on their every move. What they eat, they wanna eat. What these guys are wearing, other people want to wear. Therefore, what they speak out and feel to be important, others will ultimately follow suit. That’s the power of sports.”
Parley for the Oceans founder, Cyril Gutsch, echoes Long’s sentiments, saying. “Winning Manchester United as Parley supporters is like adding 18,000 times the size of the British Royal Navy to our movement.”
With other clubs like Juventus, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich on board, the hope is that each kit is soon the rule, not the exception.
In the 2017/18 season, Manchester United as a team covered 1,162 km (722 miles). Without the oceans, it simply wouldn’t have been possible.