Surfing for Solutions
An ambitious partnership between an inventive global packaging company and the surfing community to rid the ocean of plastic pollution
By Judy Royal » Photos by G. Frank Hart
A Wilmington-based company’s efforts to protect the environment are going beyond its customers and into the local surfing community with the goal of promoting actions that reduce plastic pollution in our oceans.
Atlantic Packaging officially launched A New Earth Project, a strategic collaboration between surfing/outdoor enthusiast communities and the global packaging supply chain, on April 22, Earth Day. The business, the largest privately held industrial packaging company in North America, is taking this initiative to the next level by making A New Earth Project the official sustainability partner of the Wrightsville Beach Board Riders Club, with plans to add more Carolinas surfing groups in the near future.
“It feels like a lot of these beach communities just need something to rally around,” said Wes Carter, president of Atlantic Packaging, which was founded by his grandfather in 1946. “We had this epiphany that surfers are ambassadors of the ocean, and surfing has an appeal to young people and a branding firepower already. Our hope is that the entire surfing industry embraces sustainable packaging and inspires the entire outdoor industry and greater supply chain to do the same.”
Examples of ways the Wrightsville Beach Board Riders Club and other surfing groups can participate in the A New Earth Project partnership include adopting a policy of no plastic bottles of any kind, offering water for refilling bottles, holding a beach cleanup at every event, and encouraging brands that sponsor the club to adopt New Earth Approved packaging.
“It’s such a good platform to share just all these different ideas of sustainability,” said Ben Bourgeois, a local surfer and part of the Wrightsville Beach Board Riders Club. “This is a huge step.”
Partnering with surfing groups not only helps shape individual sustainability programs, but it’s also a great vehicle for raising awareness and educating young people, A New Earth Project Director Don Meek said.
“It’s really about being a part of the fabric of the local surf community where you live,” he said. “We hope that through all of these organizations that we can begin to share the vision for this. Our tagline is, ‘We do this together. We do this now.’”
A New Earth Project is the evolution of a larger movement that began about four years ago when Carter, whose surfing and fishing hobbies have led him to travel around the world, became increasingly aware of plastic pollution.
“I came to realize that Atlantic Packaging was part of the supply chain that was creating a lot of these packaging problems,” he said. “I equated it to a spiritual awakening. We began to take a harder look at the actual products we are selling and look at materials much more strategically. Direct-to-consumer plastic packaging is a problem.”
Atlantic Packaging responded by opening a Packaging Solution Center in Charlotte five years ago and now offers New Earth Approved packaging, a catalog of sustainable products designed to replace the traditional single-use plastics used in direct-to-consumer shipping. The collection is available to brands of all sizes that want to do their part to prevent plastic pollution.
As these efforts continued and evolved, A New Earth Project began to take shape in late 2020 when Darren Doane, a filmmaker and friend of an Atlantic Packaging salesperson, connected Carter with surf personality and photographer Peter King of Oahu, Hawaii. The two joined forces to discover ways to “make sustainable packaging super cool” and create a documentary series to “tell beautiful stories along the way,” Carter said.
“The idea that we’ve got here is we’re helping to fuel solutions that have a direct impact, and we’re going to tell those stories,” Meek said.
The surfing industry was a natural fit for this collaboration, not only because surfers have a vested interest in protecting the environment but also because of the packaging problems associated with its products, Carter said.
“Packaging and shipping a surfboard is the most environmentally horrific thing you’ve ever seen,” Meek added, citing the large amount of plastic and Styrofoam that largely winds up in the regular trash bin.
As a result, A New Earth Project has filmed the packaging of a surfboard in California and its unboxing at Wrightsville Beach’s Sweetwater Surf Shop, Bourgeois’ family’s business, using all materials that can go in curbside recycling.
“The goal is that over time we will eliminate single-use plastic packaging for retail shops and direct-to-consumer shipping,” Carter said. “New Earth Approved packaging is a catalog of fiber-based solutions because almost every municipality in America can recycle paper, and if it ends up in the environment it will break down in weeks and close the loop.”
Paper solutions have challenges, such as being more expensive and not performing well when wet, but Atlantic Packaging will remain committed to the cause, Carter said.
“It requires a level of creativity and innovation that we actually embrace,” he said. “That’s one of the things I love about sustainability. It forces us to be creative. Our ability to create global awareness of how bad this problem has never been greater, so that’s been a real catalyst.”
Atlantic Packaging strives to be as analytical as possible while realizing that plastic is not all bad but that single use is the most problematic application of the material, Carter added.
“At Atlantic, we don’t have a war on plastic,” he said. “We want to look at the supply chain and see where plastic makes sense and where it doesn’t.”
For more information about A New Earth Project, visit anewearthproject.com.